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Congestive Heart Failure in Dogs: Symptoms, Treatment & Prevention

Congestive Heart Failure in Dogs: Symptoms, Treatment & Prevention

Alpha Paw Sale

Jul 08, 2021


  • Congestive heart failure in dogs occurs when there is severe heart disease that causes fluid build-up within the body.

  • The most common symptoms of heart failure in dogs include coughing and difficulty breathing.

  • The treatment for heart failure in dogs includes medications to help decrease the amount of fluid build-up within the body.

  • There are not many effective preventatives for congestive heart failure, but giving monthly heartworm preventative and avoiding feeding a grain-free diet may help reduce the risk of certain forms of heart disease.

What is congestive heart failure in dogs?

Congestive heart failure in dogs occurs when there is a severe underlying disease within the heart that causes excess fluid build-up within the body. Congestive heart failure is also known as CHF which is the medical abbreviation.

The two main forms of congestive heart failure in dogs are left-sided heart failure and right-sided heart failure. In left-sided heart failure, severe heart disease causes fluid build-up around the lungs. For right-sided heart failure, severe heart disease causes fluid build-up in the belly.

Congestive heart failure in dogs: symptoms, treatment & prevention

Symptoms of Congestive Heart Failure in Dogs

The most common signs of heart failure are coughing and difficulty breathing. If your dog is having a hard time getting on and off the furniture because of their heart failure, consider getting your pup a PawRamp which was designed to help your dog get safely up and down from the furniture. ASPCA Pet Health Insurance reported that the signs of congestive heart failure in dogs include:

Can dogs have heart attacks?

In general, dogs do not have heart attacks the same way that people do. According to VCA specialty hospitals, heart attacks are pretty rare for dogs, but if a dog has heart disease, they may be at risk for sudden death due to other issues.

What are the last stages of congestive heart failure in dogs?

In the early stages of congestive heart failure, you may notice coughing and difficulty breathing. In the last stages of congestive heart failure, your dog will become even sicker. The fluid in the lungs builds up so much that it will make it hard for your dog to breathe.

Your dog will not be able to breathe well even when asleep. The cough may sound very moist. Dogs in this stage of heart failure are at risk for sudden death.

Diagnosing Congestive Heart Failure in Dogs

If your dog has symptoms of congestive heart failure, it is important to call your veterinarian as soon as possible. During your appointment, your veterinarian will listen to your dog’s heart with their stethoscope to see if they detect a heart murmur or fluid in the lungs. At that point, they may recommend a few diagnostic tests.

Chest X-rays

This test will show if there is an enlarged heart or fluid in the lungs suggestive of heart failure. This is one of the main tests that a veterinarian will wish to perform to diagnose heart failure.

Blood Testing

Your veterinarian may recommend a CBC, chemistry, and urinalysis to ensure that there are no other underlying diseases like liver or kidney disease. Many of the medications used to treat heart failure can affect the liver or kidneys so it is important to make sure these organs are healthy prior to starting heart failure medications.

ECG

An ECG is also known as an electrocardiogram. This test tests the electrical conductivity of the heart to ensure that your dog doesn’t have any dangerous arrhythmias.

Echocardiogram

Your veterinarian may also recommend an echocardiogram or an ultrasound of the heart. This test can evaluate if there are any structural issues within the heart and can give a closer look at the function of your dog’s heart.

Congestive heart failure in dogs: symptoms, treatment & prevention

How do you treat congestive heart failure in dogs?

The treatment for congestive heart failure in dogs includes medications to decrease fluid that has accumulated in your dog’s lungs. Right-sided heart failure may require manual removal fluid from the belly every few weeks by your veterinarian.

Some medications may be given to help improve the function of the heart. The most common medications used to treat heart failure include:

  • Lasix (furosemide)
  • ACE Inhibitors (enalapril or benazepril)
  • Vetmedin (pimobendan)

How long will my dog live with congestive heart failure?

Once your dog has been diagnosed with congestive heart failure, its prognosis depends on a variety of factors including the severity of its disease. Your veterinarian will be able to give you a more accurate estimate of the estimated survival time for your dog.

The majority of dogs with heart failure will not live for more than 2 years. Dr. Mark Rishniw, a veterinary cardiologist, suggested that around half of dogs will die from congestive heart failure from mitral valve disease within 8 to 10 months. As this is only an average, some dogs may die within days, weeks, or months from diagnosis.

Can dogs survive congestive heart failure?

If promptly treated, your veterinarian may be able to temporarily decrease the symptoms that your pet is experiencing from heart failure. Unfortunately, because congestive heart failure in dogs is a degenerative condition, it tends to only get worse over time.

Most dogs will die within 1 to 2 years after diagnosis with heart failure. In severe cases, some dogs may not survive more than a few days or weeks after diagnosis with heart failure.

Can you prevent heart failure in dogs?

Most forms of heart failure in dogs cannot be prevented. Heart failure from heartworm disease can be prevented. An annual heartworm testing as well as administering monthly heartworm prevention to your dog will reduce the risk of heart failure (secondary to heartworm disease).

In addition, do not have your dog on a feed grain-free diet.  There are possible correlations between dilated cardiomyopathy and feeding grain-free diets, so until we know more information, we recommend that you avoid feeding your dog grain-free diets.

More Vet Expert Advice You May Enjoy…

If you enjoyed reading this article, head over to our Vet Corner where more articles can be found.

Alpha Paw Sale
author image

Dr. Addie Reinhard, DVM

Member of Alpha Paw’s Board of Pet Experts

Dr. Addie Reinhard is an experienced companion animal veterinarian who lives in Lexington, KY with her husband, greyhound, and four cats. She graduated from the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine, and currently practices in the central Kentucky region. Dr. Addie has special interests in preventative care, dermatology, and diseases, and she enjoys creating helpful educational resources related to these topics to help pet parents keep their four-legged family members happy and healthy. We love Dr. Addie’s passion for providing reliable veterinary insight and medical advice to help pet parents like us give their pups the happy & healthy lives they deserve!

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