One reason it’s important to offer our dogs a good diet and regular exercise is to avoid cumulative problems such as congestive heart failure. Unlike other medical conditions that afflict dog health, congestive heart failure in dogs does not have a single, easily identifiable cause or culprit. What’s worse is that some small dog breeds and large dog breeds are genetically predisposed to heart issues that can lead to congestive heart failure.
If your dog develops congestive heart failure, however, it is a problem that can be managed, though it means regular veterinary appointments for the remainder of their lives, along with a course of regular medication. Let’s look at congestive heart failure in dogs and see how it might be prevented.
To put it simply, congestive heart failure in dogs arises when a dog’s heart becomes incapable of providing fresh, oxygenated blood in sufficient quantities to the body. It typically develops as a result of two distinct dog heart problems. The two most common causes are malfunctioning heart valves or an enlarged heart.
In small dog breeds, the most common cause of congestive heart failure is a valve malfunction called mitral insufficiency. When a heart functions normally, blood flows from the left atrium to the left ventricle, and from there to the rest of the body. When a dog has mitral insufficiency, the valve between atrium and ventricle fails to close properly, and blood leaks back into the left atrium. Over time, the effects of this leakage can lead to congestive heart failure.
Mitral insufficiency is a particular risk for toy and teacup dogs. While any dog breed of any size, including mixes, can be afflicted by a faulty heart valve, at-risk smaller dog breeds include the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Dachshund, Pekingese, and Yorkshire Terrier. Your veterinarian may check for irregularities in blood flow, such as heart murmurs.
In large dog breeds, the most common cause of congestive heart failure is the cumulative strain placed on an enlarged heart. This condition is called dilated cardiomyopathy, which simply means that the heart muscle grows weaker through having to work harder. An enlarged heart becomes inefficient at getting fresh blood to vital systems. Over time, lack of sufficient fresh blood begins to affect these other systems, including the lungs, liver, and kidneys.
Dilated cardiomyopathy is a particular risk for some of the larger dog breeds. When blood flow is not timely or efficient, blood can begin to pool in unwanted places, including the lungs, around the joints, and the abdomen. Large dog breeds at risk for developing an enlarged heart are the Afghan Hound, Boxer, Doberman Pinscher, Great Dane, Irish Wolfhound, Saint Bernard, and Scottish Deerhound.
Because congestive heart failure tends to be a cumulative issue, symptoms might not appear until the condition is advanced. The symptoms of congestive heart failure in dogs include coughing, which indicates blood that has leaked and pooled in the lungs. Trouble sleeping, or pacing at times they’d normally be sleeping, is another symptom. If a normally happy and energetic dog is quickly fatigued after very little physical activity, this may be an early symptom of congestive heart failure.
The above are also symptoms of heartworm in dogs, which itself can lead to congestive heart failure — like congestive heart failure itself, heartworm symptoms do not manifest until the havoc they wreak is well advanced. Further advanced symptoms of congestive heart failure in dogs include loss of appetite, weight, and energy levels.
As fresh blood continues to be scarce, excessive panting, especially when it’s not particularly hot, might indicate respiratory problems brought on by congestive heart failure. Pooling blood in the abdomen will make the dog’s belly feel harder and less pliable to the touch.
There are a number of treatment options for congestive heart failure in dogs. If the disorder is identified and diagnosed early enough, these treatments involve a number of prescription medications and a guarantee that you and your dog will make regular veterinary appointments for the rest of his or her life. Medications, combined with low-sodium diets and reduced exercise, have become standard practice for managing congestive heart failure in dogs.
Preventative measures should start early, particularly for at-risk dog breeds. For all dogs, a portion-controlled diet and regular exercise are key to preventing early development of an enlarged heart. Of course, as we’ve noted, dogs on either extreme of the size spectrum might be genetically predisposed to either dilated cardiomyopathy or mitral insufficiency.
Consult with your veterinarian early to find out how to decrease your dog’s chances of developing later-life heart problems.
Have you ever had a dog who suffered from issues related to congestive heart failure? Share your stories in the comments!
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