Everything You Need to Know About Canine Congestive Heart Failure

Congestive heart failure (CHF) has many possible causes and many possible treatments. But dogs don't die of heart attacks like we do. 

Acute heart failure can appear to come out of nowhere. But successful management of this disease is possible.

According to Today's Veterinary Practice, the definition of congestive heart failure is:

"Heart failure is a complex condition that can develop from congenital or acquired heart disease in dogs. Depending on the specific disease process, it can affect the left and right sides of the heart, manifesting in respiratory signs and weakness."

This is due to fluid retention (congestion) and pump failure (low cardiac output).

Degenerative mitral valve disease (DMVD) is the most common acquired heart disease in dogs. Common clinical signs and pathophysiology include a heart murmur, progressive dilatation of the left ventricle, and development of pulmonary hypertension.

In addition to the treatment plan your dog's cardiologist recommends, diet and nutrition is equally as important. Avoid conditions and products that add stress to the body. The prognosis is not always bad news (although sudden death is possible). By providing appropriate support therapies, many patients with congested heart failure (CHF) or dilated cardiomyopathy can experience a total restoration of health with the help of veterinary medicine.

BoxersDoberman Pinschers, and Cocker Spaniels may be predisposed to certain types of heart failure. 

dog at vet

Common CHF Symptoms

The main sign is consistent coughing and difficulty breathing.

  • Exercise intolerance
  • Sleepiness
  • Cough
  • Decreased appetite
  • Fainting
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Fluid in the abdomen (ascites)
  • Weight loss


How is it Diagnosed?

A full physical examination will be needed to determine the cause and whether there is an abnormal heart size, fluid accumulation, pleural effusion, and heart defects.  

  • Listening to the heart with a stethoscope is the first step in diagnosing heart disease. 
  • Chest x-rays are taken to evaluate the size and shape of the heart and look for lung changes such as the presence of fluid.
  • Blood and urine tests are performed to give an indication of any other disorders in the body.
  • An electrocardiogram (ECG) measures the electrical activity of the heart and allows accurate determination of both heart rate and rhythm. Sometimes an ultrasound is done as well. 

Treatment Varies 

Treatment really depends on the severity of the disease. The treatment plan and heart medications will include a variety of drugs and supplements. And dogs with severe congestive heart failure or a chronic heart condition may require initial hospitalization and oxygen therapy (a kennel pumped with 100% oxygen). 

The varying categories of drugs include diuretics (Furosemide), a group of drugs that cause fluid in the body to be taken up by the kidneys and excreted as urine and vasodilators to increase the amount of pressure on the heart and allow it to pump blood forward with greater ease. 

Positive Intropes (Pimobendan) may also be given to increase the force with which the heart muscle beats allowing it to pump more blood forward to the lungs and the rest of the body.

And another common type of medication used is called an angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitor or ace inhibitors (Enalapril) which is known to improve clinical signs. 

Holistic Supplement

Based on research, the supplement we recommend talking to your dog's cardiologist about is Coenzyme Q10. According to Whole Dog Journal:

"Coenzyme Q10 is used by holistic practitioners for many heart ailments, including CHF. Coenzyme Q10 (generally written as CoQ10 and pronounced "Coe-cue-ten") is a vitamin-like substance that resembles vitamin E in its action, and strengthens the heart muscle and enhances immunity."

A wonderful resource for pet owners is the Cummings Vet Medical Center .

Have you ever lived with a dog that has CHF? Please let us know if you have any advice for others in the comments.  

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