HEART DISEASE – HEART FAILURE One of the most common medical problems in dogs and cats is heart disease. Heart disease is broad term used to describe any destructive process within the heart. It occurs more often in senior and geriatric dogs than cats.

All mammals have a four-chambered heart consisting of a right atrium and ventricle and a left atrium and ventricle. Blood carries deoxygenated (metabolized) blood back to the heart to be pumped by the right ventricle to the lungs for oxygenation. The oxygen rich blood is then pumped by the left ventricle (the large heart muscle) via the aorta to the organs and muscles. When a valve leaks between the chambers blood back-flows from where it came, resulting in a heart murmur. When the heart muscle weakens it causing back-up of blood and is generally termed heart disease.

Congestive heart disease is a condition where the heart fails to effectively pump sufficient oxygenated blood from the heart to the peripheral tissues. Heart disease can cause fluid to accumulate in the lungs or abdomen. Left sided heart failure causes congestion and fluid buildup in the lungs, whereas right-sided heart failure causes edema and ascites, fluid accumulation in the subcutaneous tissues and abdomen. Heart disease also results in the inadequate flow of blood to vital organs such as the kidneys, liver, lungs, etc.

Congestive heart disease is symptomized by night coughs, inactivity, and apparent shortness of breath, and sometimes cyanosis (blue or muddy gums). Coughing, typically low-pitched night coughs, difficulty breathing, shortness of breath, reduced exercise tolerance, noticeable weight gain or loss and abdominal distention can all be caused by heart disease.

Radiographs (x-rays) are required to visualize the condition of the lungs and the shape and size of the heart. The most important things to do to help reduce the burden on a heart patient’s heart are to remove excess weight by dieting if needed. All salt should be removed from the diet (Science Diet H/D is salt free). Lasix (furosemide) is needed as a diuretic to control blood pressure. Unlimited fresh water must be accessible at all times. Enalapril is often indicated to help the ventricle (heart muscle) pump harder and more effectively.

Because Lasix wastes potassium, animals receiving Lasix may require potassium supplements like bananas or unsalted nuts. It is important that heart patients have periodic blood tests to evaluate vital organ function and electrolyte balance.

With proper treatment and diet many dogs with heart disease or even heart failure (multiple systemic symptoms apparent) can survive for years and enjoy a good quality of life.