Pet Columns, Office of Public Engagement, College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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CHF, Not a New Sports Drink


Pet Column for the week of September 23, 1996


Office of Public Engagement
2001 S. Lincoln Ave.
Urbana, Illinois 61802
Phone: 217/333-2907
By Joseph Hahn
Information Specialist

Congestive heart failure (CHF) is a complex and serious condition defined as the heart's
inability to function normally, leading to excessive retention of water and salt causing fluid
build-up in the lungs.

"The most important sub-group that can develop this disease is the older small breed dogs,
such as miniature poodles and dachshunds," says Dr. Daniel Hogan, veterinarian and
cardiology resident formerly with the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine in Urbana.
"The major underlying cause is degeneration of the heart valves."

Dogs with this condition often develop a heart murmur. Dr. Hogan explains that not all dogs
that have heart murmurs will develop congestive heart failure. If the valve problem
progresses, it will become leaky and blood will flow backwards through the heart. The
heart will no longer function normally and fluid will accumulate in the lungs or the abdomen.
In response, the kidney will retain water and salt, exacerbating the problem.

He explains that while humans often develop CHF, the condition is less likely to be caused
by valvular disease and more likely caused by obstruction of the coronary arteries and
subsequent loss of functional heart muscle tissue.

"There are three main signs to be aware of in dogs with congestive heart failure. These are
exercise intolerance, labored breathing and coughing," says Dr. Hogan. "It is important to
provide your dog with a yearly check-up and allow your veterinarian to follow up on any
abnormal findings."

A physical exam and a cardiovascular exam including chest radiographs, an
electrocardiogram and in many cases an echocardiogram are usually performed.

"These dogs are classically treated using the four Ds of heart failure therapy," says Dr.
Hogan. The four Ds include:

1.Diet - a low sodium diet to restrict sodium intake.
2.Diuretics - these are drugs that signal the kidneys to excrete excess sodium and
water.
3.Dilators - these drugs either dilate arteries (to decrease stress on the heart), dilate
veins (to decrease pressure on backside of heart and relieve congestion), or both.
4.Digoxin (Digitalis) - these drugs make the heart beat stronger, slow the heart, and
reestablish normal cardiovascular responses.

Once dogs develop heart failure, Dr. Hogan estimates a life expectancy of between six
months and several years, with treated dogs living longer than untreated dogs.

It is important to remember that a degeneration of heart valves is a common aging change in
small breed dogs and that the presence of a heart murmur does not necessarily indicate
heart failure. Veterinary cardiologists are available for consultation at the college's
Veterinary Medicine Teaching Hospital and in most metropolitan communities.