Congestive Heart Failure In Dogs

Congestive heart failure in dogs is a serious condition, just as it is in humans. While this condition is often seen in aging dogs, it is not exclusive to them. In fact if there is an undetected heart problem in a younger dog that goes untreated, it can speed up their aging.

dog at the vet's officeCourtesy MBFrye

Congestive heart failure in dogs is a disorder that develops progressively as a result of an underlying weakness in the heart.

Eventually an ailing heart is unable to pump adequately enough to circulate the amount of blood necessary to meet the physical needs of the body and major organs.

When this happens, the blood may back up and cause damage to the heart, lungs and other important organs - hence the term congestive.

However, because the body has the ability to compensate for the lack of blood flow, indications of a problem may not show up for some time.

Signs or Symptoms

Signs of congestive heart failure in dogs, can vary depending on the underlying heart ailment, but any of the following signs are reason enough to seek a vet's diagnosis. Early detection of a heart problem, the better the odds of treatment being successful:

  • Less energy combined with an overall impression of tiredness
  • Sporadic coughing, usually at night or after physical exertion
  • Irregular heart beat
  • Shortness of breath or wheezing
  • Restlessness and depression
  • Excessive sleeping
  • Reduced appetite

If the heart failure advances to a worse level, other indications of this may be observable, such as:

  • Swelling of the abdomen and/or legs
  • Significant weight loss
  • Collapsing or fainting spells
  • Increased difficulty with breathing
  • Gums and tongue may take on a bluish or purple cast

When breathing becomes really labored, dogs may sit with their front legs more apart to expand the chest area while at the same time extending their neck, as a means of getting more oxygen.


Causes of Congestive Heart Failure in Dogs

Heart failure may be caused by any of a number of congenital heart defects that are often hereditary. Quite a few breeds are predisposed to congenital defects. These include:

  • Bulldogs
  • Cocker Spaniels
  • Samoyed
  • Poodles
  • German Shepherd
  • Shetland Sheepdogs
  • Great Dane
  • Beagles
  • Labrador and Golden Retrievers
  • Pomeranians
  • Rottweilers
  • Schnauzers, and Keeshonds

Other Causes

Some other causes of heart disease that can subsequently lead to congestive heart failure in dogs, are those related to health issues common to many dogs.

Some of these include:

  • Heartworms,
  • Bacterial infections such as those associated with periodontal disease - which incidentally can affect other major organs in addition to the heart.

Some holistic veterinarians assert that heart problems in dogs are related to a weakened immune system caused by exposure to:

  • Chemical pollutants,
  • Unneeded vaccinations, or
  • Low quality nutrition -

all setting the stage for inflammatory responses.

Treatment Options

Treatment can cure some forms of heart disease and will have a better chance of being successful if it is initiated before the heart has suffered any appreciable damage.

Treatment usually involves:

  • restricting the amount of exercise, 
  • making sure the pet is on a low-salt diet, and
  • administering appropriate medications which will prevent cardiac arrhythmias and increase the heart function.

Many commercial dog foods contain excessive salt amounts and are best avoided. With advice from your vet, a suitable diet can be formulated.

In conjunction with standard veterinarian treatment, holistic vets often recommend herbs and nutritional supplements to strengthen and support the heart as well as to aid in blood circulation.

  • Among these Coenzyme Q10 is considered highly beneficial as it provides powerful antioxidant protection and contributes to the cellular energy so important to heart muscle function.
  • Other beneficial nutrients that are often suggested include vitamin E, L-carnitine and hawthorn - an herbal remedy considered to be protective to the heart.

If the dog is only showing mild symptoms, a change in diet might be the only thing required.

On the other hand, if your dog is showing signs of rapid breathing, tiring easily, or coughing, then physical activities that are likely to exacerbate these symptoms, are best avoided.

At home treatment includes providing a stress free environment for your dog and allowing your dog to practice an activity level with which he is comfortable.

At the same time, you should be on the lookout for any warning signs such as fainting or heavy breathing.


There are a few ways in which you can prevent congestive heart failure in dogs.

  • The first is to ensure that the dog remains on heart worm preventative medications. This will eliminate parasites which might otherwise cause further degeneration of the heart.
  • It is also important to promptly treat any viruses or infections to reduce the odds of pericardium.

Most of the time congestive heart failure in dogs is caused by genetic predispositions to health issues, not by environment.

Dogs that have a heart defect should not be bred so as to protect future generations. Those that breed dogs have the responsibility to test for heart disease problems and not breed those dogs that are affected.

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  • Always consult your veterinarian when you have health-related questions. Information on this website is not intended to replace the advice of a qualified professional.

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