Primer On Congestive Heart Failure In Dogs

Written and reviewed by John A. Bukowski, DVM, MPH, PhD
and Susan E. Aiello, DVM, ELS 

In congestive heart failure (CHF), the heart does not contract as well as it used to and so cannot pump the blood well enough to keep up with needs of the dog's body.

The heart and circulatory system transport oxygen and nutrients to all parts of your dog's body.  The heart has four chambers: a right atrium and right ventricle, and a left atrium and left ventricle.  The right side of the heart pumps the blood to the lungs, where the blood picks up oxygen and its characteristic red color.  The left side of the heart pumps the oxygenated blood to the rest of the body.

In congestive heart failure in dogs, the heart cannot pump the blood effectively, and fluid backs up into different organs.  

The most common type of congestive heart failure in dogs involves the left side of the heart, causing blood to back up into the lungs.

The lungs become congested with fluid, leading to panting, coughing, or difficulty breathing.  

Right-sided congestive heart failure which is less common, causes blood to back up into other parts of the body, often leading to swelling in the legs or abdomen.

Fatigue, loss of appetite, and general ill health can be associated with either type of heart failure in dogs.

Your veterinarian will consider your pet’s history and listen with a stethoscope for heart murmurs or sounds of moisture buildup in the lungs.  He or she may perform additional tests as part of a diagnostic evaluation, including a chest x-ray, an electrocardiogram (ECG), or an echocardiogram.

Congestive heart failure in dogs can also be caused by an underlying disease such as heartworm. 

In such case, treating the heartworm disease can cure the dog's CHF.

Treatment for CHF usually consists of medications that decrease the amount of work the heart needs to do or that increase the strength of its contraction.  

If it is determined that an underlying disease is causing the CHF, treating the underlying disease can cure the CHF as well. Your vet may also recommend a special diet for your dog that is low in salt and high in nutrients. With proper medical management, many older dogs with heart disease can live months to years.


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