Tell-Tale Signs of Congestive Heart Failure in Dogs

Congestive heart failure in dogs is the most common form of canine heart problem with about 1 in 10 dogs diagnosed every year. Any breed or age of dog can be affected, but it is typically seen in older dogs that are over-weight. Congestive heart failure in dogs may also be caused by hereditary predispositions or by an underlying disease such as heartworm, and can result in problems involving the lungs, liver, kidneys and other organs. The condition is often not diagnosed until its later stages.

The heart and circulatory system carry oxygen and nutrients around the body, but in cases of congestive heart failure, the muscle has weakened, the heart does not contract as well as before and is unable to provide adequate circulation to meet the body’s requirements. As a result the heart may beat faster but less effectively.

Dogs do not suffer heart attacks, where the organ stops abruptly, but instead as the performance of the heart decreases a greater reliance is placed on the other organs to work harder.

As the heart does not perform as well as it should, fluid starts to back up into different organs depending on which side of the heart is affected. The most common form of congestive heart failure in dogs affects the left side of the heart and causes a build up of blood in the lungs. When the right side is affected there will be a swelling in the legs or abdomen giving a pot-bellied appearance.

What are the signs?

It is often very difficult to diagnose congestive heart failure in dogs until it is too late, however there are a number of signs to look out for. The main symptom of left-sided congestive heart failure in dogs is coughing, as the dog tries to get rid of the fluid in the lungs. An increase of pressure in the veins causes fluid to leak into the lungs causing an excessive build up which causes unproductive, violent coughing, often occurring early in the morning or at night, about two hours after the dog goes to bed. It may also occur during periods of excitement or exertion. A rapid build up of fluid in the small airways can cause the dog to cough up a bubbly red fluid, which is a condition known as pulmonary edema, which indicates failure of the left ventricle. Your dog may also exhibit shortness of breath, fatigue and loss of appetite causing weight loss.

While these symptoms are not specific to congestive heart failure in dogs they are cause enough to have your dog checked by your veterinarian.

Symptoms of the later stages of congestive heart failure in dogs may include excessive panting, difficulty in breathing, walking and exercise, fainting, seizures, and irregular heartbeat. The mucus membranes of the tongue and gums will often display a bluish-gray appearance.

Veterinary attention should be sought immediately if any of these conditions are present. X-rays and ultrasound will be used to diagnose congestive heart failure. Unfortunately there is no cure for congestive heart failure in dogs but proper treatment will be able to extend your dog’s life and increase the quality of life.

Lifestyle plays an important role in preventing congestive heart failure from affecting a normally healthy dog. Your dog should be getting proper exercise and Diet should be high in nutrients and low in salt. Weight control is of particular importance as more effort is required to pump blood around the body of a heavier dog. Always make sure that your dog gets plenty of exercise and only feed the best quality food you can.