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Treatment for Congestive Heart Failure in Dogs

| Updated September 26, 2017

Underlying heart disease in dogs can result in congestive heart failure. Most canine cases of congestive heart failure are caused by mitral valve insufficiency. Your vet can diagnose the condition by conducting X-rays, ultrasounds, blood tests and urinalysis, but the first clue is simply listening to the heartbeat with a stethoscope. While there's no cure for congestive heart failure, treatment can help manage the disease and give your dog a better quality of life.

Congestive Heart Failure

The heart is a pump, sending blood throughout the body; congestive heart failure is basically a pumping disorder. Because the heart no longer effectively pumps blood, fluid starts accumulating in the chest cavity, stomach or lungs. Fluid in the lungs causes serious breathing issues, including constant coughing. Your vet can relieve the fluid accumulation temporarily via needle aspiration, but will prescribe medications to get rid of fluid. Other symptoms include a swollen abdomen, muscle wasting and weight loss, appetite loss, lethargy and pale gums.

Diuretics for Heart Failure

Your vet probably will prescribe diuretics for your dog. These medications help remove excess fluid from the body, with the fluid going through the kidneys and then urinated out. Common diuretics include furosemide, marketed under the brand name Lasix, and hydrochlorothiazide, marketed as Microzide. If your vet is concerned about your dog's potassium levels, she might prescribe spironolactone, marketed as Aldactone, which, unlike other diuretics, does not remove potassium.

Vasodilators for Heart Failure

Vasodilators relax your dog's blood vessels, putting less pressure on his heart and allowing it to pump more easily. Common vasodilators include that old standby nitroglycerin, sold under the brand name Nitrostat; sodium nitroprusside, marketed as Nipride and hydralazine, sold under the brand name Apresoline. Angiotensin-converting enzyme, or ACE, inhibitors, also relax blood vessels and are prescribed for congestive heart failure. Brand names include Lotensin, Prinivil and Enacard. Vets often prescribe pimobendan -- marketed under the brand name Vetmedin -- a positive inotrope that strengthens the heart muscle.

Other Therapies

Your vet might prescribe dietary therapies to help your dog. These include special sodium-restricted foods. His exercise likely will be limited. Your supportive care is an important part of your dog's congestive heart failure treatment, as you must monitor his breathing rate regularly to notice any changes quickly. Normally, canine respiration rates are less than 40 breaths per minute. Keep a record of your dog's daily breathing rate and inform your vet of any change.