Emergency management of congestive heart failure - Veterinary Medicine
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Emergency management of congestive heart failure
Patients brought to your practice with signs of congestive heart failure must be handled carefully but promptly to improve the chances of successful therapy. Here are some tips to initially help these critical patients.



Aside from oxygen supplementation, furosemide is one of the most important therapies for treating patients with CHF and cardiogenic pulmonary edema.18-21 Furosemide can be administered as a bolus (4 to 8 mg/kg intravenously or intramuscularly) or as a constant-rate infusion (0.66 to 1 mg/kg/hr intravenously) to promote diuresis and decrease pulmonary vascular overload and pulmonary edema. Subcutaneous administration and absorption of furosemide in patients with CHF is not dependable, given the degree of peripheral vasoconstriction, and, thus, is contraindicated. The goal of diuretic treatment is to repeat the therapy every 30 to 60 minutes until the patient's body weight has decreased by 5% to 7%. Loss of body weight typically corresponds with improvement of the patient's respiratory rate and effort as the pulmonary edema resolves. Once the patient's respiratory rate and effort have normalized, oral furosemide can be started. Repeated doses of furosemide can cause marked hypokalemia and metabolic alkalosis, particularly in cats, so potassium supplementation may be required in some patients.

Intravenous fluids: A cautionary note

Unless other drugs need to be administered by constant-rate infusion, the administration of intravenous supplemental fluids is contraindicated in patients with acute fulminant CHF. If intravenous fluids are necessary, a low-sodium fluid such as lactated Ringer's solution (130 mEq sodium/L), dextrose 5% in water, or half-strength (0.45%) saline solution should be considered at the lowest rate possible for drug administration.

Nitric oxide donors

Nitric oxide donors should be given as a primary initial therapy in any patient with fulminant CHF.22 Nitric oxide donors dilate the pulmonary and systemic vasculature, thereby reducing pulmonary vascular pressures. Nitroglycerine paste (0.25 in for patients < 10 kg [22 lb], 0.5 in for patients 10 to 20 kg [22 to 44 lb], 1 in for patients > 20 kg [44 lb] every eight hours) is absorbed readily across the skin and can be placed on the lateral body wall or the inner ear pinnae. If cardiac output is poor and the extremities, including the ear pinnae, are cool to the touch, nitroglycerine absorption may be poor. The axillary region or lateral thoracic wall would be a better site in these patients. Rotate the site at each treatment to improve absorption.

In a patient with refractory pulmonary edema not responding to traditional diuretic therapy, consider sodium nitroprusside, as long as the patient is not hypotensive. Sodium nitroprusside is a balanced arteriolar and venous dilator that decreases both pulmonary and systemic vascular resistance.23 The drug is administered as a constant-rate infusion (2 to 10 μg/kg/min intravenously, gradually increased to effect). Because of sodium nitroprusside's potent hypotensive effects, closely monitor arterial blood pressure throughout the infusion to reduce the risk of inducing organ hypoperfusion. When using sodium nitroprusside, start with the lowest dose possible (2 μg/kg/min), and gradually increase the dose to effect, checking blood pressures every five to 10 minutes. If the patient's blood pressure does not increase within 15 to 20 minutes, increase the dose in increments of 0.5 to 1 μg/kg/min to effect. Cyanide toxicosis has been suggested as a potential side effect with the use of nitroprusside for longer than 48 hours.


Morphine is an opioid agonist that can be used in patients with CHF. In dogs, low-dose (0.025 to 0.05 mg/kg intravenously every six to eight hours) morphine dilates the splanchnic vasculature and increases venous capacitance, allowing fluid drainage from the pulmonary parenchyma.24 Morphine also allows slower, deeper respirations and decreases anxiety in patients with CHF.


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