Congestive Heart Failure in Dogs

· July 26, 2018

Diagnoses of Congestive Heart Failure in dogs is becoming more common, especially for middle to old-aged dogs. It has no cure, but getting an early diagnosis makes it possible to have a more effective treatment that guarantees a good quality of life. In this article, you can learn more about this cardiac deficiency and its consequences:

What is Congestive Heart Failure?

Congestive Heart Failure is a medical term used to describe several conditions that are related to a weak heart. It’s also sometimes referred to as Cardiac Insufficiency. The term “insufficiency” can be used for any organ that’s not functioning properly due to some medical condition. In regard to Congestive Heart Failure, the heart is unable to pump enough blood to the body.

In order to maintain a state of equilibrium, the body activates certain mechanisms that makes sure oxygen reaches organs and tissues. However, the intense cardiac pain tends to overwhelm this function. Congestive Heart Failure affects people, dogs, and cats in a similar way.

A dog lying down
Source: Soggydan Benenovitch

According to national and international data, the American Heart Association has stated that close to six million people live with congestive heart failure in the United States alone.

Causes of Heart Failure in Dogs

The most common cause of congestive heart failure in dogs is a severely dilated cardiomyopathy. This medical condition weakens the walls of the heart. In females, pregnancy may cause the heart walls and valves to wear down.

This medical condition is also associated with the following factors:

  • A build-up of fluid in the pericardial sac.
  • Heart valve disease.
  • Canine dirofilariasis (heartworm disease).
  • Change in heart rhythm.
  • Arterial Hypertension.
  • Infection of the heart valves (endocarditis).
  • Cardiac neoplasia.

Causes of Congestive Heart Failure

Heart failure can affect the right, left, or both sides of the heart. The cause of this condition will determine its traits and how it develops. First, if the heart failure affects the right side of the heart, the blood that isn’t flowing builds up in the abdomen.

If the heart failure originates from the left side, it will cause the lungs to retain fluid. In both cases, the build-up is very dangerous because it can cause congestion and bleeding.

Furthermore, heart failure in dogs can cause gradual enlargement of the left ventricle. This is commonly known as an “enlarged heart” and, in severe cases, the heart can be so fragile that it can’t pump blood throughout the body.

Symptoms of Heart Failure in Dogs

The most obvious symptom is fluid building-up in different parts of the body, which causes visible swelling.  A dog can often look like a bit pot-bellied due to abdominal dilation.

Other typical symptoms include the following:

  • Fatigue, lack of interest, and weakness.
  • Coughing and breathing difficulties.
  • Change in heart rhythm or blood pressure.
  • Difficulties or intolerance of physical activities.
  • Frequent fainting.
  • Change of color of the gums (grey or blue tones).
  • Collapsing.

These signs become even more evident as the disease advances, which causes the progressive weakening of the heart’s structure. Therefore, early diagnosis is important to guarantee effective treatment and to improve a dog’s life expectancy.

Diagnosis of Congestive Heart Failure

You should go straight to your vet if you notice any of the aforementioned symptoms, so they can check your dog and run necessary tests.

Diagnosing congestive heart failure involves the following tests:

  • Blood: to detect heartworm disease.
  • Blood pressure and exercise test.
  • X-ray of the thorax.
  • Electrocardiogram (ECG).
  • Echo-cardiogram: to check the anatomy and function of the heart structure.
A Pit Bull

Treating Heart Failure in Dogs

  • A specific treatment depends on a dog’s state of health and the origin of the medical condition. For example, a your dog diagnosed with dirofilariasis, needs immediate deworming to get rid of “heart-worms”.
  • Almost all dogs diagnosed with heart failure need to take medication for the rest of their lives. This will allow them to live a comfortable life by improving heart function, although they will need a check-up every 6 months.
  • If the condition is moderately advanced, the dog may need hospitalization and oxygen therapy. If the lungs or abdomen are retaining fluids, they will need to have some controlled suction.