For many owners, getting a diagnosis for their pet, and being given all the medications they need, is a bit of a whirlwind. And often you get home and realise you have unanswered questions or you’ve forgotten what was said. If your pet has recently been prescribed pimobendan, you might be wondering what it is for, and how it works.

What is Pimobendan?

Pimobendan is a drug commonly given to veterinary patients with heart failure. It’s usually used in dogs, but may occasionally be prescribed to cats. It’s one of the most useful and well-tested drugs for veterinary cardiac patients, and it has a good safety record. 

Pimobendan is the name of the drug; it is marketed under several brand names. These include Cardisure, Pimocard, Pimotab, Vetmedin and Zelys; and it may also be combined with other drugs in products such as in Fortekor Plus.

How is pimobendan given to pets?

Pimobendan is an oral medication usually given in tablet form, but that may be reconstituted into a liquid or paste in certain situations. Pimobendan needs to be given on an empty stomach, about an hour before food. The tablets are generally flavoured so it can be given as a treat, However, if your dog is fussy you may need to disguise it further. If this is the case, please remember that it should be taken on an empty stomach and discuss with your vet if you are struggling. Unless your vet decides otherwise, it also needs to be given twice daily (every 12 hours). 

You should store pimobendan in a dark place at room temperature. Tablets that have been halved to achieve the correct dose should be kept dry and used at the next dose or within 24 hours. 

Why has my pet been prescribed pimobendan?

Pimobendan for dogs is prescribed for congestive heart failure, which can be caused by several heart conditions. The most common heart condition that pimobendan is prescribed for is Mitral Valve Disease. However, it may also be prescribed for Dilated Cardiomyopathy. 

Signs of congestive heart failure include breathlessness, reluctance to exercise, lethargy or cough. In most dogs, a heart murmur will also be audible with a stethoscope. Some pets have no signs of a problem, but their heart disease is noted on annual examination or routine bloodwork. 

Pimobendan helps the heart to function correctly. It has been shown to increase the life expectancy of dogs diagnosed with heart failure. 

How does pimobendan work?

Pimobendan causes the heart to pump more effectively. It does this because it sensitises the heart to the effects of calcium, one of the signals used by the heart when it’s contracting. The heart therefore relaxes and contracts more effectively. Pushing the blood around the body (this family of drugs are sometimes called “positive inotropes” because they help the heart push harder). 

It also works to cause the blood vessels to open – ‘vasodilate’ – which reduces the amount of pressure the heart has to pump against. With less pressure to push against, less blood flows backwards through leaky valves. Not only does this mean that more blood is moving in the right direction, it means there’s less stress on the heart.

What are the possible side effects of pimobendan?

Pimobendan is considered to be a relatively safe drug. In some cases, higher doses may cause a fast heart rate and vomiting, but this wears off quickly and can be prevented by reducing the dose. In rare cases, diarrhoea, lethargy and inappetence have been noted, but these are usually transient and improve on their own.

Are there any dogs that shouldn’t take pimobendan?

Pimobendan should be used with care in dogs with liver failure, renal failure, or for those in pregnancy or lactating. These dogs should be carefully evaluated, and the decision made on the basis of sufficient benefit despite the risk that it could cause problems. There are also some heart diseases where pimobendan wouldn’t usually be appropriate, such as aortic stenosis or hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.

Pimobendan also interacts with some other medications, especially diltiazem, propranolol and atenolol, which are also heart medications. You should tell your vet if your dog is taking any other medications, supplements or herbal remedies so that they can investigate whether there could be an unexpected interaction between the two.

Are there any alternatives to pimobendan for my dog?

Pimobendan is one of the most useful drugs in the veterinary armoury, and there’s nothing else that does the same thing. However, not all dogs will get on with pimobendan, so for some a new medication may have to be found. There are no herbal remedies that are known to be of use, unfortunately.

However, there are some things you can do to help your dog at home. You should limit their exercise to the point that they are happy with, and repeat this several times a day to keep them fit. You should also ensure they are not overweight, so that the heart doesn’t have to work as hard. 

Does my dog need a prescription for Pimobendan?

Pimobendan is a prescription-only medicine. This means that you can’t buy it over the counter, you’ll need to get it directly from a vet or pharmacy, and you’ll need to have a prescription from a vet. A vet can only give you a prescription for this if they’ve recently seen your dog. You will also need to see your vet regularly to ensure the medication and dose is still correct. Most vets will ask to see your dog every 3-6 months once they are stable on their medication.

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