This information is provided by Provet for educational purposes only.
You should seek the advice of your veterinarian if your pet is ill as only he or she can correctly advise on the diagnosis and recommend the treatment that is most appropriate for your pet.
The heart several roles to play in the body ...it even produces hormones, but it's primary role is to pump blood around the body
When the heart "fails" it is no longer able to pump blood to the tissues in sufficient amounts. This is very serious because the body's tissues need a regular supply of oxygen and nutrients which are carried to them by the blood, and they also require the blood to take away waste products. These wastes are eventually removed from the body usually in the urine or the faeces, but also in expired breath.
When the heart fails to maintain blood supply to the tissues your pet may develop clinical signs ...these include fainting (if insufficient blood reaches the brain) and weakness (if insufficient blood reaches the muscles).
In addition to insufficient blood reaching the tissues, blood may not be returned back properly from the organs to the heart. This results in "congestion" of the tissues...which can cause problems. Fluid may move out from the blood into the tissues and cause "oedema". This is seen as swelling of the legs, or, if fluid moves into the lungs a cough results, and if fluid moves into the abdominal cavity it causes dropsy (also called ascites).
So, in a nutshell, heart failure creates serious circulatory problems for every major organ system in the body because insufficient oxygen and nutrients are supplied, and fluids and toxic waste materials can accumulate in them and secondary organ failure can be a consequence of primary heart failure.
Updated October 2013