Long Term Heart Failure Therapy

Veterinarian Reviewed on January 31, 2008 by Dr. Janice Huntingford


There are two recognized types of long term heart failure. Backward failure is when your heart can no longer pump blood and forward failure when your heart is unable to supply enough oxygen for the cells in your body. These definitions hold true for both humans and animals.

Short Term Implications of Heart Failure

In the short term, your pet’s body has a number of responses to help it adjust to heart failure. If an animal’s blood pressure suddenly drops and autonomic response is triggered in order to restore and maintain blood pressure to keep the brain alive. There is any number of factors that could cause a sudden blood pressure drop. For example, if your pet is seriously injured and a blood vessel is severed its body needs to quickly react in order to provide enough oxygen to muscles and tissues. The autonomic response increases heart rate and blood pressure in order to move more blood. Hormones are released to communicate with internal organs like the kidneys. Hormones also act to constrict the blood vessels so that blood loss is minimized. All these responses are aimed at maintaining circulation so the brain can continue to function.

Unfortunately, these responses often lead to heard failure. The heart is working much harder than it is accustomed to working.

Treating Heart Failure in the Long Term

Dealing with long term heart failure requires an understanding of what heart failure means. During heart failure, your pet’s heart likely cannot manage regular blood volumes. Other health conditions like pulmonary oedema are associated with heart failure and further complicate treating the heart failure. First of all, comfort is a key. Your pet should be totally at ease and able to engage in moderate exercise.

Also, there are dietary concerns. Your veterinarian will recommend that your pet go on a sodium reduced diet. This helps to minimize the risk of complications. Furthermore, your pet should be given access to plenty of water and some veterinarians will recommend purified water (to remove sodium from the drinking water).

Diuretics are commonly prescribed to prevent fluid build up. Diuretics act to release hormones which communicate with the kidney to divert excess water to the bladder. In addition, diuretics have been known to have blood-thinning properties which are helpful for the weak heart. Thinner blood is easier to pump meaning the heart can conserve energy.

Another standard prescription is for a drug that inhibits the production of angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE). ACE promotes the production of angiotensin which essentially works to constrict blood vessels. ACE inhibitors reduce these effects thereby allowing the blood vessels to remain open. This decreases blood pressure and also makes it easier for the heart to pump.

Essentially, treating long term heart failure involves reversing the natural effects of your pet’s body. In an emergency situation your pet’s brain acts to save itself and ultimately drains the life out of the heart. Vascular constriction, high blood pressure, and other autonomic responses need to be reversed so the heart can recuperate.

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Read also: Administering Subcutaneous Fluid at Home
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Our Expert

Dr. Janice Huntingford
Janice Huntingford, DVM, has been in veterinary practice for over 30 years and has founded two veterinary clinics since receiving her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine at the Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph. She has studied extensively in both conventional and holistic modalities. Ask Dr. Jan

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