Although any breed of dog can potentially develop congestive heart failure it is most commonly known to affect smaller breeds of dogs. To further add to the problem often these dogs exhibit few symptoms or signs to alert their owners to the ongoing, serious health condition that is slowly decreasing the heart's ability to function correctly. Since the signs of congestive heart failure are often very similar to what might be reasonable expected behaviors of an aging dog, often owners miss the first few subtle signs or assume they are just old age setting in.
There are three common and clear signs that owners of small breeds should be carefully monitoring their dogs for. These include decreasing energy and stamina levels, increased problems in breathing and increases in coughing either when exercising or when resting. Typically in dogs congestive heart failure is a weakness or lack of ability for the valves in the heart to prevent the blood from flowing backwards through the system. Arteries and veins becoming blocked are not typically a concern with dogs since their diet is not high in foods that can cause these conditions. Dogs that are fed incorrect diets and lots of human foods may have some obstruction of the blood vessels, but this is far less common than a valve or heart muscle problem.
Deceasing energy and stamina levels occur because the heart is no longer able to effectively pump oxygen rich blood to the body, resulting in weakness and lack of energy. The dog may seem willing to participate in games and on walks but simply doesn't seem to the have the ability. Along with this will be the rapid and labored breathing as the dog's body attempts to bring more oxygen into the system. Since the heart is not pumping correctly there is more fluid build up on the lungs, decreasing their functioning and effectiveness. Swelling of the heart will also put pressure on the respiratory system that will also increase the difficulty in drawing air in and out of the lungs. The coughing is the body's attempt to get rid of the pressure and fluid that is built up in the system. Often in the yearly vet check up a heart murmur will be noticed that may be a sign of valve problems developing in the heart.
Congestive heart failure cannot be cured, but it can be managed so the dog can lead a happy and normal life. He or she will typically be given a series of exams including an electrocardiogram, chest x-rays and blood work. For heart damage the vet will usually prescribe a combination of treatments that may include diuretics to remove excess fluids and sodium from the body, dilator medications to increase the size of blood vessels and improve blood flow, drugs such as Digitalis which will slow and strengthen the heart and a special diet that will decrease the sodium and increase essential nutrients.
A dog with congestive heart failure will need to be closely monitored and have limited levels of exercise to decrease stress on the heart. They should be given ample opportunity for reasonable length, slower walks and continued exercise as this is essential for overall health. Early detection and diagnosis and regular drug therapies can help dogs with congestive heart failure live several years after the diagnosis.