What is Congestive Heart Failure in Dogs

Congestive heart failure in dogs is not a specific disease, but a complex disease with multiple stages, causes, and symptoms. It is hard to diagnose and sometimes may not have any symptoms in the early stages at all. Congestive Heart Failure in dogs is similar to how it is in humans and other mammals.

What is Congestive Heart Failure in Dogs:

  1. 1. Fluid backs up in the cell membranes
  2. 2. The heart pumps harder to meet the bodies requirements for blood flow
  3. 3. There are different types of Congestive heart failure all with common symptoms
  4. 4. Must be diagnosed by a veterinarian

Because it has several different stages and causes it can be difficult to narrow down exactly what the root cause of congestive heart failure in your dog is. There are some treatments out there, and you never want to give up on your pawed pal.

Congestive Heart Failure in Dogs

Although congestive heart failure can affect any size or breed dog, it is most common in smaller breeds. It can be very difficult to diagnose especially in the early stages. As the disease progresses the symptoms may be more common and go unnoticed.

Fluid builds up around the lungs of the dog’s heart, this creates extra stress on the inside walls of the heart membranes. It can fail on either side of the heart, the outbound (left side) or the inbound (right side) of the heart.

The Left Congestive heart failure is when the heart does not pump all of the blood out into the dogs’ system and it backs up inside the ventricle heart chamber. When enough blood builds up it starts leaking into the lungs, causing coughing and breathing issues.

The Right Congestive Heart Failure is when the blood returning to the heart backs up on the right side of the heart, and leaks into the abdomen of the dog. This can cause swelling, and effect the primary organ functions in the abdomen, leading to other causes for concern.

Stages in congestive heart failure

There are different stages of congestive heart failure in Dogs, measured in classes. These different classes are a progression in the disease. As the Heart failure worsens the symptoms start to show. There are actually no early signs in stage 1. This is the stage that can last the longest.

Stage 2, or class 2 is where the blood starts to build up a little more and these are usually when you start noticing the signs in your dog. Although you may not really think anything is wrong with them at this point. Fatigue, shortness of breath after exercise or heavy activity. These symptoms can sometimes be perceived as normal, or as normal tiredness, as there are no symptoms usually when the dog is still.

Stage 3 is usually when you know something is off about your dog, slow walking produces shortness of breath, persistent hacking, and dry cough, depending on the type of heart disease (right, left or both), a hard stomach from fluid build-up.

Stage 4 Congestive heart failure in dogs or class 4 is when your dog is completely uncomfortable at most times. The legs and feet are probably swollen, and their lungs can collapse at this point. The progression can be really quick in this stage, unfortunately.

What are the Symptoms for Congestive heart Failure

There are some main symptoms to look out for with congestive heart failure in dogs. The main symptom to consider is the coughing and wheezing of the dog. This is a sure sign that something is wrong and they should go to the vet for a check-up. The Pet Health network Lists the following symptoms:

  • Coughing, (really important if the dog is at rest),
  • Noisy breathing
  • Discolored gums
  • Inability to exercise or getting too tired on a walk too quickly,
  • Collapsing at random
  • Hard stomach

It can be a tough choice deciding when to take your dog into the vet, however, you should always take them in when in doubt. The Best case you spent a visit fee for peace of mind knowing that your pet is okay. Or you may be able to catch it early enough to make some changes and fix it early on.

Diagnosis Procedures

You will start out speaking with your veterinarian about some concerns that you may have about your dog’s health. If your veterinarian sees fit that may want to run some extra tests to determine the root cause of the issue and make sure that your dog actually has CHF and not something else.

Blood work is almost mandatory to measure certain conditions within the blood and check for any underlying health issues. This can detect heart worms, diabetes, low glucose, kidney failure, and other possibilities. The blood work also tells the doctor an overall synopsis of your dog’s health. This will determine if further testing is needed, or if certain medications should be avoided.

X-Rays can look for other abnormalities that may be causing the symptoms that you are noticing, a blockage in the valves will usually show up on an x-ray for your dog.

Having an EKG done on your dog will measure the electrical current coming from the heart, this can help determine if there are any abnormalities within the heart that may be causing the symptoms. This is sometimes done in conjunction with the other tests, having an ultrasound of the heart, also can help see which valves are blocked.

There are some more invasive procedures available to determine if your dog may need those types of diagnostics, please discuss them with your veterinarian. They can do a catheter or Holter recorder if your dog’s symptoms are severe enough.

Is Your Dog Panting Inside at Rest?

This is a sure sign that your dog may have an issue and need to go see a veterinarian. At least bring this up the next time you are at the veterinarian with your dog for their annual check-up. Sometimes, the condition can push the dog’s windpipe up causing them to have trouble breathing.

This may be a sign that your dog is entering some late stages of congestive heart failure or may-be an extreme case. Since the lungs or abdomen is slowly filling up with fluid, this can move other organs around and cause them to fail as well.

Your dog may have a heart murmur which means that something is not letting the blood flow correctly out of the heart, this can also cause shortness of breath.

Getting your dog check when they have these signs is always a good idea.

Treatment for Congestive Heart Failure

The specific treatment administered by your veterinarian can vary depending on the stage, breed, cause, and overall health of the dog. Congestive heart failure in dogs can have some pretty complex issues to diagnose prior to administering any treatment.

Medications can be administered to thin the blood vessels and relieve some pressure on the heart, or even do the opposite force the heart to pump more vigorously to clear blocked blood and get it flowing.

Restricting sodium treats and foods is highly recommended for pets with high risk or diagnosis of congestive heart failure. Cummings School of veterinary medicine has a really extensive list of treats that can be given and prepared at home without salt.

You can find a list of dogs and cats here.

Medical treatments such as oxygen or even corrective surgery are not too far away from common options to treat congestive heart failure.

Other Treatments for Congestive Heart Failure in Dogs

The following things could also be a treatment option from your veterinarian as they see fit, or in combination with any other treatment.

  1. 1. Oxygen administration
  2. 2. Fluid withdrawal in the abdomen
  3. 3. Radiographs
  4. 4. Opening of the airways
  5. 5. Cough suppressants
  6. 6. Anxiety treatments

These types of treatments tend to treat the symptoms and make your pet more comfortable rather than treating the underlying problem.

Is There A Natural Treatment

You should always discuss treatment options with your veterinarian first and foremost. There will be a google search that says there is a cure, and then a million scientists that say that there isn’t.

There are, however, things you can do to help your canine companion through these tough times, like keeping in mind that they have a condition can easily be forgotten when engaged in a game of toss and fetch.

Changing their diet to something recommended by your veterinarian can help prolong the symptoms and maybe clear up some blockages. Some raw food advocates will claim that commercial dog food is linked to congestive heart failure in dogs, however, at this point in time, this is only speculation.

Changing your pet’s diet, can have some serious effects on their immune system, as well as their overall health, you should always seek the advice of a licensed veterinarian for medical advice on your pup. Especially giving them some natural remedies, their bodies may react differently to the substance than ours will.

Disclaimer: At the time of this article one big FAD that is going around is CBD oil, and how it is the next miracle cure for everything. Some people have brought their pets into this fad, and it may, in fact, be beneficial to your pet, however, This is something you should discuss with your veterinarian as it may also have negative effects on your dogs’ overall health. As it is said to be good for the pet’s heart, you really should check with your vet before starting any treatment.

What Causes Congestive Heart Failure in Dogs

Congenital heart defects are the most common cause, this means that it is genetic, or that they are born with the disease. Dogs are just as susceptible to heart disease as humans are. Smaller breeds tend to have more issues with congestive heart failure due to the smaller size heart valves.

Diet and exercise can play a large role in your dog’s health, just like us humans, if you are feeding them bad foods. Then they can get high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and even diabetes. Making sure you have regular check-ups with your veterinarian and are discussing diet options with them is a must.

Heartworms can also cause congestive heart failure and should be the first thing checked especially in larger breeds that are not prone to heart conditions. This is also the only preventative cause of congestive heart failure in dogs, unfortunately.

Can the condition be reversed

Unfortunately, congestive heart failure cannot be reversed, but it can be treated to make the symptoms more bearable and slow down the end stages. Changes in diet and sodium intake being the most prominent of preventative measures, along with the medication that your veterinarian prescribes.

There are ongoing studies that may help prevent congestive heart failure in dogs, but there is no cure for congestive heart failure as it is considered to be congenital. Your dog or cat can still have a long life ahead of them, even with congestive heart failure.

This is a slow advancing condition in the first two stages, however, stage 3 and 4 can develop rather quickly.

In some cases that are not genetic a change in diet and lifestyle can help improve heart conditions.

The FDA Warns us about The Food

The Food and Drug Administration has done some studies that show a correlation between non genetic heart failure in dogs and the foods that they consume. This is more common on the Left ventricle side of the heart, as it is the dilated cardiomyopathy version of CHF.

This is an ongoing investigation released in July 2018, and no conclusive evidence has been linked as of the time this article is written. The main concern is the type of foods that are going into the kibble as filler. Potatoes, lentils, peas. Legume seeds are all things that some manufacturers use to fill up the kibble. This is the primary concern in foods that tend to use these as the main ingredients.

It makes sense, with these mammals having a shorter intestinal tract, they need higher doses of protein in their diet and not just any types of protein. This content has not been updated by the FDA since the original post. Currently there is no link between the two, only speculation.


End Stages For Congestive Heart Failure

It is important to note that dogs can live their entire lives with congestive heart failure and still survive for ten plus years. Even into their senior years, with that being said, there is also not a guarantee that your dog will live that long either.

Studies do show that dogs with advanced heart failure live longer when not hospitalized, and when they have higher doses of the diuretic furosemide. With that being said, please discuss this option with your veterinarian to see if this is a good choice for you.

The best thing in this final stage is to manage the symptoms and discuss treatment options with your veterinarian, this can be a challenging and emotional time for you. The unfortunate inevitable is going to come soon, and there is no reversal.

Spend as much time as you possibly can with them, and take a ton of pictures buy them all of the best treats, and toys. Just make these last few years the most comfortable you possibly can for them. Your best companion needs you the most in these last stages, they are most likely a senior and want nothing more than your love and affection.