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Congestive Heart Failure in Dogs

By: PetPlace Veterinarians

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Veterinary care should include diagnostic tests and subsequent treatment recommendations.

Diagnosis In-depth

Diagnostic tests are needed to properly diagnose congestive heart failure. Tests may include:

  • Complete medical history and physical examination, with emphasis on stethoscope examination (auscultation) of the heart and lungs. Of particular importance is the identification of abnormal heart sounds such as heart murmurs or irregular heart rhythms (arrhythmia).

  • A chest radiograph (X-ray) is usually needed to identify heart enlargement, fluid accumulation in the lung and exclude some of the previously mentioned conditions that can mimic heart failure.

  • The blood pressure is usually measured. This is done with the special device that measures blood flow, noninvasively, through the legs. Both high and low blood pressure values usually need to be identified as either can occur in patients with heart failure.

  • An electrocardiogram (EKG) is often obtained to identify heart enlargement and determine the electrical activity of the heart. The electrocardiogram is a noninvasive test done by attaching small contact electrodes to the limbs and body.

  • Ultrasound examination of the heart (echocardiogram) may be needed for a definitive diagnosis. This noninvasive test requires sophisticated equipment that creates high frequency sound waves much like the sonar of a submarine. An image of the heart is created. The echocardiogram is usually the test of choice to establish the final diagnosis of the cause of congestive heart failure, but this examination may require referral to a specialist.

  • Laboratory (blood) tests are often recommended to evaluate other organ function, such as the kidney, and exclude anemia as a complicating factor. This can be critical to evaluate the effect of heart failure on other organs such as the kidneys and to monitor the effects of treatment. A blood test to detect heartworm infection may be recommended in some patients.

    Your veterinarian may recommend additional diagnostic tests to insure optimal medical care. These are selected on a case-by-case basis. Examples may include:

  • Specialized blood tests such as blood taurine in cases of dilated cardiomyopathy.

  • Thyroid tests to exclude abnormal function of the thyroid gland.

  • Blood cultures in suspected infection of the heart valves.

  • Doppler studies, which are a special type of echocardiography and often require referral to a specialist. Doppler studies more accurately diagnosed blood flow disturbances.

  • Thoracocentesis (draining fluid from around the lung) or abdominal paracentesis (draining fluid from the abdominal cavity) may be necessary to provide relief from the excessive fluid and determine the cause of the abnormal fluid accumulation. Tests on the fluid can help determine its cause.

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