heart failure in dogs

Signs Of Heart Failure In Dogs

Reviewed by Alan Brus, DVM

Heart failure in dogs is caused by heart diseases.

Sadly, your furry friend can be prone to such diseases.

Heart failure in dogs happens when the dog’s heart is not able to pump blood properly to the rest of the body.

Heart disease in dogs can progress slowly and can take years to notice. That’s why it’s best for you to know the signs of heart disease and heart failure so you can give your dog the best treatment, and prolong their lives.

What is Congestive Heart Failure?

heart failure in dogs

Congestive heart failure (CHF) is the heart’s inability to pump blood adequately throughout the body.

This will cause the blood to go back into the lungs, and fluids accumulate in the cavities of the body, such as the chest and abdomen or both of them.

This accumulation of fluids will prevent oxygen from flowing sufficiently throughout the body. There are two main types of CHF in dogs:

The first type is right sided congestive heart failure (RS-CHF). This happens when some blood leaks into the right atrium from the right ventricle through the tricuspid valve, instead of going through the lungs to get oxygenated.

This is caused by a heart contraction. This will cause congestion of the main circulation system. It will also cause accumulation of fluids in the abdomen, which will affect organs functions.

In addition, excessive fluids can build up in the limbs and cause swelling, which is known as peripheral edema.

The second most common type of heart failure is left sided heart failure (LS-CHF). This happens when some blood from the left ventricle leaks back into the left atrium through the mitral valve, instead of being pumped into the body’s circulation system.

This results in leaking fluids into the tissue of the lungs causing swelling known as pulmonary edema, which causes coughing and shortness of breath.

Symptoms of Heart Failure in Dogs

heart failure in dogs

Here are some of the common signs of congestive heart failure in dogs. Learn to notice them as early as possible to save your dog.

  • Trouble breathing or shortness of breath
  • Coughing more often, mostly during or after exercise or before bedtime
  • Having a hard time exercising
  • Low energy and getting tired more easily
  • Fast rate breathing
  • Panting

As the disease develops and gets worse, more signs show such as:

  • Bloated abdomen from the accumulation of fluids known as (ascites)
  • Coughing blood
  • Blue tinted gums or tongue because of lack of oxygen
  • Weight loss
  • Fainting or collapsing due to the blocking of blood flow to the brain

If you notice any of these signs on your dog, take them to the vet as soon as possible.

Common Causes

heart failure in dogs

Congestive heart failure can be caused by a valve disease, known as mitral valve insufficiency (MVI). The valve between the left atrium and the left ventricle becomes leaky and won’t function properly.

It can also be caused by dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM), which is a heart muscle disease, rhythm irregularities, narrow blood vessels.

MVI affects the left side of the heart. If left untreated, it can develop to include both sides of the heart.

In addition, small size breeds are more prone to developing CHF. For example, pomeranian, cavalier king charles spaniels, toy poodles, and dachshunds.

Small dogs are more prone because the heart valves degenerate more than in large breed dogs.

However, there are some large breeds like Great Danes, St. Bernards, and Newfoundlands who are prone to developing CHF, because of having enlarged heart muscles.

Dogs with congestive heart failure, usually live many years seeming healthy before signs of CHF appear. In addition, if the dog has other heart conditions that weaken the heart, he will be more prone to develop CHF.

This is why it’s important to try and prevent heart diseases from happening to your dog, to prevent having a weak heart.

Diagnosing Heart Failure

heart failure in dogs

The first step to diagnose heart failure disease is by listening to the heart with a stethoscope. Or otherwise known as auscultation.

The vet can examine heart murmurs, location and intensity. Moreover, the heart rhythm is examined too.

Common tests to diagnose CHF include an echocardiogram, which uses ultrasound, an electrocardiogram (ECG) to assess the electrical activity in the heart, and chest x rays.

In addition, blood and urine tests may be needed to rule out any other diseases or causes, such as renal disease which has similar signs.

Finally, the lungs are also examined to look for any changes linked with heart failure.

Treating Heart Failure

heart failure in dogs

Unfortunately, there is no cure for CHF, and the treatment aims to improve the quality of life.

Treating heart failure in dogs depends on the underlying cause and what heart problems they have.

To treat heart failure, the vet may prescribe medications to decrease and remove the fluid build up in the lungs and body.

ACE inhibitor, angiotensin-converting enzyme has shown to improve clinical signs and increase survival in dogs with CHF.

A vasodilator may be prescribed, to relax the body’s blood vessels, which helps the heart in pumping blood more easily.

In some cases, the vet may prescribe medications to strengthen the heart contractions.

If the dog is having trouble breathing, the vet would recommend oxygen therapy until he can breathe on his own, where hospitalization may be needed.

Moreover, if the dog’s heart has a damaged valve, the vet would do a surgery where he inserts a pacemaker, to correct the valve and the heart beat.

Supplements may also be recommended such as, vitamin B, amino acids like taurine, which helps brain development, and antioxidants like vitamin E.

You can also try and prevent heart diseases from occurring, by exercising regularly to prevent obesity, provide heartworm prevention, and putting the dog on a well balanced diet.

With the right treatment, your dog can live a normal and healthy life. Many dogs are able to live for many months to years after treatment.

When to See a Veterinarian

heart failure in dogs

If you notice any of the signs of CHF such as coughing more often, trouble breathing, panting, or increased heart rate, it’s best to visit your veterinarian as soon as possible.

Early diagnosis can help in identifying the condition early on and recommend the right treatment, which increases the chances of extending the dog’s life.

Finally, take your dog for annual checkups, ask the vet for the best foods to include in the diet, and maintain regular exercise to live a long and healthy life.

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