It can be scary and devastating to learn that your dog suffers from a dangerous heart condition like congestive heart failure. However, once you receive the diagnosis, another process begins: the routine care and management of your dog’s disease. For many pet parents, this process can be just as or even more challenging than handling the diagnosis itself.
Dogs with heart conditions require a special level of care so they remain healthy and comfortable. It’s important to understand the complexities and nuances of your dog’s new lifestyle so you can help them live with their condition as long as possible.
Understanding canine congestive heart failure
Congestive heart failure is a type of heart disease in which your dog’s heart is unable to pump blood properly throughout the body. Rather than circulating through the body, blood will back up in the lungs and chest cavities, ultimately preventing oxygen from reaching all parts of the body.
Congestive heart failure can take two forms: left-sided and right-sided congestive heart failure (CHF). Left-sided CHF is the most common in dogs and results in the leaking of fluid into the lungs after blood leaks through the mitral valve.
Symptoms of congestive heart failure may include coughing, difficult breathing, fast breathing, fatigue, refusing to exercise, a distended abdomen and, in severe cases, collapsing or coughing up blood. As soon as you notice these symptoms, you should rush your furry friend to the vet to get them emergency care.
In many cases, congestive heart failure is a result of genetic defects that cause deterioration of the heart valves. In others, the heart may be damaged by other heart conditions that lead to failure.
Tips for managing your dog’s condition
Without proper care, congestive heart failure can be fatal in dogs. Fortunately, pet parents can use a number of strategies to care for their dog in light of their condition and provide them a comfortable life.
Once your dog has been examined and officially diagnosed with congestive heart failure, you will need to work with your vet to create a lifestyle management plan to keep your dog healthy as he or she lives with their condition.
There will likely be a number of factors you may not have previously considered:
- Routine vet visits: Because your pet’s heart will be in a delicate state, your vet will probably want to examine them on a routine basis to check for abnormalities. In cases of congestive heart failure, vets generally want to monitor the heart and lungs over time, as well as any organs that might be affected by your pup’s new medications.
- At-home monitoring: In addition to routine veterinary visits, you will likely need to conduct daily at-home monitoring of your pup’s heart and lungs. For many pet parents, this can be a big change and may require some alterations in scheduling. One important thing you’ll need to learn how to do is monitor your dog’s resting respiratory rate, so you know when it rises above normal and what that might mean. Make sure to ask your vet any questions you might have so you are fully prepared to administer at-home care as needed.
- Diet change: Dogs dealing with heart conditions often need to be fed specially formulated food that has reduced sodium and extra nutrients to support heart health. In addition to new food, you may want to begin giving your dog heart-healthy supplements that support stable heart function, as long as they do not interfere with any medications your dog is taking.
- Exercise changes: Dogs with congestive heart failure will need to cut back on intense exercise to avoid aggravating the heart and lungs. Although exercise is still very important for your dog, it will be up to you to monitor your pup’s activity level and ensure they take it slow and play gently to avoid overexertion.
- Medication: Depending on the severity of your dog’s condition, your vet may prescribe medications that help stabilize and strengthen the heart muscles and blood vessels for proper function. These medications may need to be administered on a strict schedule, so be prepared to make adjustments to your daily life to ensure your pup gets the medication they need.
- Close observation: Pets living with a heart condition will likely need much closer observation than perfectly healthy pets. Pet parents should be vigilant in monitoring and noting any changes in the dog’s behavior, appearance and appetite and reporting to the vet as necessary to get ahead of any potential complications.
Caring for a furry friend with a heart condition can be a difficult journey for pet owners, but it can also be extremely rewarding. With proper care each and every day, dogs with congestive heart failure can live for years after their initial diagnosis.