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Does your heart skip a beat when you see your dog? Mine sure does, because I love my crazy mutts! Perhaps it’s a subtle reminder that heart health is so important. Heart failure in dogs is caused by heart disease and can be very expensive to treat. It’s a life-long condition that includes chronic medication, veterinary visits, and lifestyle changes. There are two primary ways the heart can fail, and some breeds are more prone to heart disease than others.
While heart failure is covered by pet insurance companies, there are some restrictions depending on the company or policy. Like all pet insurance policies, heart failure is not covered if it is a pre-existing condition. Since heart failure requires such extensive treatment, pet insurance is a great tool to have in your tool box. Managing heart disease is stressful enough, so having expensive veterinary bills covered can relieve some of that stress so you can focus on giving your canine companion some much deserved love!
What is Heart Failure and What are the Symptoms?
Heart failure in dogs happens for two primary reasons. The first is a backward failure, which means the heart is not able to pump out the volume of blood it receives. This is the more common reason for heart failure in dogs. Fluid will back up and leak from the heart into the lungs, or it will buildup in the stomach. The second reason the heart may fail is because the heart is unable to pump out enough blood to supply oxygen to the body.
Symptoms of heart failure in dogs include shortness of breath, fatigue and weight loss. Often times the dog will have a wet cough after exercise, and the cough will get worse at night. If fluid is in the stomach, it can appear large and bulging. If your dog suffers from heart failure, the short-term disaster must be resolved first, then a long-term treatment plan can be developed.
Heart failure can be fatal. It can be difficult and costly to manage. Sadly, it can significantly lower the life span of your dog. Heart failure is usually a symptom of some form of heart disease. When the heart works harder to keep the blood pressure up and circulate blood to the brain, the vessels close off and the body retains more salt. A dog with a weak heart, or a secondary heart disease, can’t handle the extra blood volume created by retaining salt. It can’t pump the blood faster, harder and more frequently.
A dog’s body has protective mechanisms that uphold circulation of blood to the heart and brain and keep the blood pressure up, this is great in the short-term. Unfortunately, these protective mechanisms can create problems in long-term treatment of heart disease by overworking the weak heart.
Types of Heart Disease in Dogs
Mitral valve disease: A critical valve in the heart becomes leaky and allows blood to flow through the heart in the wrong direction. This is the most common type of heart disease in dogs.
Breeds Most Commonly Affected:
Cavalier King Charles Spaniels
Dilated Cardiomyopathy: The heart muscle becomes weak and reduces the heart’s ability to pump blood effectively. Is also very common among dogs.
Breeds Most Affected:
How is Heart Failure Treated and Managed?
Managing heart failure is difficult because the treatment has to be mild enough for the weak heart to handle, but strong enough to treat the symptoms. Firstly, your dog will need to undergo a lifestyle change which includes moderate exercise and low sodium diet and treats. It’s crucial that you consult your veterinarian about the diet you choose, so he or she can view the ingredients list and guaranteed analysis. Some research indicates that omega 3 fatty acids can be beneficial. It’s also recommended to use purified water, as some local water contains high sodium. Low sodium diets are very bland, and it can be really difficult to get a dog to eat these diets. This creates another problem because muscle loss is not ideal for a dog with heart failure.
Lifestyle change and sodium restriction is just the beginning for a dog with heart failure. As the clinical stages of heart failure progress, the treatments become more intricate and costly. Regular check-ups at the vet and medications are vital parts of the treatment plan. These check-ups may often include x-rays, ultra-sounds and bloodwork. Managing heart failure is important, but finding the root cause of the heart failure is equally important. Understanding the heart disease that your dog is suffering from can help you develop the best long-term treatment plan.
Medications Used to Treat Heart Failure
Diuretics: A diuretic is a drug that increases urine production and lowers blood pressure. Diuretics can make the kidneys remove more sodium and water from the body, and can help in a heart failure crisis where the lungs are filling with fluid. The drug is usually paired with an ACE inhibitor or high blood pressure medication for long-term therapy. The most common diuretic used in the treatment of heart failure is furosemide.
This drug allows for less sodium retention in the heart and keeps blood vessels open. ACE stands for angiotensin converting enzyme. Angiotensinogen is an inactive product made by the liver that circulates all the time and slowly converts to a substance called angiotensin I. When a dog’s blood pressure drops, receptors in the kidney notice the drop and release renin, a hormone that quickly converts angiotensinogen to angiotensin I. The drug is often used with a diuretic, although pairing the two drugs for long-term use can negatively affect the kidneys, so routine bloodwork is recommended.
This is a newer drug that helps the heart pump blood better and stronger. It’s often paired with a diuretic. It dilates the blood vessels traveling to and from the heart.
This is commonly added in addition to the previously mention medications, but it is difficult to dose and can have side effects. Digoxin can cause the heart to pump stronger and more efficiently without pumping any faster, but the effects are mild in comparison to Pimodendan. It can reduce heart rate and certain rhythmic disturbances.
How Much Does Treatment Cost?
Costs for managing heart failure can vary. Short-term heart failure can be quite costly because it’s a life-long condition. Often times the first sign of distress can create an emergency situation with added fees. Specialists are expensive- so is chronic medication. Treating heart failure in an emergency situation can cause anywhere between $200-$1000 depending on the condition of the pet. Managing the illness can cost anywhere between $600-$2500 annually. Some pets only need a diuretic, while others will need more medications added.
How to Check Your Dog’s Respiratory Rate
If your dog has heart failure, his or her respiratory rate will go up. You will need to determine what your dog’s respiratory rate is normally. When your pet is nice and calm, count the number of chest excursions during a 30 second- breaths in and out. You need to find out what the ‘resting’ respiratory rate is. Take the number of breaths counted during the 30-second span and multiply it by two. A normal resting respiratory rate is between 20-30 breaths per minute. Record the numbers on a daily basis, to get a good average reading. If you see a big increase, your pet may be in distress and should see the veterinarian. Check out this video guide to view a demonstration.
Plans and Coverage Comparison of Heart Failure
Most of these seven different pet insurance companies cover heart failure and heart disease as long as it is not a pre-existing condition. This means that heart failure diagnosed before you signed up for your policy is not covered. A dog that has been diagnosed with a heart murmur will likely not be covered for future heart disease. You also have a coverage waiting period after you sign up, so signing up for pet insurance after your pet’s been diagnosed with heart failure is not worth it.
Nationwide covers heart failure in their accident and illness plans, but doesn’t cover it in their Pet Wellness plan, a plan for preventative care. Heart disease is considered a congenital condition. A congenital condition is one developed before the dog was born, in utero. Pet First will cover congenital conditions as long as you meet some of their terms. Pet Plan, Embrace Pet Insurance, Pets Best, FIGO and Healthy Paws Insurance all cover congenital conditions diagnosed after your coverage has fully taken effect.
Yes, You Should have Pet Insurance for Heart Failure- and a Lot of Other Things
For the most part, pet insurance companies cover heart failure as long as it ‘s not a pre-existing condition. Since treatment is expensive and life-long, pet insurance is a great thing to have for a dog with heart disease. You may think “why am I preparing for my dog’s potential future heart disease?” Try thinking of it this way instead: it could also be preparing for your dog’s future. It’s best to get when your dog is a puppy. Pet insurance covers most diseases and accidents. Pet insurance can be life-saving. Treating heart disease includes regular vet visits, multiple medications, and routine bloodwork. The costs can add up fast. Having pet insurance can give you some relief. Your dog is always in your heart, and pet insurance can help you cover the costs of ensuring that your dog’s heart is healthy. You can’t beat a healthy heart!