Chronic Congestive Heart Failure in Dogs

Chronic congestive heart failure occurs when the heart is not able to pump the normal quantity of blood the organism needs to function. The dysfunction of the heart leads to insufficient irrigation of other vital organs, brain, lungs, kidneys, liver and of the muscles causing symptoms that might first point to other conditions. The malfunctioning of the heart also determines fluid to accumulate in the lungs and body cavities.

Causes of Congestive Heart Failure in Dogs

Congestive heart failure can occur in dogs at any age and there may be some common causes such as:

  • Cardiomyopathy is a more common cause of heart failure in giant breeds
  • Degeneration of the heart valves occurs more often in small breed dogs
  • Heartworm disease
  • Conditions of the pericardium (which is the lining around the heart)
  • Arrhythmia (irregularities in the electrical rhythms of the heart)

Symptoms of Chronic Congestive Heart Failure in Dogs

Most symptoms of chronic congestive heart failure in dogs are related to the abnormal levels of hormones in the blood due to poor circulation and to the overloading of other organs:

  • Coughing, which occurs after exercising. As the pressure inside the veins increases, fluid leaks in the lungs causing coughing. Typically, coughing occurs at night, around two hours after the dog has fallen asleep.
  • When small airways are flooded with fluid, the dog can cough up a red foam (pulmonary edema)
  • Fluid can also leak into the abdomen, giving the dog a pot bellied appearance (ascites)
  • Swollen legs
  • In late stages the dog keeps his head extended
  • Dyspnea (shortness of breath)
  • Weight loss
  • Weakness
  • Gums and tongue become grayish and cold.

Treatment of Chronic Congestive Heart Failure in Dogs

The treatment of heart failure in dogs involves finding the underlying cause and eliminating it.

If the heart failure is due to heartworms, bacterial infections or curable congenital heart disease, they can be treated before irreparable damage is done to the heart.

When a dog is under treatment for congestive heart failure, he will also be on a low salt diet; his exercise routine will be restricted and medication will have to be administered regularly.

The medication treatment includes calcium channel blockers, beta-blockers, digitalis glycosides and anti-arrhythmics.

In valvular heart disease or cardiomyopathy angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors (ACE inhibitors) are used to prolong the life of the dog.

Cardiac arrhythmias are controlled with drugs like digitalis, lidocaine, diltiazem, atropine, propranolol. Arrhythmia can also be kept under control by implanting a pacemaker.

Diuretics manage the fluid accumulations. These might be associated with potassium supplements.

Coenzyme Q, B vitamin supplements, taurine or carnitine are usually used in dogs with cardiac problems.

Follow-up of Treatment for Congestive Heart Failure in Dogs

Regular check-ups will be compulsory once your dog has been diagnosed and is under treatment. The dog will have to get regular blood tests, measurements of blood pressure and detailed conversations with your veterinarian about the dog's life: activities, appetite, sleep, exercise tolerance and breathing rate.