Home Care of the Heart Failure Patient
This information is not meant to be a substitute for veterinary care.
Always follow the instructions provided by your veterinarian.
While heart (cardiac) failure is usually not curable, with proper
management many pets can continue to enjoy a good quality of life. You will
play an important role in the management of your pet’s heart condition in
several ways. Although the following guidelines and suggestions may seem
overwhelming at first, most can easily be incorporated into your daily
Appetite, water intake, attitude, and general activity should be
monitored frequently. Changes in these parameters may indicate problems,
including medication side effects, worsening heart failure, another cardiac
complication, or a non-cardiac problem.
Observe your pet’s normal breathing (respiratory) rate during periods of
rest or sleep. Without disturbing your pet, count the number of breaths
he/she takes in 15 seconds and multiply that number by 4 to get the
breathing rate per minute. Usually this is less than 30 breaths/minute. A
persistent increase of 20% or more over 2 to 3 days may indicate the
accumulating of fluid in the lungs (pulmonary edema).
Your veterinarian may also suggest monitoring your pet’s resting heart
(pulse) rate. A persistent increase of 20% or more may also signal a
worsening heart failure.
It is common to use several medications simultaneously in the treatment
of chronic heart failure. Understanding the purpose and possible side
effects of each medication is helpful. Be sure to ask your veterinarian if
you don’t know the reason for using each medicine and what to watch for.
Because heart diseases do progress and complicating factors can arise, it is
usually necessary to make medication adjustments over time.
Conscientious administration of prescribed medications as directed is
important. This includes careful dividing of pills or measuring of liquids
when indicated, giving medications at the prescribed dose and time
intervals, and requesting refills before running out of medications. Posting
a medication schedule on the refrigerator and/or putting the day’s (or
week’s) pills in a labeled and compartmentalized pillbox ahead of time can
help keep you organized. Also, recording when a dose is given also helps
assure that your pet receives all medications as scheduled; especially if
more than one person is involved with the therapy.
Your veterinarian will want to review all the medications your pet is
receiving (including non-cardiac ones) at each recheck. This includes each
drug’s name, pill size (mg) or liquid concentration (mg/ml), dose being
given, and times of administration. For each of your pet’s recheck
appointments, either bring a current list of all medications, pill sizes,
dosages, etc. or all medication containers currently being used. Making a
logbook of daily medications given can be helpful, especially if your pet is
experiencing recurrent signs of heart failure or other complications.
Be sure to let your veterinarian know if you suspect adverse effects form
any medication. Periodically, he/she will also do blood tests to monitor
your pet’s kidney function and electrolyte (e.g. potassium, sodium) levels
as well as other tests as indicated.
Diets reduced in salt (sodium chloride) are usually recommended for
patients with heart failure because of the tendency to retain salt and water
with this condition. Generally, many supermarket and specialty brands of pet
food have relatively high salt levels. Homemade low salt diets can be made
if necessary, but commercially available reduced sodium diets are
recommended whenever possible because they are nutritionally balanced as
well as convenient. Treats and "people food" that are high in salt should be
avoided. These include processed meats and cheeses, chips, pretzels, etc.
Moderate salt restriction
Most animals with heart failure do well with moderate dietary salt
restriction (containing about 0.2 to 0.25% sodium on a dry matter basis for
dogs and 0.25 to 0.33% for cats). Science Diet Senior, Hills K/D and Purina
CNM NF-Formula are examples.
Greater salt restriction
More stringent sodium restriction is sometimes helpful in advanced heart
failure. Hill’s H/D, Waltham low sodium, Purina CNM Canine CV-Formula,
Hill’s Healthblend Canine Geriatric, and Purina CNM Feline NF-Formula are
examples. High levels of sodium in drinking water may be of concern in some
pets whose heart failure is hard to control; distilled or low sodium bottled
water can be used in this situation.
Decreased exercise tolerance and activity level may be one of the first
signs of heart failure. While strenuous exercise can provoke respiratory
symptoms, regular mild to moderate exercise is thought to be beneficial for
animals with compensated heart failure. Encourage an activity level that
does not cause excessive panting, shortness of breath, or weakness. Your pet
should not be forced to continue exercise with he/she tires.
Contact your veterinarian if your pet experiences collapse or sudden
weakness during activity or a dramatic decrease in overall exercise ability.
Animals with signs of severe or decompensated heart failure should not be
This Pet Health Topic was written by
O. L. Nelson, DVM, MS,
Diplomate ACVIM (Cardiology & Internal Medicine) Washington State
Washington State University assumes no liability for injury to you or
your pet incurred by following these descriptions or procedures.
top of page
||Did you find this information useful? Please
consider helping us train the veterinarians of tomorrow by making a
gift to the college.
The Pet Health Topics Web site is a free
service provided by the College of Veterinary Medicine at Washington
State University. Your donation will help support veterinary
education and research.