Congestive heart failure is a condition that affects many dogs and cats, especially those in their senior years. Pet owners should be educated on the clinical signs of congestive heart failure and contact their veterinarian right away if the pet shows any of the clinical signs. Timing is of the essence, as scientific evidence shows that early detection and treatment can significantly delay the progression of the disease and improve the animal’s quality of life.
A primary care veterinarian working alongside a veterinary cardiologist is the best way to understand the type and severity of the animal’s heart disease and formulate a treatment plan.
Congestive heart failure is a condition that results from heart disease, where the heart is unable to pump enough blood throughout the body, causing a buildup of pressure and fluid into or around other organs. This is especially dangerous, as fluid buildup in the lungs can prohibit oxygen flow, which leads to discomfort and causes further health issues.
Dyspnea is difficulty breathing, often as a result of fluid build up in their lungs, which impedes oxygen distribution. Pulmonary edema is when fluid seeps into the lung tissue, causing the animal to have potentially faster respirations, trouble breathing and less commonly, cough. If you notice your dog sitting in a wide stance and breathing harder than their usual panting while at rest, they could have heart failure. They may stretch their necks out in an attempt to breathe. Monitoring resting respiratory rate is the most sensitive way to detect congestive heart failure. If resting rate is > 30 breaths per minute while sound asleep, congestive heart may be present.
Breathing with an open mouth is uncommon for cats and likely a sign of an emergency. In the case of an emergency, seek veterinary care immediately.
Syncope is when an animal faints and loses consciousness for a short period of time and then regains consciousness, usually within a few seconds to a minute or two. Fainting is more common in dogs than cats and is caused by several cardiac impairments – congestive heart failure, pulmonary hypertension, cardiac tamponade from pericardial effusion, an abnormal heart rhythm (slow or fast), outflow obstruction and vasovagal syncope. These conditions result in the heart being unable to pump enough blood to the brain, which leads to a loss of consciousness. Fainting may be a sign of heart failure and is likely to occur after exercise or coughing.
Any change in sleep or breathing may indicate heart failure. The buildup of fluid caused by congestive heart failure can cause discomfort to the pet, resulting in them being unable to sleep peacefully throughout the night. They may constantly adjust their position to reduce the discomfort in their chest, or they may go outside for fresh air.
This article is for informational purposes only and does not offer an exhaustive list of all clinical signs of congestive heart failure. It is best to contact a veterinary cardiologist to conduct custom diagnostics to understand the type of heart failure and create an effective treatment plan. Heart failure can be confirmed by an interpretation of echocardiograms, ECGs, thoracic radiographs, Holters and event monitors.
Cardiac Vet offers diagnostic services and detailed interpretations for all veterinarians across the United States. Pet owners can contact their primary care veterinarian for a referral.
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