Congestive Heart Failure (CHF) occurs when the heart is not working well enough to pump blood effectively, leading to build-up of fluid in the lungs called pulmonary edema. This in turn triggers increased breathing rate, labored breathing, and coughing, along with reduced energy and sometimes collapse due to low oxygen levels in the blood.
Fluid can also build up in the abdomen, causing ascites which is free fluid in the abdominal cavity. To figure out if your dog has CHF, we take digital x-rays of the chest. We can see changes on the x-rays indicating the presence of pulmonary edema and can measure heart size and shape. In some cases, EKG's and ultrasound (Echo) of the heart is also necessary to determine the underlying pathology. The medications we use to treat this in dogs varies a little bit with the different causes for the heart failure, but usually fall into one of these 3 categories:
- Diuretics – These drugs pull the excess fluid off the lungs, so that the dog can breath better. Some examples of this are Lasix (furosemide) and Spironolactone (aldactone).
- ACE-Inhibitors – These drugs reduce the amount of work the heart muscle has to do by reducing the pressure in the blood vessels. Examples are Enalapril and Benazepril.
- Positive Inotropes – These are drugs that help the heart muscle cells contract, therefore improving the heart's ability to pump blood effectively. Examples of this are Vetmedin (pimobendan) and Digoxin.
Monitoring consists of recheck appointments to make sure the doses of the medications are correct and to make adjustments where necessary. Also, there is some blood test monitoring for side effects.
Most dogs can expect to feel better and have improved quality of life after starting the medications. Congestive Heart Failure is a treatable disease in dogs. Please contact us if you have any questions.