Home Monitoring of Heart Disease in Pets

If your pet has been diagnosed with congestive heart failure, your veterinarian will probably want to see your pet frequently until their condition is stabalized.  Once everything is stable, it’s much better for your pet to be monitored by you, at home. And this is quite easy for any pet owner to do.  This is a very sensitive measure which, when recorded regularly, can be used to guide medical managment of CHF in your pet.

What Does a Pet Owner Need To Do?

You need only record the Resting Respiratory Rate (RRR) and characteristics or their respirations. The recording should be done when your pet is comfortably resting or asleep, in a thermo-neutral environment (i.e., not too cold, not too hot). Repeat this measure daily for 2-3 days (to establish their normal RRR) and then continue to monitor once or twice a week.
If the RRR changes substantially between measurements, you would then measure your pet’s RRR daily to confirm the change, or to document a trend. If a trend is documented, you would need to contact the veterinarian for further evaluation.

What is the normal RRR?

Normal RRR in dogs and cats is <30 breaths/min, often in the high-teens or low 20s. Consistent RRR >30 breaths/min in patients with underlying heart disease is strongly suggestive of developing CHF. However, primary respiratory disease with concurrent subclinical heart disease needs to be ruled out.

What else should owners look for?

Cats often have very subtle changes in demeanor or respiration prior to fulminant CHF.
Changes in appetite or activity or loss of weight in cats with known heart disease are often warning signs that CHF is imminent.
Coughing is a variable finding in CHF in dogs, and is not a feature of CHF in cats.

What do I do if RRR is high?

If RRR is elevated, thoracic radiographs and physical examination should be performed. If there is no clear evidence of CHF, a short diuretic trial can be employed (lasix @ 2mg/kg BID for 3-4 days). A reduction in the RRR to baseline with therapy further supports mild CHF.
Presence of sinus arrhythmia or sinus bradycardia is inconsistent with a diagnosis of CHF – nearly all animals with CHF will have sinus tachycardia.