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Congestive Heart Failure


What is Congestive Heart Failure (CHF)?

Congestive Heart Failure (CHF) is a condition where the heart is unable to pump as adequate amount of blood around the body. It is not heart disease itself, but rather a symptom of it.

This condition creates an increase in pressure in the veins that connect into the heart. It causes some of the fluid that make up the blood to seep out of the veins and into body cavities, such as the lungs or abdomen.


Signs of CHF

1. Weakness, lethargy (tiredness) and exercise intolerance

2. Coughing (particularly at night)

3. Your pet may seem more comfortable sitting rather than lying down

4. "Pot bellied" appearance

One of the earliest changes you are likely to notice is your pet's respiratory rate (breathing) will increase. You can check this at home by watching your pet's breathing when they are fast asleep.

Less than thirty (30) breaths per minute (while resting) indicates normal heart function. More than thirty (30) breaths per minute (while resting) indicates that heart function may be compromised.

It may be a good idea to keep a journal of your pet's breathing rate so that any changes over time will be clear.

If your pet has a resting respiratory rate of more than 30 breaths per minute contact your vet ASAP (*see below for sleeping resting rate instructions).

So, my pet has CHF, what now?

Your vet will perform necessary diagnostic testing. These tests allow your vet to ensure the best treatment plan is created for the severity of the disease your pet has. These test may include:

1. Physical Exam including assessment of pulse quality and heart rhythm
2. Chest X-Rays to observe the size and shape of the heart and to determine whether there is any fluid in the lungs
3. Blood and Urine Tests to give an indication of any other disorders in the body. Liver and kidney function are often impaired in patients with heart disease. A Heartworm test may also be required if not up to date with current prevention.
4. An Electrocardiogram (ECG) to measure the electrical activity of the heart and allow accurate determination of both heart rate and rhythm
5. Ultrasound to evaluate the heart's contractions and to measure the amount of blood pumped by the heart using sound waves. 

What Treatments are Available?

While there is no specific cure for CHF, treatment plans are created on an individual patient basis to help reduce the symptoms of the condition.

There are different stages of CHF and treatment involves a combination of drug therapy and lifestyle changes. A tailored treatment plan will be created for you and your pet.

Some drug therapies focus on reducing fluid build up, others can assist the heart to beat more strongly and others improve blood flow. A reduced sodium (salt) diet is likely to be recommended also.


Please remember: As part of this condition, is it important to remember that all CHF patients must be seen every 3-4 months. This allows your vet to check on the progress of your pet and to determine if different treatment or therapy is required.


If your pet has been diagnosed with CHF, rest assured we will be with you every step of the way. Together we will work out the best treatment plan for you and your pet, ensuring they live a comfortable, good quality and happy life for as long as possible.


*What is SRR?

SRR refers to your pet's Sleeping Respiratory Rate. The SRR is a very useful tool in recognising the onset of or monitoring left sided congestive heart failure (CHF) in both dogs and cats.

Many of the common heart diseases lead to left sided congestive heart failure.  When pressure in the top left heart chamber increases and blood backs up into vessels within the lung, it results in blood accumulating in the lungs. This fluid, referred to as pulmonary oedema, causes an increase in your pet's respiratory rate.


How to monitor Sleeping Respiratory Rate

The good news is you can easily perform this test at home!

The measurement should be done when your pet is asleep in a normal environment (not too cold, not too hot). Repeat the measurement over 2-3 days (to get a baseline variation), and then ongoing monitoring should happen once or twice a week.

Normal SRR in dogs and cats is less than 30 breaths per minute, often in the high teens or low 20s.

If your pet has an underlying heart disease and their SRR is consistently greater than 30 breaths per minute, your pet could be developing CHF.  

An elevated SRR can also be caused by high blood pressure, anaemia, pneumonia, heat stress or a fever - so if you are concerned about your pet it's best to arrange a check up with us as soon as possible.

If you have any questions about congestive heart failure, please reach out to us at Pets Health Veterinary Practices.


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Pets Health is a full service animal hospital with clinics located in Hilton and O’Halloran Hill. We are dedicated to helping you keep your best mate happy and healthy through each stage of their life with compassionate and reassuring veterinary care.

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O’Halloran Hill Vet Centre

123 Main South Road
O’Halloran Hill, SA 5158

Hilton Vet Centre

142 Sir Donald Bradman Drive
Hilton, SA 5033