Congestive Heart Failure (CHF) in Dogs and Cats
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What is a Board-Certified Veterinary Cardiologist?

A Veterinary Cardiologist is a specialist that has advanced training in the heart and circulatory system.

To become a Board-certified Veterinary Cardiologist, a veterinarian usually completes a one year internship followed by extensive specialized training in an approved residency training program (usually 3-5 years). Most Veterinary Cardiologists work with small animals; however, some specialize in large animals, including horses and cattle.

What conditions do Veterinary Cardiologists treat?

Board-certified Veterinary Cardiologists focus on diagnosing and treating diseases of the heart and some lung conditions, which include:

Veterinary Cardiology Specialists will perform a complete and thorough physical examination on your animal, and based on these initial findings, additional tests will be discussed. They will also review your animal’s past history and current medications. Depending on your animal’s condition, diagnostic testing or treatments may include:

  • Echocardiography (sonogram) – non-invasive ultrasound imaging of the heart
  • Electrocardiography (ECG) – non-invasive electrical reading of the heart’s rhythm
  • Blood pressure evaluation
  • Holter monitor – 24 hour ECG performed at home
  • Radiography (x-rays) of the chest and lungs
  • Surgical repair of congenital heart defects
  • Cardiac catheterization procedures
  • Balloon valvuloplasty to dilate narrowed valves
  • Pacemaker implantation for animals with too slow of a heart rate
  • OFA Heart Registry Certification for breeding programs

How do Veterinary Cardiologists work with your primary care vet?

Board-certified Veterinary Cardiologists are an integral part of your animal’s health care team from the time a potential cardiac abnormality is noted. Early diagnosis and appropriate therapy of cardiac conditions helps your animal live a longer and healthier life. They work closely with your primary care veterinarian to ensure your animal’s optimal health. While some cardiac conditions require hospitalization, most conditions can be managed on an outpatient basis by a Board-certified veterinary cardiologist along with your primary care veterinarian.

Many Veterinary Cardiology Specialists practice in veterinary teaching hospitals or large referral clinics and are contributing to clinical research programs that aim to improve the cardiac health of animals. Veterinary Cardiology research is essential to identify new diagnostic tests and treatments for cardiac conditions in animals and even humans.

Veterinary education is also important to the Veterinary Cardiologist. From training veterinary students to providing continuing education courses to veterinarians and to training future board certified cardiologists, cardiology specialists are often involved in improving veterinary knowledge and understanding of the cardiac and circulatory conditions.


Find a Board-certified veterinary cardiologist using our search tool!

Edited by: 
Rebecca Saunders, DVM, DACVIM (Cardiology)
April, 2020

Congestive Heart Failure (CHF) in Dogs and Cats

Apr 22, 2020, 12:18 PM by User Not Found

What is Congestive Heart Failure (CHF)?

Congestive heart failure (CHF) is the result of an underlying heart disease that causes the heart to fail. Heart failure occurs when the heart is no longer able to effectively pump blood through the body and fluid then accumulates behind the failing pump—typically in/around the lungs or in the belly. The most common examples of diseases resulting in CHF are degenerative valve disease (progressive changes in the heart valves that cause heart enlargement) in small breed dogs, heart muscle disease in large breed dogs, and hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (genetic based thickening of the heart muscle) in cats of all types.

What are symptoms of CHF in dogs and cats? 

Most common symptoms:

  • Coughing
  • Labored breathing

Less common symptoms:

  • Exercise intolerance
  • Weakness
  • Decreased appetite
  • Bloating
  • Collapse

The most effective way to discover subtle symptoms of congestive heart failure in companion animals is to monitor their breathing rates during sleep. The normal sleeping breathing rate in the dog and cat is usually less than 30-35 breaths per minute. If the breathing rate becomes elevated, contacting your family veterinarian for medical treatment can avoid worsening heart failure and minimize the need for hospitalization.

How is CHF diagnosed? 

Your primary care veterinarian will notice abnormalities as a part of the pet’s annual or every six-month wellness evaluation. If they find abnormal lung sounds, a heart murmur, arrhythmia, elevations in a blood test called NT Pro-BNP, or a veterinarian notices other heart-related problems, they will then discuss referral to a board-certified veterinary cardiologist.

How is CHF treated? 

There are many ways companion animals develop CHF and the treatment depends on the underlying condition. In cases of heart damage resulting from a very fast heart rate, an over-active thyroid, or certain congenital heart defects, the congestion and cardiac damage may be nearly reversible with appropriate care. Other heart diseases can be managed and potentially slowed down with medications, but they are not reversible.

Medications used to treat the congestive signs of heart failure in companion animals are similar to medicines used for people with CHF. Drugs for decreasing fluid retention (diuretics), dilating blood vessels (ACE inhibitors), preventing blood clots (anti-platelet drugs) and slowing heart rate (beta blockers) are all in use in companion animal cardiology. These medications are readily available in pill or liquid forms and the majority in generic brands. Almost all owners are able to develop a system to get companion animals to take their medications on a daily basis.

What is the prognosis for dogs or cats with CHF? 

The prognosis for companion animals with CHF varies widely with the underlying condition. The more specifically we can treat the underlying disease and the earlier it is diagnosed, oftentimes the better the prognosis. In the worst cases, the expected lifespan may be as short as days to weeks while best cases are managed for many years. Veterinarians caring for companion animals with CHF work with individuals and families to provide their animals an excellent quality of life for as long as possible.

Edited by:
Rebecca Saunders, DVM, DACVIM (Cardiology)
April, 2020
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