Pet Articles

Congestive Heart Failure in Dogs

You’ve always known that your dog has heart problems. But lately it’s been more tired and doesn’t seem to be able to exercise as long. Perhaps you even notice some coughing. So you bring your dog into the veterinary clinic, and they tell you that your dog is in congestive heart failure. What is congestive heart failure? Is it worth it to put your dog on all sorts of drugs? This article will be a short introduction into what is happening inside of your dog’s body when it is in heart failure.

Heart failure is exactly what it sounds like. The heart is essentially a pump for blood. It is responsible for ensuring that all vital organs receive sufficient blood flow. When the heart is no longer able to pump enough blood to reach these organs, it is considered to be heart failure.

When your animal has any sort of progressive heart disease, it is in heart failure. But the great thing is that the body is able to compensate for a failing heart for a certain amount of time. It makes up for the heart’s decreased ability to pump blood by doing things such as raising blood pressure and making the heart beat faster.

You may not notice any signs or changes in animals in the beginning stages of heart failure. However, these signs will eventually progress into congestive heart failure. Congestive heart failure is when the body is no longer able to compensate for the failing heart. Dogs are considered to be in congestive heart failure when they show clinical signs.

The clinical signs of congestive heart failure are due to the heart being unable to push blood out of the heart. This causes a back-up of blood, and therefore a back-up of fluid. This fluid most commonly backs up into the lungs. It can also back up into the belly.

When the fluid backs up into the lungs, the dog cannot breathe properly. Imagine trying to breathe with your lungs full of water! This is why one of the first signs of congestive heart failure is what is called ‘exercise intolerance’. Exercise intolerance happens when a dog cannot exercise for long because it cannot breathe properly. This is because the fluid in its lungs prevents the dog from getting enough oxygen. Another common sign is a cough. Congestive heart failure can cause a dog to attempt to cough up fluid. But keep in mind that there are many medical problems that can cause a dog to cough.

This is why one of the first things that your veterinarian will do is take X-rays of the chest. X-rays will show fluid build-up in the lungs. Once your veterinarian sees this, and determines that your dog is in congestive heart failure, you can discuss your options with your vet. There is no solution to congestive heart failure; your dog will eventually succumb to the clinical signs. However, there are some drugs that you can give your dog to make it more comfortable and to slow the progression of the disease.

One of the most common drugs is called a ‘diuretic’. There are different types of diuretics, the most common one being furosemide. Diuretics are used to draw the fluid out of your dog’s lungs to help it breath better. Other heart drugs can do various things to the heart and body. They can change blood pressure, heart rate, and help the heart to beat stronger. Different drugs are used depending on the specific problem your dog has. Heart drugs need to be carefully monitored, but can help your dog live a little bit longer and be a lot happier.

Congestive heart failure is the end-point for different types of heart disease. Your dog can go a long time with heart disease and show no problems, but once it develops congestive heart failure, you will begin to see signs. These signs are due to fluid back-up into the lungs and/or belly. Work with your veterinarian to decide if you want to start heart medication and the possibility of eventually making that difficult decision of euthanasia. Being prepared will help you get through these tough times and tough decisions.

By Ashley O’Driscoll – Pets.ca writer

13 Responses to this Article, So Far

  1. Avatar MANDY says:

    Hi Ashley, I have a question for you regarding your article on congestive heart failure. My 1 and a half year old male pug has CHF. He is currently on three medicines prescribed by my personal vet. My question for you is this…Can this be passed down to puppies if I breed him? Is this hereditary? The lady I purchased my dog from said that none of her animals have or had CHF, so she is unsure how my dog has it. This is why I’m curious…It doesn’t make sense to me how CHF can be hereditary and passed on to puppies, if he himself didn’t inherit it from his mom or dad. Any info you have would be helpful.

  2. Avatar Darlene Sloan says:

    Your article was very interesting. My dads dog is about 12 years old (shih zu cross) and was diagonosed with CHF in May of 2011. Recently, she has started coughing all the time. When is it time to have them put down? Thanks

  3. Avatar Darlene Sloan says:

    I did go to the vet and was given Torbutrol 5 mg. I only give Baby 1/2 a tablet. It definitely has stopped her from coughing. I gave her one 1/2 a pill on Saturday and she Snever coughed until today. I thought I would give her another 1/2 a pill. She is so zoned out though. She can barely sit up without falling over.

  4. Avatar Carol Baxley says:

    My dog is l/2 pom and l/2 che and l2 years old. He has been diagnosed with Addisons, and CGF.
    He is on Medications fofr both but does not have every symptom. He eats perscription 1 dog food
    only can and dry. He does not caugh but he bloats and drinks huge amounts of water. He eats well
    and does not throw up and is hungry all the time. His normal weight is 6bls and with the water weight
    bloat l2 pounds. He has laborded breathing. My question is is he in pain, what can be done for
    the bloat. He never caughs at all just very loud laborded breathing but he is so bloated he looks
    like he is in pain which I would like to know if he is or what can be done to bring down the bloat.
    I have been giving him Gas X with other meds perscribed every l2 hours.
    Thank you
    Carol Baxley

  5. Avatar Laura says:

    Hi. My 12 year old Staffy-cross has cancer and just been diagnosed with CHF. He’s been given Furosemide which he’s been taking for the last 4 days. He’s suddenly become very depressed and in the last two days has refused almost all food. He’s also started to lose control of his bladder, which as a dog who has never pee’d in the house he seems mortified about. He won’t eat his breakfast this morning and is refusing his pill, but he is drinking a lot. His breathing is quite laboured and he’s lethargic (though this has had no change in the last week or so and he has seen the vet since then). Do you have any advice on what I should do? He’s my whole world and I don’t want him to suffer and want to do the best for him. Thanks.

  6. Avatar Bryan says:

    Hello, our 11 year old peakapoo has recently been having a hard time catching her breath at night time. She tends to get excited and breaths heavy causing my wife and I to worry. We’ve moved a few times over the past few months as we built our home so we hope that’s not the reason for this sudden change. We recently brought this up to our vet who recommended Torbutrol which we’ve been giving her now for 2 days just not sure if it’s working. We hope she doesn’t have to be on medicine the rest of her life. Can you recommend a medicine that will work or what we can do to help our peakapoo??

    • Avatar Marko says:

      What type of exam did the vet give to diagnose this? There is to much missing info here to give an opinion.
      I encourage you to post this on our forum for a better back and forth between members.
      good luck!

  7. Avatar Robyn says:

    We have an 11 1/2 year old female Shih Tsu that was diagnosed in February 2013 with CHF. She has been on Furosemide, Fortekor & Vetmedin ever since. We started off with 10mg of the Furosemide twice daily and in the last few months had to increase the dosage to 20mg X 2. CHF causes a build up of fluid in the lungs, hence the coughing and gagging. The Furosemide gets rid of the excess fluid but that in turn causes her to drink more and more water. Occasionally when she was sleeping and relaxed she would ‘leak’. The last few weeks she has had the heavy ‘body breathing’ which has progressively got worse to the point she is able to do very little without coughing/ gagging and she struggles to breath. The leaking is now almost a given when she sleeps and she’s doing that a lot. Some days she still wants to play like she used to but just can’t. We made the heartbreaking, gut wrenching decision to ‘let our little girl go’. We have only 24 hours left with our sweet Sophie. Since making the appointment, I have been second guessing our decision. We were sitting on the veranda last night, she was beside me as always. I looked in her eyes and for the first time I didn’t see that playful, happy go lucky puppy. Instead I saw old, tired, sad and ready to go. Second guessing is only selfish on my part. This week has been bitter sweet – not wanting to let her go but wanting to end her suffering. We are fortunate to have a rural vet clinic and have made all the arrangements. Sophie’s final moments will be on their back lawn sitting on my lap on our favorite blanket. I pray that God will give me the strength to ‘keep it together’ for her sake.

  8. Avatar Ray says:

    Tia is an 11 year old chihuahua, she was diagnosed with DCM 2 years ago, she started taking duretics and the doses kept on increasing. Today she has lasix shot every 5 days and takes 5 medications seperatly to prolong her life. She is tired, can’t jump on couches or beds (i have to carry her) i have to mix her dry food with water because its painful for her to eat; she lost apetite and has a swollen belly. She doesn’t control her bladder at night so mostly she pees on herself without realising. She knows she cant play much because it makes her cough so she tries and gives after a 2 seconds. I cry at night because i feel she is suffering but at the same time she looks at me with so much love and life. I don’t when is the right time; the vet left it up to me but i don’t know what to do. She is in pain and so am I.

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