Congestive heart failure is common in dogs, just as it is in humans. The veterinarians at Barton Heights Veterinary Hospital share some of the most common causes, symptoms, and treatment options for dogs with congestive heart failure in this post.

What Is Congestive Heart Failure In Dogs

Congestive heart failure (CHF) is the inability of the heart to pump enough blood to the body. As a result, blood begins to back up into the lungs, and fluid builds up in the chest, abdomen, or both. This causes the heart and lungs to constrict, even more, limiting oxygen flow throughout the body. There are numerous causes of CHF in dogs, but the two most common are as follows:

  • Mitral valve insufficiency (MVI), refers to a leaky mitral valve, which is the valve between the left atrium and the left ventricle.
  • Dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM), is when the heart chambers enlarge and lose their ability to contract.

Clinical signs of CHF vary depending on whether the dog has left- or right-sided heart failure.

Right-sided congestive heart failure (RS-CHF)

This happens when a heart contraction causes some blood from the right ventricle to leak into the right atrium rather than being pushed through the lungs and oxygenated. As a result, the main circulation system becomes clogged with blood, and fluid builds up in the abdomen, interfering with proper organ function. Excess fluid may also accumulate in the limbs, causing swelling known as peripheral edema.

Left-sided congestive heart failure (LS-CHF)

When the heart contracts, blood from the left ventricle leaks back into the left atrium via the mitral valve rather than being pumped into the body's systemic circulation. As a result, the left side of the heart experiences pressure overload. Fluid leaks into the lungs' tissue, causing swelling known as pulmonary edema, which causes coughing and difficulty breathing.

What Causes Congestive Heart Failure In Dogs

Congenital heart defects are the most common cause of congestive heart failure in dogs, which means it is an unpreventable genetic condition. Many small breeds, including toy poodles, Pomeranians, dachshunds, and cavalier King Charles spaniels, have a genetic proclivity for CHF. Small dogs in general are more prone to developing CHF because their heart valves degenerate faster than larger breeds. However, some large breeds, especially giant breeds like St. Bernards, Newfoundlands, and Great Danes, are predisposed to developing CHF due to dilated heart muscles. It is critical to understand that congenital CHF usually manifests later in a dog's life and that these dogs can live for many years seemingly healthy and happy before symptoms appear.

CHF can also develop in a heart that's been weakened by other heart conditions, so it's important to do what you can to prevent heart disease from occurring in your pet, including preventing obesity and providing heartworm prevention.

Symptoms of Congestive Heart Failure In Dogs

Here are some common signs that your dog might be suffering from congestive heart failure:

    • Coughing
    • Constant panting
    • Struggling to breathe
    • Breathing at a fast rate, especially when in a resting state
    • Reluctance or refusal to exercise
    • Getting tired more easily on walks or during play
    • Fatigue
    • Blue-tinged gums
    • Distended abdomen
    • Coughing up blood
    • Collapsing

If you notice any of these symptoms, you should have your dog checked by your vet without delay.

How To Diagnose Congestive Heart Failure In Dogs

Make sure to describe all of your dog's symptoms to your vet. They will want to know what your pooch eats, what medications and supplements they may be taking, and if they are currently on heartworm protection. The vet will listen to your dog's chest and may want to run some diagnostic tests, including:

    • Blood and urine test
    • Chest X-rays
    • EKG 
    • Ultrasound 
    • Heartworm antigen test
    • Holter monitor 

Treating Congestive Heart Failure In Dogs

Your dog will almost certainly be put on a variety of medications. A diuretic is used to remove excess fluid from the lungs and body, an angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitor is used to improve clinical symptoms and increase survival in dogs with CHF, and a vasodilator is used to relax the body's blood vessels. In some cases, a drug known as a positive inotrope may be prescribed to increase the force of heart contractions and improve blood flow.

If your dog is struggling to breathe, your vet may administer oxygen therapy until he's able to breathe adequately on his own. Depending on how much oxygen is needed, this might require hospitalization.

Congestive Heart Failure In Dogs Life Expectancy

Make sure to bring your dog for regular visits with your vet and stick with your treatment plan. Unchecked heart problems can make things harder on your dog and even shorten their life. With the right treatments, care, and monitoring, your dog can live a long, comfortable life.

Unfortunately, there is no cure for CHF at the moment, and treatment focuses on improving quality of life. Medication advances have vastly improved the overall prognosis for this condition. Home care and lifestyle management can help to increase survival time from months to years. The sooner this condition is identified and treated, the better your dog's chances of living a longer life.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Is your dog showing symptoms of congestive heart failure? Contact Barton Heights Veterinary Hospital today to be referred to our board-certified cardiologist.