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Congestive Heart Failure in Dogs

Congestive Heart Failure in Dogs

Congestive heart failure is a condition that happens when your dog's heart is having difficulties pumping enough blood through their body. There are a few potential causes for this concerning condition. Our Westminster veterinary cardiologist is here to share the types of congestive heart failure and the possible causes and what to expect if your dog develops this condition.

Congestive Heart Failure & Your Dog's Health

If your dog is suffering from congestive heart failure or CHF then their heart is having a hard time pumping enough blood throughout their body. Due to this, blood starts to back up into the lungs and fluid accumulates in the chest, abdomen or both. This leads to further constriction of the heart and lungs and limits oxygen flow throughout the body. While there are quite a few different contributing factors for congestive heart failure in dogs, the two main causes are:

  • 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.

The symptoms that your dog has will depend on which side of their heart they are experiencing the condition.

Right-sided congestive heart failure (RS-CHF)

This occurs when a heart contraction causes some blood to leak into the right atrium from the right ventricle rather than being pushed through the lungs and becoming oxygenated. As a result, the main circulation system becomes congested with blood, and fluid accumulates in the abdomen, interfering with adequate organ function. Peripheral edema can also occur as excess fluid may eventually build up within your dog's limbs.

Left-sided congestive heart failure (LS-CHF)

This is the most common type of CHF in dogs and occurs when blood from the left ventricle leaks back into the left atrium through the mitral valve rather than getting pumped into the body's systemic circulation when the heart contracts. This causes excessive pressure on the left side of your dog's heart. Fluid begins to leak into the tissue of the lungs, causing swelling known as pulmonary edema, which leads to coughing and difficulty breathing.

Causes of Congestive Heart Failure In Dogs

As mentioned above, there are many different possible causes of congestive heart failure in dogs but the majority of cases are caused by genetic factors and are hereditary. Many small breeds have a genetic propensity toward CHF including toy poodles, Pomeranians, dachshunds, and cavalier King Charles spaniels. Small dogs in general tend to be more prone to developing CHF because their heart valves are more prone to degenerate than in larger breeds.

However, some large breeds, particularly giant breeds such as St. Bernards, Newfoundlands, and Great Danes are prone to developing CHF due to dilated heart muscles. It's important to understand that congenital CHF typically appears later in a dog's life and that these dogs can live many years seemingly healthy and happy before symptoms begin to show.

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 your dog is showing any of the above signs you should contact your primary vet as soon as possible.

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 

You may be wondering 'What does congestive heart failure in dogs sound like?'. The most noticeable sounds may be wheezing while they are lying down or sleeping along with frequent coughing and difficulty breathing.

Congestive Heart Failure In Dogs Progression and Treatment

So now that you have an understanding of what congestive heart failure is, what is the treatment for congestive heart failure in dogs?

Your dog will likely be placed on a number of medications. These include a diuretic to remove the excess fluid buildup in the lungs and body, an angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitor which has been shown to improve clinical symptoms and increase survival in dogs with CHF, and a vasodilator to relax the body's blood vessels. In some cases, another type of drug known as a positive inotrope might be prescribed to strengthen the force of contractions in the heart 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: What is the life expectancy?

We have been asked many times if congestive heart failure in dogs causes death and unfortunately, there is no way to cure or reverse this condition. So what can you do to increase the congestive heart failure in dog 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.

Your dog's treatment will be aimed primarily at improving the quality of life and making your dog comfortable and happy. Advances in medications used to treat this condition have vastly improved the overall prognosis. Vigilant home care and lifestyle management may help to extend survival from months to years. The sooner this condition can be identified and treatment is started, the better the chances are of extending your dog's life.

Veterinary Cardiology in Westminster

Our board-certified veterinary cardiologist in Choice Veterinary Specialists is able to provide the highest standard of treatment for pets in need of care.

If your dog is in need of critical care to get them over a rough patch while dealing with congestive heart failure, our veterinary cardiology department is fully equipped to meet your dog's care needs.

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.

Does your dog have a suspected heart condition? Our veterinary cardiologist is here to help. Contact our clinic in Westminster to learn more about our cardiology department.

New Patients Welcome

Choice Veterinary Specialists is accepting new patients. Our experienced veterinary specialists are passionate about improving the health of Westminster animals with complex healthcare needs. Contact us today.

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