Congestive heart failure in dogs is a slow process, in which the heart fails to provide the body with adequate blood circulation. The heart slowly becomes weak and the other organs of the body also gradually cease to work. It is more common in older dogs and is sometimes genetic. You may not observe any signs of heart trouble for many months or years. The dog may suddenly collapse when the body fails to take any more strain.
The symptoms depend on the underlying disease and you should watch out for the warning signs. The dog may show decreased levels of activity. There may be intermittent coughing after the dog is excited or exerted. You may also observe that the dog coughs more often in the night, and may pace around restlessly and find sleeping difficult.
The other symptoms the dog may develop are changes in appetite, rapid breathing, and abdominal swelling with excessive weight loss. The dog may show signs of pulmonary edema, an indication of left ventricle failure. This is due to the weakened heart that is no longer able to pump the blood efficiently. The blood builds up in the lungs, liver, legs, etc., and the increased vein pressure causes it to leak into the lungs and peritoneal cavity. This leads to coughing, and the dog coughs up a bubbly red fluid due to fluid retention in the smaller airways.
If the stomach is swollen up or looks potbellied (ascites), it may be an indication of right ventricle failure. The legs may also swell, which is known as dependent edema. Right-sided heart failure will be seen with accumulation of fluid in the chest cavity called pleural effusion.
When the dog is in the late stages of congestive heart failure, you will find it siting with its elbows spread and the head in an extended position. While standing, the dog may stand with its front legs wide apart and the neck lowered and extended. This helps the dog to allow more air into the lungs. The pulse is rapid and thready, and the breathing is labored. The gums and tongue turn blue or gray. The dog may also experience fainting spells when over exerted.
You may see no symptoms during the early stages of congestive heart failure. When the symptoms do start appearing, the condition will be in its later stages. The life expectancy of a dog in the later stages is no more than six months after the diagnosis.
Congestive heart failure in dogs is mostly detected with the help of an electrocardiogram. This helps the vet diagnose any abnormality in the dog's heart. The vet may carry out an ultrasound to detect an enlarged heart and a simple x-ray is also used to detect congestive heart failure.
Congestive heart failure is an underlying condition that is very rarely cured. In small dog breeds and toy dogs, the common cause is chronic valvular disease with mitral regurgitation. Dilated cardiomyopathy is the main cause in large breed dogs. The vet may recommend diuretics to help remove the excess fluid in the lungs or abdomen.
ACE inhibitors are prescribed to open up the constricted blood vessels that are used for hypertension and congestive heart failure. Low-sodium diet supplements and regular exercises may also help in giving the dog a 'normal' life.
The vet may prescribe a number of other medications that may help relieve the underlying cause of congestive heart failure in your dog. You should visit the vet more frequently than before, till your pet is stabilized health-wise. You should take good dog care to help it live longer and feel better. You should try and improve the quality of its life. The dog has been by your side for all its life; it is time you stay by your pet's side when it needs you the most.