Heart failure. Two devastating words that no pet owner ever wants to hear about their beloved dog or cat. But heart failure in pets is not a specific disease or diagnosis, so let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Heart failure is not necessarily a condemning sentence and many factors will contribute to your pet’s outcome. With regular vet checkups, you can often help get your furry friend the support they need in time.
A failing heart is one with a less-than-normal ability to distribute oxygenated blood through the body. Pets with heart disease may have failing hearts, but even if not, that condition can lead to heart failure or congestive heart failure. This condition can be a genetic disposition or acquired throughout their life for both dogs and cats.
Heart failure occurs when the restriction of oxygenated blood flow becomes too great and other organs can’t function to their full capability. Pets with heart failure will usually show outward signs.
Congestive heart failure (CHF) is when blood cannot be pumped through the body efficiently. This causes a back-up of blood flow leading to an accumulation of fluid, usually in the chest. The location of fluid build-up is dependent on which side of the heart is affected. As the blood becomes backed up in other organs, it can have an adverse effect. This can cause the organs to not function properly or to swell with fluids.
Signs of Heart Problems in Pets
Heart problems in pets may not be obvious in the early stages. Some of the possible and common symptoms include:
- Breathing difficulties like coughing, shortness of breath, and gagging
- Reduced appetite
- Noticeable weight loss of gain
- Swollen abdomen
Causes of Canine Heart Failure
Many circumstances can lead to heart failure in your pet. The most common causes include age-related changes and predisposition due to their breed. Small breed dogs, like the Miniature Poodle and Pomeranian, are more prone to developing chronic valvular disease. Some very large breeds, like the Great Dane, are genetically predisposed to myocardial disease (a disease of the heart muscle). Both the chronic valvular disease and myocardial disease can lead to heart failure. Physical conditions, like obesity and heartworms, can also affect your dog or cat and lead to heart failure. Cats are at just as much risk as dogs in developing heart problems.
Treatment and Outcomes
Although heart failure in pets is not curable, they can lead a healthy and happy life with medication and dietary changes. In heart failure, the body often retains fluids. Feeding them a low-sodium diet will help to reduce this fluid build-up. There are prescription pet foods available that will also help your pet to get all of the nutrients and antioxidants they need to fight the specific symptoms of heart failure. You can also aid your pet’s current diet with multivitamins and natural supplements designed to help CHF symptoms. These can help them improve blood flow, breathing, appetite, circulation and reduce coughing and weakness.
If heart failure isn’t the only condition your pet is plagued with, consider seeking veterinary advice for a custom meal plan that will help your pet to holistically improve their overall health. Once your vet has diagnosed your pet’s heart problems, they will prescribe medicines that are specific to your pet’s condition. They may give your pet diuretics for fluid reduction, Pimobendan to improve heart contractions, and vasodilators to help enlarge blood vessels.
While heart failure in your cat or dog will never go away, you can help keep it from progressing with regular observation, good nutrition, and medication.
It is never safe to self-diagnose and self-medicate your pet. If you suspect your pet is showing symptoms of heart failure, take them to the vet and let the experts give you a diagnosis.
Aaron is a writer and copy strategist for several companies and nonprofits. He often covers topics important to pet owners and is dedicated dog dad to his three pups, Buddy, Roxy and Kaya.
Thank you, Aaron Smith, for this article. You are spot on about the genetic predisposition in some breeds. My sweet Phoebe was a miniature poodle who passed away last December. This is always a heartbreak, but I had my darling baby girl for 16-plus years and I’m grateful for that. The vet had prescribed a low dosage of Amlodipine for her. I am also a doting pet mom who — I’m sure like you! — does everything to make sure her furbabies are healthy.
BTW – If the picture of the three dogs by the lake are YOUR “Buddy, Roxy and Kaya,” that is a most impressive picture. You gotta know the rest of us out here are wondering “how in the world did you get them all to stay in place to take that shot?”