Congestive Heart Failure (CHF) in Dogs

Overview of Congestive Heart Failure (CHF) in Dogs

Heart failure is a condition, caused by an abnormality in the structure or the function of the heart, in which it is unable to pump normal quantities of blood to the tissues of the body. The heart is a pump, and when it fails, it often leads to fluid retention in the lung and the body cavities leading to congestive heart failure.

There are many causes of heart failure in dogs, including:

What To Watch For

Some of the symptoms of heart failure, and the progression of heart failure in a dog, are related to increased activity of the nervous system and to increased concentrations of circulating hormones (and related chemicals). These include:

Diagnosis of Congestive Heart Failure (CHF) in Dogs

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

Treatment of Congestive Heart Failure (CHF) in Dogs

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

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.

In-depth Information on Congestive Heart Failure (CHF) in Dogs

Congestive heart failure leads to inadequate blood flow to the tissues of the body, resulting in lethargy and fatigue. Accumulation of fluid often impairs breathing. When the fluid accumulates in the lungs (pulmonary edema) or around the lungs (pleural effusion), the condition can become life threatening. Though dramatic, the symptoms of congestive heart failure are not specific for only that condition.

As there are dozens of reasons for coughing, difficult breathing and fatigue; therefore, your veterinarian will formulate a diagnostic plan to make a correct diagnosis.

The conditions most often confused with heart failure are diseases of the airways, the lung and the chest cavity (pleural space) including:

Veterinary care should include diagnostic tests and subsequent treatment recommendations.

Diagnosis In-depth of Congestive Heart Failure (CHF) in Dogs

Diagnostic tests are needed to properly diagnose congestive heart failure. Tests may include:

Treatment In-depth of Congestive Heart Failure (CHF) in Dogs

The principles of therapy for congestive heart failure include improving heart function, preventing fluid accumulation, preventing further deterioration of the heart muscle and antagonizing chemicals and hormones produced in excessive quantities in heart failure. Rarely is it possible to “cure” the heart disease. The most important causes of heart failure in dogs are valve degeneration and cardiomyopathy (heart muscle disease). Definitive treatment usually requires valve replacement (which is rarely done in dogs) or heart transplantation (not done currently). Heart failure caused by fluid accumulation in the sac around the heart (pericardial effusion) is not treated by drugs but instead requires drainage of the fluid or removal of a portion of the pericardial membrane. Congenital heart defects (heart problems present at birth) should be referred to a specialist for management.

Follow-up Care for Dogs with Congestive Heart Failure (CHF)

Optimal treatment for the dog with congestive heart failure requires a combination of home and professional veterinary care. Follow-up can be critical. Administer prescribed medication(s) as directed and be certain to alert your veterinarian if you are experiencing problems treating your dog. Optimal follow- up veterinary care for heart failure often involves the following: