A Primer On Congestive Heart Failure

In congestive heart failure (CHF), the heart does not contract as well as it used to. As a result, it cannot pump the blood well enough to keep up with the 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
  • a left atrium and left ventricle. 

The right side of the heart pumps the blood to the lungs. The blood picks up oxygen and its characteristic red color in the lungs.  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.

A Primer On Congestive Heart Failure: In congestive heart failure in dogs, the heart cannot pump the blood effectively, and fluid backs up into different organs.

What does it look like

Left-sided CHF

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

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

Right-sided CHF

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

Symptoms associated with either type of heart failure in dogs include:

  • fatigue
  • loss of appetite
  • and general ill health

Diagnosing congestive heart failure

Your veterinarian will consider your pet’s history and listen with a stethoscope for heart murmurs or sounds of moisture buildup in the lungs. 

They may perform additional tests as part of a diagnostic evaluation, including:

  • a chest x-ray
  • an electrocardiogram (ECG),
  • an echocardiogram

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

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

Treating CHF

Treatment for CHF usually consists of medications that either:

  • decrease the amount of work the heart needs to do
  • or increase the strength of its contraction

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

Related articles:
Coughing in Dogs: Why Is My Dog Coughing and Should I Worry?

Further reading:
Congestive Heart Failure in Dogs

Share your thoughts