Congestive heart failure is a condition in which the heart is unable to pump appropriately, causing fluid to back up into the lungs. In this condition, your pet may exhibit exercise intolerance, an increased breathing rate, difficulty breathing, and pale or blue gums. Dogs may also experience coughing. Cats may breathe open-mouthed.
Pets suffering from congestive heart failure may have a history of heart murmur, which is turbulent blood flow in the heart, or gallop rhythm, which is an extra heart sound your vet may hear that may indicate heart disease. Congestive heart failure is often diagnosed with a physical examination, in conjunction with chest X-rays. The specific type of heart disease is diagnosed with an echocardiogram, which is like a sonogram for the heart.
If your pet is diagnosed with congestive heart failure, it is not necessarily a death sentence! The specific prognosis will depend on the severity of the situation, and on the type of heart disease from which the pet suffers. Treatment is aimed at clearing the fluid from the lungs and maintaining oxygen levels, blood pressure and electrolyte levels. The first line of medical therapy often involves diuretics (or “water pills,” as they are often called), which help remove fluid from the lungs. Other medications may be used as well, depending on the type of heart disease. Electrolytes should be monitored with blood tests, as some of these medications can change the electrolyte balance in the body. Some patients need to be hospitalized and kept on oxygen for a period of time while undergoing treatment. Hospital stays can be extended, depending on the severity of the case. While there is no cure for congestive heart failure, many pets do quite well with medical management and can live for several more years.
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