11 Critical Facts About Congestive Heart Failure in Dogs That Deserves Attention

Congestive heart failure in dogs is a fatal condition which often doesn’t get the attention it deserves. When detected early this condition can be contained and thus awareness about the early signs of CHF is critical. The following are 11 critical facts about congestive heart failure that will help you learn the fundamental in the most concise manner possible.

It’s Not a Disease: Congestive heart failure sounds like a disease in itself but it’s actually a medical condition that’s caused by diseases and genetic defects. It’s the ultimate result of several diseases and conditions where the heart is unable to pump the required amount of blood. Congestive heart failure in dogs is usually caused by genetic cardiac issues and it’s often impossible to prevent. This usually affects senior pets but can also be present in younger dogs. As its name suggests, it’s a life-threatening condition and early detection is key to containing this health problem. The symptoms of this condition range from coughing (especially during bedtime) to severe lethargy.

In Some Cases, It’s Preventable: In most cases, congestive heart failure in dogs is impossible to prevent. These are when the dog develops the problem due to a genetic disposition. However, congestive heart failure can also be caused by heartworm disease, which is completely preventable. In case of serious heartworm infestations, adult worms can congest the passages inside the heart. It can clog up the cardiac chambers and cause congestive heart failure. Since heartworm disease is preventable and treatable in its early stages, CHF caused by heartworms is also preventable.

There Is No Viable Surgical Option: Most vets recommend oral medications to control the symptoms of congestive heart failure. You can order Vetmedin for dogs, a common inodilator that helps in reducing cardiac stress by relaxing constricted blood vessels. Vets may also recommend ACE inhibitors that dilate blood vessels and reduces blood pressure. Barring a few experimental cases, congestive heart failure in dogs is never surgically treated. However, we do recommend speaking to a qualified vet specializing in cardiology to weigh all options.

Mitral Valve Insufficiency is the Most Common Cause of CHF: As mentioned before, congestive heart failure in pets can be brought on by various different defects and diseases. However, the most common of them all is mitral valve insufficiency. An estimated 80% of CHF in dogs is caused by mitral valve insufficiency. Also known as the leaky valve disease, this disease usually affects small dog breeds such as miniature poodles, Shih Tzu, Cocker Spaniel, Pomeranians, and Cavalier King Charles Spaniels.

Some Dog Breeds Are at Risk Than Others: Pretty much any dog breed can be affected by congestive heart failure but some are more at risk than others. Now, because mitral valve disease is the number one cause of CHF in dogs, breeds that prone to develop this disease are naturally more prone. Bull Terriers, German Shepherds, and Great Dane are breeds that are born with a defective mitral valve, which puts them at a higher risk than other breeds. Dachshunds and Cavalier King Charles Spaniels are also genetically predisposed to develop congestive heart failure.

CHF in Dogs Often Lead to Edema: Congestive heart failure in dogs often lead to edema or swelling of the lungs and limbs. The edema is caused by fluid build-up which is a common secondary health problem of congestive heart failure. To treat the fluid build-up, vets usually prescribe diuretics. This directs the fluid to the kidneys, which eventually gets excreted out.

Often the Clinical Signs Go Unnoticed: Unlike humans, dogs cannot express mild discomforts and subtle signs of health problems. The signs of congestive heart failure in dogs usually become apparent when the condition has progressed significantly. In the early stages of the condition, subtle clinical signs such as lethargy, exercise intolerance, and excessive sleepiness are commonly observed. This happens because the body tries to combat the lack of oxygenation brought on by the impaired function of the heart. More apparent signs such as swelling of limbs, severe restlessness, bluing of gums, and drastic weight loss only show up in later stages of the condition. Seizures, internal bleeding, and collapse are usually seen when the condition is critical and it demands emergency medical support.

Congestive Heart Failure Can Only Be Confirmed By Medical Tests: While there are signs that can lead vets to believe a dog might have congestive heart failure, it can only be confirmed after performing certain medical tests. In most cases, vets use a stethoscope to detect heart murmur and abnormal cardiac rhythm. If vets suspect a cardiac problem they usually recommends the following tests.

  • Chest X-Ray
  • Electrocardiogram (ECG)
  • Heartworm Antigen Test

Oral Medications Can Improve and Extend Your Dog’s Life: There are several medications that reduce the stress put on the heart muscles and thus extend your pet’s life. The aim is to reduce blood pressure and allow more blood flow. As mentioned earlier, Vetmedin is a commonly prescribed medication along with ACE inhibitors. Positive inotropes (a type of drug that helps the heart to contract) may also be recommended in some cases.

There Are Two Types of Congestive Heart Failure: There are two types of congestive heart failure that can affect a dog, right-sided CHF and left-side CHF. The difference between the two is dependent on which side of the heart is affected by the condition, the right side or the left side. Right-sided congestive heart failure usually leads to signs such as swelling of limbs and abdominal bloating. When affected by left-sided CHF dogs tend to suffer from coughing and they experience difficulty in breathing.

It’s Critical to Learn How to Monitor BPM (Breaths Per Minute): Rapid breathing is a pretty common sign of cardiac problem including but not limited of congestive heart failure. A dog’s breathing rate can easily be monitored at home. You simply need to count the number of breaths your pet takes per minute. Before you begin you should know that one breath equals an inhalation followed by a full exhalation. Dogs with normal respiration have a breathing rate below 35 breaths per minute. Dogs suffering from CHF and undergoing medical treatment may have a respiration rate of 40 breaths per minute, which is usually considered normal. The problem is when the breathing rate is very low or way over 40. This demands immediate medical attention. To measure breaths per minute simply set a timer for 30 seconds and count the number of breaths within that time period. Multiply the result by two to find out the breaths per minute.

Dr. Winnie
About Dr. Winnie 344 Articles
My name is Dr. Winnie. I earned a Bachelor of Science in Psychology from Duke University, a Masters of Science in Biology from St Georges University, and graduated from the University of Pretoria Veterinary School in South Africa. I have been an animal lover and owners all my life having owned a Rottweiler named Duke, a Pekingese named Athena and now a Bull Mastiff named George, also known as big G! I'm also an amateur equestrian and love working with horses. I'm a full-time Veterinarian in South Africa specializing in internal medicine for large breed dogs. I enjoy spending time with my husband, 2 kids and Big G in my free time. Author and Contribturor at SeniorTailWaggers, A Love of Rottweilers, DogsCatsPets and TheDogsBone

1 Comment

  1. One of the greatest understatements I’ve seen?
    “But, there are other reasons and benefits for spaying your pet. If you are hoping to responsibly breed your female dog, it is not a good idea to put her through this surgical procedure.”
    This makes it sound like it could be reversed.

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