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Congestive Heart Failure in Dogs

By: PetPlace Veterinarians

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Your veterinarian may suspect CHF after examining your pet, but he will probably run several diagnostic tests to confirm the diagnosis and underlying cause. Tests may include:

  • General physical examination with emphasis on stethoscope examination (auscultation) of the heart and lungs
  • A chest radiograph (X-ray)
  • Measurement of blood pressure
  • An electrocardiogram (EKG)
  • Ultrasound examination of the heart (echocardiogram)


    Treatment for congestive heart failure will vary depending on the underlying cause. This may include one or more of the following:

  • Initial treatment may require hospitalization with a diuretic, oxygen, and other drugs such nitroglycerine paste.

  • A diuretic ("water-pill") such as the drug furosemide (Lasix®)

  • Pleural effusion (fluid around the lungs) may require thoracocentesis, which is insertion of a small needle in order to drain some of the fluid. This often improves breathing and makes your dog more comfortable.

  • Nitroglycerine, which comes in the form of a paste, is often used topically (spread on the ear or abdomen or other relatively hairless area).

  • Other diuretics, such as spironolactone.

  • Angiotensin converting enzyme inhibitor such as enalapril (Enacard) or benazepril. These drugs block some of the harmful hormones that circulate in heart failure and prevent salt retention.

  • A diet limiting sodium intake and preventing fluid retention.

  • Use of digoxin (Lanoxin; Cardoxin)

  • Dietary supplements

    Home Care

    At home, administer all veterinary prescribed medications on a regular basis. Be aware of your dog's general activity, exercise capacity and interest in the family activities. Keep a record of his appetite and ability to breathe comfortably (or not), and note the presence of any symptoms such as coughing or severe tiring.

    Do not stop medication or change the dosage without checking with your veterinarian. Most medications are for the life of your dog. And never withhold water, even if your pet urinates more than normal, unless specifically instructed to do so.

    Difficult breathing is usually an emergency. See your veterinarian immediately.

    In general, heart failure cannot be prevented, although early diagnosis of the underlying cause can provide an improved quality of life. Once diagnosed, you should prevent excessive physical activity or excitement, avoid high heat/humidity and avoid high salt (sodium) foods or treats.

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