Congestive Heart Failure in Dogs

Pets can suffer from a variety of heart conditions. Some types of heart disease may lead to congestive heart failure in dogs. CHF in dogs is a common condition for senior canines. It affects almost 25 percent of dogs between the ages of 10 and 12. While this can be devastating for many pet owners, pups don’t usually die from heart attacks like humans do. If congestive heart failure is caught early enough, the prognosis won’t be as detrimental. Learn more about congestive heart failure in dogs here so you can provide your pet with the best opportunity for treatment.

What is Congestive Heart Failure in Dogs?

What exactly is congestive heart failure in dogs? When a dog’s heart fails to pump enough blood, the body is usually able to compensate and ensure tissues and organs receive the blood and oxygen they need. However, as the condition progresses, a canine’s body will be less able to compensate for the lack of blood flow. As a result, the heart will not be able to pump enough blood which causes fluid to build up in the lungs and other areas. This causes congestion and will eventually lead to heart failure.

Certain types of canine heart disease can make it difficult for your dog’s heart to effectively pump blood to the rest of his or her body. Heart disease can progress slowly and impact the left, right, or both sides of a dog’s heart.

A canine’s heart consists of a four-chambered pump made of muscle. The heart muscle of a dog is made up of the same four chambers that humans have: the left ventricle, right ventricle, left atrium and right atrium. Each chamber is separated by heart valves that make it so blood can only flow in one direction. When the heart contracts, the pump will distribute blood throughout your dog’s body supplying each organ with oxygen and disposing of waste. Congestive heart failure occurs in dogs when the heart is unable to perform these functions and can be caused by several different factors. Simply put, it means your pet’s heart can’t deliver enough blood throughout his or her body.

What Causes Congestive Heart Failure in Dogs?

Some dogs are born with heart defects which puts them at a higher risk for congestive heart failure later in life. Infection, injury, and old age can make a heart defect worse for some pups. Nutrition and exercise play a role in causing congestive heart failure as well.

Around 10 percent of canines have some form of heart disease, but some may have a higher risk than others. Dog breeds predisposed to heart disease include Chihuahuas, Pomeranians, Boston Terriers, Miniature Pinschers, Pekingeses, Miniature Poodles, Toy Poodles, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, Fox Terriers, and Miniature Schnauzers.

While many health conditions can lead to congestive heart failure in dogs, chronic valve disease is one of the most common causes. When heart valves degenerate, they can fail to function properly. This creates an increased workload for the heart and eventually leads to congestive heart failure. The disease can also be caused by heart murmurs. Heart murmurs in dogs are extra heart vibrations caused by a disruption in blood flow. This heart condition can lead to quickening of a dog’s heart rate and eventually cause CHF in dogs.

Other types of heart disease and heart defects that can lead to congestive heart failure in dogs include:

  • Congenital heart disease
  • Heartworm Disease
  • Acquired heart disease
  • Dilated cardiomyopathy
  • Degenerative mitral valve disease
  • Pulmonic stenosis
  • Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy
  • High blood pressure

What Are the Symptoms of Congestive Heart Failure in Dogs?

Knowing the symptoms of congestive heart failure in dogs will allow you to provide your pooch with timely treatment. The most common signs of canine congestive heart failure include difficulty breathing accompanied by coughing. However, your dog will show different symptoms during the early and later stages of the condition.

In addition to coughing and labored breathing, early symptoms for dogs with CHF may include:

Most dogs will show one or two early symptoms with others appearing as the condition progresses. However, some canines will exhibit several signs during the early stages of congestive heart failure. If your dog is predisposed to heart disease or was born with a heart defect, keep an eye out for the early symptoms of congestive heart failure in dogs. If your pet is experiencing any of these symptoms, schedule an appointment with your veterinarian.

During the late stages of congestive heart failure, your dog may exhibit symptoms including:

  • Severe weight loss
  • Chronic diarrhea or vomiting
  • Swelling of the legs
  • Bluish or gray-colored gums or tongue
  • Restlessness
  • Difficulty breathing and ongoing coughing
  • Fluid buildup (ascites) leading to a swollen abdomen
  • Frequent fainting or sudden collapse
  • Frequent whimpering or crying from pain
  • Seizures
  • Profuse bleeding

Unfortunately, some instances of congestive heart failure in dogs will not be caught early-on. If you notice any of the symptoms of the later stages, it’s important to take your pup to a vet clinic or pet hospital immediately.

Diagnosing Congestive Heart Failure in Dogs

To diagnose canine congestive heart failure, a full physical examination will be performed by your vet. This will indicate whether your dog has an abnormal heart size, pleural effusion, pericardial effusion (abnormal fluid accumulation in the pericardial sac of the heart), or a heart defect. An enlarged heart is common for senior dogs and can be detected with a heart ultrasound which will also determine the shape and movement of the heart. During the examination, your vet will conduct a complete blood profile which will include a blood count and urinalysis.

When you take your dog to see the vet, be sure to tell them about each and every symptom you’ve noticed and how long it’s been going on. A veterinarian will want to know what your pet has been eating, which medications or supplements they’re taking, and if your pup is currently on a heartworm disease preventative. Most vet clinics will request your dog’s complete health history as well as information about any incidents that may have contributed to the condition. Your pet’s health history can give the veterinarian staff clues as to which organs are being affected by the heart condition.

Other tests for diagnosing congestive heart failure in dogs will likely include:

  • Heartworm antigen testing through blood work
  • Listening to the heart through a stethoscope
  • Fluid analysis
  • Chest X-rays
  • Electrocardiogram (ECG) to measure electrical signals from the heart
  • Holter monitoring to capture heart rate and rhythms

Upon diagnosis of congestive heart failure, it’s essential that you start treatment as soon as possible.

Treatment for Congestive Heart Failure in Dogs

Most pets will be treated through outpatient care unless the condition is severe. Treatment recommendations may include limited physical activity, weight management, and a modified diet with reduced sodium to decrease the buildup of fluid in your pet’s body.

When congestive heart failure is caught during the early stages, your pet will have a good chance of slowing the progression of the condition. After getting a diagnosis, the first step in treating congestive heart failure in dogs is selecting a veterinary cardiologist. Your vet clinic will be able to give you a referral.

Unfortunately, congestive heart failure cannot be completely reversed, but some treatments may slow the progression of the condition and extend your dog’s life. Depending on the stage of the disease and the age of your pet, your vet may only recommend treatment to alleviate some of the painful and uncomfortable symptoms associated with congestive heart failure. A specific treatment plan for your pup will be determined by which heart problem he or she has and what was causing the problem.