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Congestive Heart failure is the end result of many cardiac diseases. It
develops once the heart is no longer able to pump blood effectively. One
of the main effects of this is fluid build-up in the body. There are three
areas in which this fluid normally accumulates;
1. In the chest cavity (pleural effusion)
2. In the lung tissue (pulmonary oedema)
Fluid in or around the lung tissue can cause shortness of breath, increased respiratory rate, laboured breathing and a cough.
3. In the belly (ascites)
Fluid in the belly will result in an enlarged abdomen
Other symptoms include weight loss, fainting due to lack of oxygen to the brain, and exercise intolerance
due to lack of oxygen to the muscles.
Do dogs and cats get heart failure?
Yes, any animal with a degenerative heart condition is at risk of
going into heart failure. There are, however, some differences
in the way that the heart is affected, symptoms shown and
medications used to treat them.
The most common sign of heart failure in cats is difficulty
breathing or increased breathing rate. Cats are also at risk of
blood clots forming in the heart chambers due to the blood not
flowing properly through the heart. The clot (called a
'thrombus') attaches to the walls of the heart, but can break
loose and be carried out of the heart in the blood flow,
blocking small arteries and restricting blood flow to an area of
the body. This is called a Feline Aortic Thromboembolism (FATE).
The back legs are most commonly affected and this causes
paralysis of one or both legs and severe pain.
Dogs are more likely to develop breathing difficulties, exercise intolerance, and enlarged abdomen.
Dogs with heart failure may also cough, which is rare in cats.
My pet is in heart failure – what do I do now?
Once your pet goes into heart failure it is irreversible, but there are medications that can be prescribed to
help manage the symptoms and greatly improve quality of life. Your pet will need to have regular
check-ups to make sure that they are stable and on the medications they need at the correct doses.
Depending on the severity of the disease, they may also need to come in occasionally to have fluid
drained from the chest cavity or belly to make them more comfortable. Once your pet starts treatment
for heart failure it is for life and their medications should not be stopped or altered without the advice of
their vet.
Is there anything I can do at home to help my pet?
There are several things that you can do for your pet at home. Firstly, monitor their resting respiratory rate.
This is the rate that they are breathing at when they are completely at rest and calm. To count your pet’s
respiratory rate, count the number of breaths that they take in one minute. Breathing in and out count as
one full breath. Normal respiratory rate will vary from animal to animal, but should generally be under 30
breaths per minute. Keep a record of what is normal for your pet and monitor them regularly for any
signs of change. Your vet can supply you with a monitoring chart, and there are also free apps available
Another way which you can help your pet is by feeding them a low sodium diet and avoiding any salty
treats. You should also take care to avoid your pet putting on excessive weight, as this will put an extra
strain on the heart.