Tuesday, 12/20/2022

We all want our pets to live healthy and long life, and a condition like heart disease can be frightening even to imagine. But in reality, sometimes dogs can either be congenitally born with heart disease or acquire it through various variables, including age, food, illness, or infection. Knowing the signs, symptoms and the care to be taken helps us be with them every step of the way to live a long and healthy life

What Causes Dog Congestive Heart Failure?

Congestive heart failure is a disorder in which fluid builds up (congested) as a result of the heart’s impaired ability to pump blood efficiently throughout the body.

Depending on the kind of CHF, a damaged heart may find it difficult to pump blood, resulting in blood clotting in the lungs and fluid buildup in the chest, belly, or both.

Like humans, a dog’s heart has a right and a left side. Blood that is low in oxygen leaves the body through the right side and is sent to the lungs, where it is given oxygen. The oxygen-rich blood must be pumped back to the body on the left side to hydrate the tissues.

Warning Signs Of Canine Congestive Heart Failure

The following clinical symptoms may appear in dogs who have CHF:

  • Coughing, sometimes producing foam while doing so
  • Breathing issues
  • Breathing faster even when not doing anything
  • Being unable to exercise
  • Weakness, drowsiness, and exhaustion
  • Gums in cyan (blue) color
  • Belly that is enlarged
  • Sudden death or collapse

If your dog exhibits respiratory distress or breathing difficulties, seek emergency medical attention immediately. When your dog indicates mild to severe congestive heart failure symptoms, hospitalization and emergency care may be required.

Here is an infographic briefing the Warning Signs Of Canine

Warning Signs Of Canine Congestive Heart Failure
Canine congestive heart failure (CHF) is a severe and potentially life-threatening condition that affects dogs of all ages and breeds. So, it is crucial to be aware of the warning signs of CHF so that you can seek veterinary care as soon as possible if your dog is exhibiting any of these symptoms.
#1. Coughing

The first symptom of heart failure in dogs that many pet owners detect is frequent coughing. The coughing connected to heart failure is often dry, though some animals may cough up froth that contains blood or not.
As the heart disease worsens, the cough will get worse over time. Pets eventually start coughing even when they are at rest, and this symptom may make it harder for them to eat.
# 2. Restlessness and Pacing
When a dog has heart failure, it may pace because they are in pain or because the other heart failure symptoms are distressing them.
Heart failure in dogs can cause agitation. Some dogs with advanced heart failure take anti-anxiety medication because the condition may be stressful.
# 3. Difficulty Breathing
As a dog’s heart failure worsens, breathing will become more complex.
While sleeping or otherwise at rest, you could notice your pet’s sides heaving more or hear their wheezing while breathing. Additionally, they may pant or breathe more frequently while keeping their lips open.
# 4. Swollen Abdomen
Dogs with advanced heart failure may develop stomach swelling. This symptom results from fluid retention in the body due to the heart’s deterioration. 
Dogs with bloated abdomens may still be able to live for a while, but this indicates that their heart failure is nearing its end.
# 5. Weakness and Lethargy
Other symptoms of canine heart failure include weakness and lethargic behavior. Once heart failure is diagnosed in your pet, it’s typical to see that they get weaker and more lethargic.
Dogs with congestive heart failure may even lose consciousness because their hearts are under stress.
# 6. Fainting or Collapsing
Finally, fainting or collapsing can happen simultaneously with heart failure in dogs. 
If you are unsure what caused your pet to collapse or faint suddenly, take her to the emergency vet immediately. Although there are many additional options, heart failure is one of them.

Signs of Congestive Heart Failure in a Dog

Depending on the underlying heart condition and whether the right or left side of the heart is affected, the signs of CHF might vary. Sometimes, no matter which side you are on, the symptoms will be the same.

You should consult your veterinarian immediately when you first observe these symptoms.

  • Fainting
  • respiratory issues or lack of breath
  • not being able to exercise
  • continuous coughing
  • Fatigue
  • pacing before bed and having trouble falling asleep
  • Having no appetite
  • bloated abdomen (due to fluid buildup)
  • Loss of weight
  • A blue graying of the tongue and/or gums (a result of poor oxygen flow)
  • higher heart rate
  • When listening to the lungs, a crackling sound is heard.

Both right-sided and left-sided CHF eventually result in tissue oxygenation exhaustion and heart failure.

Congestive Heart Failure Stages

Similar to how it is categorized for people with CHF, the risk and progression of the condition are broken down into phases in dogs. Stage A represents the first risk for developing CHF, but no symptoms, and Stage V represents severe symptoms (Stage D).

1. Stage A refers to dogs more likely to develop CHF but does not yet exhibit any symptoms or structural alterations to the heart. Small breeds like Miniature Poodles, Cocker Spaniels, Terrier types, and some larger breeds like Great Danes or Dobermans, are among the canine species that are genetically more susceptible.

2. Stage B: Canines have a cardiac murmur, or “whooshing/swishing” sound, that a veterinarian can hear but does not exhibit any symptoms. A murmur indicates unsteady blood flow within the heart.

3. Stage B2: Dogs in stage B2 exhibit structural changes on X-rays, radiographs, or echocardiograms (specialist ultrasounds used to assess the heart) but do not exhibit any symptoms.

4. Stage C: Heart disease symptoms can be seen at this point. Despite having recent or previous clinical signs of congestive heart failure, dogs in this stage still react well to drugs and treatment.

5. Stage D: The term “end-stage” disease describes this stage. In this stage, a dog usually has severe disease symptoms that regrettably no longer respond to drugs or other treatments.

Congestive Heart Failure in Dogs: Treatment Options

The severity and underlying cause of the heart disease will determine the course of treatment. Although CHF is typically incurable, effective treatments are available to assure a high standard of living. Surgery to treat a congenital disability, such as a PDA, may assist in reversing heart failure if done promptly.

1. Medicines for Dog CFH

Depending on the underlying cause and severity, different medications will be utilized to treat canine CHF. Your veterinarian or cardiologist will decide the proper medications, dosages, and frequency and who should be consulted before making any modifications.

Usually, diuretics are the mainstay of congestive heart failure treatment (water pills). Depending on what caused the heart failure in the first place, diuretics reduce the fluid buildup in the lungs, belly, or legs.

Another often prescribed drug for the treatment of CHF is pimobendan. This medication raises the heart’s capacity to contract, boosts pumping activity, widens blood arteries, and lessens the heart’s work to function.

When taken before the onset of symptoms, Pimobendan has been demonstrated to delay the onset of heart failure.

Digoxin, Diltiazem, Angiotensin-Converting Enzyme (ACE) Inhibitors, Beta-Blockers, and Calcium Channel Blockers are some more drugs that may be helpful in CHF. To treat your dog’s unique CHF and underlying heart, your veterinarian will probably prescribe a mix of drugs.

2. Dogs Receiving Oxygen Therapy for CHF

Dogs with considerable lung fluid buildup or left-sided heart failure may not be able to deliver adequate oxygen to their bloodstream. A dog may profit from additional oxygen in such situations.

You might put your dog in an oxygen cage or give him oxygen through a tube in his nose. Direct airflow (sometimes known as “flow by”oxygen) may be provided as an alternative.

In extreme circumstances, a dog might require mechanical ventilation (having a machine breathe for them) or even intubation (putting a tube down the trachea) to deliver oxygen, which is linked to a poor prognosis.

3. Nutrition for Dogs with CHF

In addition to medical treatments, nutritional management and food may be used. It’s possible to stop the progression of heart disease and enhance the quality of life by feeding your dog according to its underlying heart condition. It would help if you always spoke with your primary veterinarian, a veterinary cardiologist, or a veterinary nutritionist about nutritional objectives, food suggestions, and supplements.

Some dietary supplements, such as fish oil/omega fatty acids, taurine, and L-carnitine, may be considered to reduce inflammation, assist in managing arrhythmias, and enhance heart function.

Other suggestions can include maintaining a healthy weight, balanced diet, and maintaining muscle mass. Again, before making any dietary modifications or introducing any supplements, consult your veterinarian, cardiologist, and veterinary nutritionist.

Congestive Heart Failure in Dogs: Causes

Many different conditions can result in congestive heart failure. However, the most typical cause of congestive heart failure in canines is myxomatous mitral valve disease, commonly referred to as chronic mitral valve disease, degenerative mitral valve disease, mitral insufficiency, or endocarditis.

The mitral valve, also termed the bicuspid or left atrioventricular valve, joins the left atrium and left ventricle and is placed on the left side of the heart. When the entrance doesn’t shut, blood escapes through this valve and results in MMVD. Left-sided congestive heart failure is brought on as a result of the left side of the heart’s decreasing capacity to pump oxygen-rich blood to the body over time. Even though its precise cause is unknown, there seems to be a large hereditary component to mitral valve disease. In many small-breed dogs, a hereditary predisposition to mitral valve malfunction leads to congestive heart failure.

The most prevalent genetic form of cardiac disease in large-breed dogs is dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM), characterized by the heart muscle becoming frail and unable to contract normally. The heart widens as a result of this. Doberman Pinschers, Boxers, and Great Danes are a few breeds of dogs susceptible to DCM.

In dogs, other causes of CHF include:

  • Heart valve dysfunction
  • defects or holes in the heart’s lining (ventricular septal defect)
  • inherited heart problems (patent ductus arteriosus, pulmonic stenosis, and aortic stenosis)
  • fluid accumulating in the sac around the heart (pericardial effusion)
  • Heartworm infection
  • Arrhythmias (irregular heartbeat) (irregular heartbeat)
  • higher blood pressure
  • Infection (endocarditis) (endocarditis)
  • Tumors (chemodectoma, lymphoma, and hemangiosarcoma) 

How to Prevent Congestive Heart Failure in Dogs

Owners must be aware of heart disease’s warning signs and symptoms and take immediate action to prevent CHF. While proper eating is crucial, vitamins can also help prevent heart disease.

Grain-free diets and heart disease have been linked in early research (specifically dilated cardiomyopathy). If your dog currently consumes a diet free of grains, ask your vet if you should switch to a diet that does.

Comparison Table

Summary of Congestive Heart Failure Treatment Options

Acute Treatment
First LineSecond LineLong Term
Oxygen SupplementationArterio dilatorsFurosemide
FurosemideDobutamine or Dopamine Potassium Supplementation
Chronic Treatment
FurosemideAntiarrhythmic Drug (eg, mexiletine, digoxin, sotalol)
PimobendanDietary modification
ACE InhibitorOmega-3 fatty acid supplementation
SpironolactoneCarnitine and taurine supplementation

To Summarize

75% of older dogs suffer from congestive heart failure, a common condition in dogs. Although there is no cure, medication and lifestyle changes can help manage the illness. Prevention is crucial because it’s not always simple to spot the condition in its early stages; a healthy diet, regular exercise, and weight maintenance are essential for canine cardiovascular health. Keep up with your annual vet checkups and get assistance as soon as you feel CHF may be a problem.

Disclaimer: The content on the site is for educational purposes only, and it does not provide medical advice. The shared information must not be treated as a substitute for or alternative for medical practitioner advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Regarding any concerns about your pet’s health, seeking veterinary guidance is of utmost necessity. Each pet has specific health, fitness & nutrition needs. Do not disregard, avoid or delay pet health-related advice from veterinarians based on reading the information provided on this site.


1. Can dogs with congestive heart failure survive for a long time?

Answer: Stage C congestive heart failure in dogs is predicted to have a survival duration of 6 to 14 months. The prognosis of a dog can be improved with early detection and appropriate medical treatment.

2. What are congestive heart failure’s advanced stages in dogs?

Answer: “End-stage” disease is the term used to describe stage D. A pet usually exhibits severe disease symptoms in this stage, which regrettably no longer responds to medicine or other treatments. These signs and symptoms include a cough and coughing up foam, trouble breathing, increased respiratory rate/effort even when resting, inability to exercise, fatigue/lethargy/weakness, cyanotic (blue) gums, swollen abdomen, collapse, and sudden death.

3. How can I tell if the congestive heart failure in my dog is worsening?

Answer: If your dog has congestive heart failure, monitoring them closely for any signs of worsening is essential. Signs of worsening congestive heart failure can include increased coughing, difficulty breathing, decreased appetite, weight loss, lethargy, and increased fluid accumulation in the abdomen or lungs. If you notice any of these signs, it is essential to contact your veterinarian for further evaluation and treatment.

4. Should a dog with congestive heart failure be taken for a walk?

Answer: It is essential to consult with your veterinarian before taking a dog with congestive heart failure for a walk.



Alex Schechter

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