Vet taking a dog’s heart rate

Key takeaway

Congestive heart failure in dogs is a serious syndrome that affects your pup’s cardiovascular system. Without treatment, CHF can cause a host of problems including irregular breathing, fluid buildup, and inability to carry out physical tasks. But proper treatment can still help your dog live a happy and long life.

What Is Congestive Heart Failure in Dogs?

CHF, or congestive heart failure in dogs, is a medical syndrome that occurs when a dog’s heart does not work as it should. This leads to inconsistent pumping of blood through the body, which causes fluid to gather in different organs. This also causes a variety of issues that include, but are not limited to, your dog panting heavily and showing signs of swelling across various areas of their body.

Unlike a condition or a disease with its own definable cause and targeted treatment, canine congestive heart failure is a syndrome with a set of associated symptoms. This requires each of its symptoms to be treated individually. As a pet parent, it is also important for you to note that the word “failure” doesn’t mean that your dog’s heart has stopped working completely. Instead, it outlines that your dog’s heart is not working to its full capacity1 and falls short of pumping blood adequately. 

The syndrome is also segmented into two categories, namely right-sided CHF and left-sided CHF. The actual symptoms depend on the type of congestive heart failure that your dog has developed. This categorization helps your vet treat the syndrome in an effective manner. Sometimes, a third category, by the name of biventricular failure, combines the signs of both of these main types of CHF. 

You can seek treatment for CHF in your dog through various medications and lifestyle approaches. While the name of the syndrome is enough to send you down a world of worry, optimal treatment and support can help your dog live a long and happy life. 

To help you learn more about canine congestive heart failure, here is a guide to the condition, as well as its symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment. 

What Is Congestive Heart Failure?

While learning about congestive heart failure, you may stumble upon definitions that put CHF and heart failure in the same category. However, out of both syndromes, congestive heart failure holds the distinction of causing fluid buildup and accumulating it in other parts of the body. Due to its ability to fill the heart with fluid, it gets the label of being a “congestive” heart failure.2

There are two main types of CHF, with each of them holding its own set of complications and symptoms. A third type combines the signs of both of these categories.

Left-sided Congestive Heart Failure

This is the more common type of CHF. Under this category, blood vessels that are responsible for proper circulation in the left bottom chamber or ventricle of your dog’s heart succumb to a backup of pressure. In turn, this leads to the accumulation of fluid in your dog’s lungs.1 

This results in a range of symptoms of congestive heart failure in dogs, which include but are not limited to your dog coughing and facing breathing issues. Since the condition obstructs the flow of oxygen, it also opens doors to activity problems and may cause your dog to faint after performing physical activities. 

Right-Sided Congestive Heart Failure

This is the less common type of CHF, but it is just as worrisome. In this category, pressure is noticed in vessels that deliver blood to the right chamber of your dog’s heart. This also affects the veins and capillaries in the cardiovascular system across the body. 

This often causes your dog to show symptoms such as fluid buildup in different organs, which most commonly include the chest cavity, abdomen, and limbs. This could cause a range of issues within each organ that is affected by the syndrome.1

Biventricular Failure 

This type of CHF combines the symptoms of both of the above categories. In many cases, the symptoms of left-sided CHF may outweigh the signs of right-sided CHF and vice versa. This makes treatment a bit trickier, but it is possible for a qualified vet to help your dog maintain a healthy lifestyle.1

What Are the Classifications of Congestive Heart Failure in Dogs?

Apart from the main categories that define CHF by symptoms, the syndrome’s signs and complications are also outlined by four distinct classifications:1

Classifications of congestive heart failure in dogs

  • Systolic Myocardial Failure: Systolic myocardial failure refers to an inability of the heart muscles to contract in an optimal fashion. When these muscles cannot contract as they should, your dog’s heart is unable to pump blood properly. 
  • Impedance to Cardiac Flow: Impedance or obstruction to cardiac flow refers to a reduction in adequate blood flow. This often results from conditions that put pressure on the heart. When this happens, your dog’s heart does not work normally. 
  • Pressure Overload: Pressure overload occurs over time and affects the chambers of your dog’s heart. This renders the heart unable to pump and flow blood properly. This could lead to a variety of problematic symptoms.
  • Volume Overload: While many other classifications reduce blood flow, volume overload increases it. Over time, it may also lead to problems such as valve disease and bring a host of issues to your dog’s health. 

Whether your dog’s stomach is bloated or their breathing is rough, only a qualified vet can put the correct classification to their set of symptoms. This makes it crucial for you to get a personalized consultation with a vet, which helps your dog get the treatment that they need without any delay. 

What Are Symptoms of Congestive Heart Failure in Dogs?

There are several symptoms and signs of congestive heart failure in dogs. By keeping them in mind, you can speak to your vet about their presence in your dog and move forward with further diagnostics if required.

Symptoms of congestive heart failure in dogs

  • Coughing: If your dog is coughing and wheezing, it could point to a variety of conditions that also include CHF. This occurs due to pulmonary edema or fluid buildup in the lungs. 
  • Difficulty breathing: This symptom also appears due to pulmonary edema. In CHF, the lack of oxygen is associated with left-sided congestive heart failure.
  • Exercise intolerance: In some CHF cases, your dog does not have the stamina for even light to moderate exercise. In case your pup pants after physical activity, you should have them checked by your vet.
  • Fainting: In left-sided CHF, lack of oxygen can cause your dog to faint out of nowhere or after physical activity. Since this symptom is worrisome by itself, a vet consultation is recommended.
  • Low heart rate: When your dog’s heart is not working to its optimal capacity, their heart rate may reduce. If it falls to dangerous levels, it is a cause for alarm and may also relate to a set of other conditions. 
  • Low blood pressure: Low blood pressure occurs when your dog’s heart is not pumping blood at a required rate through the cardiovascular system. This could often coexist with a low heart rate.
  • Heavy breathing: If your dog has pulmonary edema, it could also cause rapid breathing. This is most often noticed in left-sided CHF.
  • Swollen stomach: A swollen stomach is a sign of fluid buildup that may result from right-sided CHF. While the symptom may have many other causes, its onset with the relation of other CHF signs is highly alarming.1

Since the set of symptoms for CHF may relate to a variety of other conditions and diseases, you should keep an eye on your dog to determine if they are going through any of these challenges. If your dog seems to have any issues that are associated with CHF, you should reach out to a skilled vet right away. 

Sometimes, indicators of other conditions such as signs of anxiety in dogs can be mistaken for CHF. Getting a professional opinion lets you steer clear of these confusing diagnoses. Due to this reason, you should not compromise on reaching out to a vet.

What Causes Congestive Heart Failure in Dogs?

There are several causes for canine congestive heart failure, but not all of them are preventable. With that being said, knowing about these risk factors helps you become a responsible pet parent and cater to your dog’s needs in an ideal manner.

Some of the most common risk factors of CHF include the following.

  • Genetics
  • Trauma
  • Infection
  • Drugs or poisons
  • Electric shock
  • Heatstroke
  • Tumors
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Nutrient deficiency 

Causes of congestive heart failure in dogs

Some of these risk factors have a higher association with certain CHF classifications. For instance, systolic myocardial failure may often occur through genetics, while impedance to cardiac flow may stem from the affected dog’s heart structure. 

At the same time, some classifications may share risk factors between them. Taking the example of systolic myocardial failure and impedance to cardiac flow from above, both classifications have tumors as a shared risk factor. 

Keeping this in mind, it is important that you keep an eye on these causes of CHF. At the same time, you should get a professional opinion from your vet to get a proper diagnosis of your dog’s health. This not only helps you put a name to the set of challenges that your pup is facing but also lets you manage them in an effective way.

How Do You Diagnose Congestive Heart Failure in Dogs?

The diagnosis of canine congestive heart failure involves a variety of diagnostic tests that are performed under the supervision of a qualified vet. This allows you to get a proper treatment plan for your dog, while also learning which of the congestive heart failure in dogs stages is your pup going through at the given moment. 

Vet testing a dog’s heart rate

In order to diagnose your dog with CHF, your vet needs to hold a physical examination. This allows them to see evident signs that are associated with CHF. This includes the discovery of symptoms such as a heart murmur, noticeable abnormal breathing patterns, and irregular rhythm of the heart. 

If your vet suspects CHF, they may move forward to the next step of diagnostic procedures. These approaches include the following tests:2 

  • Imaging Tests. With the use of X-ray and ultrasound, your vet can detect your dog’s heart size and congestion, while also examining any fluid buildup in other organs such as the lungs. 
  • Echocardiography (ECG). This test monitors the heartbeat patterns and allows your vet to determine the occurrence of any irregularities. 
  • Lab Tests. These blood and urine tests determine other issues that could be causing challenges for your dog, such as heartworms.
  • Heart Monitor. This device monitors your dog’s heart rate over the course of 24-48 hours to determine any irregularities. 

Once your vet has all the findings at hand, they are able to outline which of the following four stages are most related to your dog’s CHF condition.2

  1. Chances of pre-heart failure.
  2. Occurrence of pre-heart failure without symptoms. 
  3. Diagnosis of CHF that is manageable via treatment.
  4. Advanced CHF that is not treatable. 

By learning about these stages of congestive heart failure in dogs, as well as your own pup’s condition, you can have a better idea of what kind of results are expected from your dog’s treatment method. This helps you make an informed decision as a responsible pet parent. 

How Do You Treat Congestive Heart Failure in Dogs?

There are different ways to treat CHF in dogs. These include the following approaches:1

  • Drugs. A mix of medications can be prescribed by your vet to manage ongoing symptoms of congestive heart failure and its effects on other organs. This includes medicine to improve heart muscle contraction, reduce swelling across the body, and manage blood pressure. 
  • Dietary Changes. Some dietary changes can also be implemented to help your dog live a happier life with little to no symptoms of CHF. This includes the management of sodium, nutrients, and daily calorie intake. These approaches prevent challenging symptoms and also help with the reduction of existing problems such as inflammation or irregular heartbeat. 
  • Oxygen Therapy. Oxygen therapy is often recommended for dogs who have severe problems breathing in a regular manner. This is typically prescribed for dogs who have left-sided CHF or biventricular CHF. This therapy is administered through specialized equipment that you may use at home. 
  • Surgical Intervention. Some specialized surgical procedures can be performed to withdraw fluid buildup and alleviate the pressure on your dog’s organs. Sometimes, a single session of these treatments might be enough. But in other cases, your dog may need multiple treatments if the fluid buildup keeps recurring. 
  • Anti-anxiety Approaches. If your dog suffers from severe anxiety due to their physical condition or has an existing anxiety disorder, it could cause further problems for their CHF with rapid heart rate or irregular breathing. With the help of anti-anxiety approaches such as medications, your pup may steer clear of these complications. 

Depending upon your dog’s overall condition, your vet may prescribe a range of treatments that may help manage the set of symptoms that are experienced by your pup. In many cases, you can continue follow-up discussions through telemedicine for pets before scheduling another in-person vet visit. 

Final Notes

Congestive heart failure is a serious syndrome that needs immediate and ongoing care to ensure the health of your pup. Since CHF can carry a range of symptoms, it is important that you follow a personalized treatment plan that addresses the challenges faced by your dog. 

At Dutch, we take pride in offering a platform that helps pet parents and qualified vets remotely connect with each other. This makes sure that no matter where you are or the location restrictions that you face, you can get qualified assistance from the comfort of your home. 

Our educational resources take this one step further and allow you to learn more about how to become a better pet parent in the face of different challenges. In turn, you are able to fulfill your responsibilities towards your pets without having to stress about finding research-based information over the web. 

To see how our solutions can help you with your commitment to become the best parent you can be, don’t hesitate to explore our platform today. If you have any questions or concerns, our team remains just a call away.

References

  1. Kittleson, M. D. (2022, February 28). Heart failure in dogs - dog owners. Merck Veterinary Manual. Retrieved March 12, 2022, from https://www.merckvetmanual.com/dog-owners/heart-and-blood-vessel-disorders-of-dogs/heart-failure-in-dogs

  2. Heart failure. NC State Veterinary Medicine. (2019, February 15). Retrieved March 12, 2022, from https://cvm.ncsu.edu/nc-state-vet-hospital/small-animal/cardiology/heart-failure/