HEART FAILURE IN DOGS
DOG QUESTION: Our much loved, twelve year old dog's hind legs started to swell. They swelled so tight, the skin turned purple. We rushed him to a Emergency Vet who examined him and says he has Heart Failure. He sent us home, just saying our precious pet does not have long to live. We just want to know more about it. Can you help us?
Yes, it sounds like heart failure, in your dogs case, "Right Heart Failure". Heart failure can be defined as the inability of the heart to provide adequate circulation to meet the bodies needs. It is the end result of weakened heart muscle. It is not a simple condition, nor is the prognosis good. The liver, kidneys, lungs and other systems are affected, causing a multiple organ-system problem. Most cases represent long standing conditions that have overstressed or damaged the heart.
LEFT HAND FAILURE: When the left ventricle starts to fail, pressure builds up in the pulmonary circulation. The result is lung congestion and accumulation of fluid in the air sacs. In the late stages (Pulmonary Edema), dogs cough up a bubbly red fluid and get can't get enough oxygen. Left Hand failure of the heart muscle is often caused by aging in the older dog. In a younger dog, it is Congenital Heart Disease which is a birth defect.
The early signs of left sided failure are impaired exercise ability and shortness of breath. As the condition advances, the dog begins to cough when over taxed by excitement or strenuous exercise. In many cases, the cough is first noted at night, about two hours after retiring. You may notice that your dog seems restless and cannot find a comfortable position in which to sleep.
Despite still eating well, the dog slowly begins to look unthrifty, losing weight, and the coat becomes dry and lusterless. As failure continues, breathing is labored and the dog assumes a characteristic sitting position with elbows spread apart and head extended foreword in an attempt to draw in more air. The dog will attempt to even sleep sitting upright. The pulse is rapid, weak and sometimes irregular. Anxiety and fainting occur late in the disease, often mistaken for a type of seizure disorder.
RIGHT HEART FAILURE: When the right heart muscle starts to fail, pressure backs up in the veins, causing Congestive Heart Failure. In advanced cases the gums are gray(Cyanosis) and the LIMBS ARE SWOLLEN (Dropsy).
Early signs of right sided failure are rapid pulse, shortness of breath, loss of pep and slowly intolerance to exercise. In the late stages, you will observe muscle wasting, enlargement of the liver and spleen and accumulation of fluid in the abdomen(Ascities), giving the dog a pot bellied look.
One of the most common causes of right heart failure is an already established left sided heart failure. Or one of the following, Valvular Heart Disease, Heartworms, Congenital Heart Disease, Cardiomyopathy or Chronic Lung Disease usually being at fault.
Treatment of Heart Failure must be under the supervision of a Veterinarian. The first goal of treatment is to remove or correct the underlying cause whenever possible. Congenital Heart Disease and Heartworm infestations are potentially curable if treated in time.
Obesity is a serious complicating factor in all dogs with heart disease. Overweight dogs should be put on a Low Calorie Diet. A Low Salt Diet is of great assistance in treating dogs suffering from Congestive Heart Failure. Most commercial diets contain to much salt, the Vet will prescribe a low salt diet food.
Fluid buildup is best managed by the use of Diuretics. Potassium Supplements may be necessary when using Diuretics. Vitamin B supplements are indicated in dogs with Congestive Heart Failure.
Restrict all activities to those well within your dog's exercise tolerance so as to not overburden the heart.
Various drugs are available that help to increase the force and contraction of the heart or control Arrhythmias. They require Veterinary supervision.
These measures can yield substantial results in terms of a more comfortable and more active life for your dog and lead to prolonging the dogs life.