Congestive Heart Failure (CHF)


The heart is a pump that pumps blood to all the tissues in the body. Oxygenated blood is pumped from the heart through the arteries to the tissues and deoxygenated blood flows back. The deoxygenated blood, in turn is pumped to the lungs where it is oxygenated before being pumped back to the heart. Congestive Heart Failure (CHF) is when this pump mechanism breaks down and insufficient oxygenated blood reaches all the tissues and fluids leak into the lungs and body cavities. This failure of the pump is caused most commonly by degeneration of the heart valves in especially smaller breed dogs from middle age onwards. Less commonly, Heart worm disease, congenital abnormalities and heart muscle abnormalities can also be involved.

The symptoms you may see are coughing and difficulty sleeping as fluids leak into the lungs. Weakness and not willing to exercise as insufficient oxygen is reaching the muscles. Swollen abdomen called ascites results if fluid leaks into the abdominal cavity. If your pets brain does not receive sufficient oxygen, especially after excitement or exercise, he may suddenly collapse.

Frequently we will diagnose this condition at the time of your annual vaccination when we examine the chest with a stethoscope. We can hear a heart murmur and will grade its severity at the time of the consult. We will also recommend chest X-rays and ultrasound scan and maybe an ECG.

There is no cure for heart disease. What we aim at is to slower the rate of deterioration, improve the quality of life of the animal and prolong their life. Usually we do not start any treatment until the symptoms described appear. Usually coughing is the first symptom you will notice. The therapy is aimed at removing the fluid off the chest and relieving the pressure the heart muscle needs to pump against. We will also use drugs that improve the strength of the heart muscle. This medication needs to be given every day and many patients can live a good quality of life for many years on therapy.