Diagnosing Canine Congestive Heart Failure

Canine congestive heart failure is a leading cause of death among older dogs. It's a condition that arises as the heart ages and deteriorates over an extended period of time, and it's characterized by a weakening of the heart muscles and subsequent lack of proper blood flow throughout the body. As the heart becomes unable to adequately pump blood to the rest of the body, the amount of blood returning to the heart increases. This blood eventually comes to congest the blood vessels and connected tissues around your pet's heart. While congestive heart failure in dogs can be fatal, it does progress over time. Recognizing the symptoms of this condition and taking proper treatment measures early on can help to prolong your pet's life, but a diagnosis is necessary in order to repair your dog's heart.

Symptoms of Congestive Heart Failure

The first step toward diagnosing this condition is for you to recognize the initial symptoms of heart failure as they appear in your dog. The condition typically arises in older dogs and large breeds, but it may affect any dog at any stage of life. Be aware of any of the following symptoms:

  • Lack of breath
  • Loss of stamina while exercising or playing
  • Cough
  • Loss of appetite or weight
  • Fainting
  • Abdominal distension
  • Difficulty sleeping consistently through the night

If you recognize one or more of these symptoms in your dog, take him to a veterinarian for immediate examination and further diagnosis.

Continuing the Diagnostic Process

After you have reported the symptoms that you've noticed to your veterinarian, he will conduct a thorough physical examination of your dog for further signs of congestive heart failure. During this test, your vet will likely use a stethoscope or other device to listen to your pet's heartbeat for signs of irregularity.

Additional tests will be necessary to confirm the cause of your dog's symptoms. An electrocardiogram or radiograph test measures the electrical process of your dog's heart, and tests for the heart's strength and proper functioning. Blood tests can show whether your pet is suffering from abnormal hormone or chemical levels in his blood, some of which may indicate heart problems. Typically, your veterinarian will conduct one or more of these tests in order to determine the cause of your pet's symptoms.

Once you have worked with your vet to determine the status of our dog's heart health, you can then access the potential treatment or management techniques. If your dog's heart is in early stages of congestive failure, long-term protective measures like changes of diet and drug regimens may be helpful. However, in some cases the damage to your dog's heart will be severe before he displays any outward symptoms of heart failure. In these cases, surgery may be helpful in remedying his condition. Otherwise, you can work with your vet to ease your pet's discomfort and pain during the final stages of the condition.

Congestive heart failure can be prevented through a variety of means, including proper diet and exercise. Consult with your veterinarian for further information about this condition and its diagnosis.