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Congestive Heart Failure Symptoms in Dogs & Cats

Congestive Heart Failure
Symptoms & Diagnosis
Congestive heart failure symptoms in dogs & cats

Symptoms of congestive heart failure in dogs and cats vary depending on whether left and/or right-sided heart failure is present. The most common clinical signs are decreased endurance and exercise, intolerance, lethargy, coughing, and difficulty breathing. In severe cases and/or those with right-sided heart failure, symptoms may include abdominal pressure with fluid accumulation (known as ascites), jugular vein distention and/or pulsation of the vessels of the neck, and the gums, lips and tongue turning from a normal pink color to a pale or bluish color.

Left-sided heart failure in pets:

  • Decreased endurance and exercise
  • Intolerance
  • Lethargy
  • Coughing
  • Difficulty breathing

Right-sided heart failure in pets:

  • Abdominal pressure with fluid accumulation
  • Jugular vein pressure
  • Pulsation of neck vessels, gums, and lips
  • Tongue turning from pink to blue
Diagnosis of congestive heart failure (CHF) in pets

The diagnosis of congestive heart failure in dogs and cats is usually made through a combination of extensive history, physical examination, and diagnostic tests. On physical exam, jugular vein enlargement and pulsation may be observed. Auscultation (listening) of the heart involves using a stethoscope and will frequently detect the presence of a heart murmur in dogs or a gallop rhythm in cats. Arrhythmias (problems with heart rate) may be detected by checking pulse quality and rhythm. Chest X-rays are performed to assess the size and shape of the heart, and to detect fluid accumulation in or around the lungs. An ultrasound exam (echocardiogram) is often the most important and definitive test in determining the specific type of heart disease affecting your pet. An electrocardiogram is often done to determine both heart rate and rhythm by measuring the electrical activity of the heart. Finally, a new blood test known as the proBNP test can allow veterinarians to determine whether heart disease is present, even in pets with no clinical symptoms.

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