Early Signs of Congestive Heart Failure In Dogs

Canine Heart Failure

Canine congestive heart failure is the result of an underlying heart disease the dog either acquired (via infection or disease) or was born with (such as atrial septal defect, cardiomyopathy, dextrocardia and mitral dysplasia).

Two Main Types of Heart Failure

Typically, there are two types of heart failure.

The most common is dilated cardiomyopathy, where the heart increases in size-stretching the heart walls thin, thus decreasing the efficiency of pumping blood throughout the body.

The second, rarer kind is hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, where the heart walls thicken, which also reduces the ability of the heart to sufficiently supply blood. Congestive heart failure may develop over years, months or even as short as a few weeks.

Unlike the human heart attack, the canine heart does not abruptly stop. Instead, as the heart function declines, the body relies on other organs to strain themselves to make up for the decreased heart activity. When the heart can no longer pump enough oxygenated blood to meet the body's needs, heart failure occurs.

Early Warning Signs

It is very difficult to detect congestive heart failure in your dog until it is too late. Sometimes vets stumble upon irregular heartbeat or abnormal cardiograms during routine checkup. Too often, there are no easily noticed signs. However, in the early stages of this condition, one side of the heart becomes more affected than the other.

Left side heart failure causes:

  • Shortness of breath, especially during exercise or when lying down
  • Violent, unproductive coughing that occurs late at night or early in the morning due to excessive fluid buildup in the lungs
  • Fainting
  • Anorexia
  • Fatigue

Right side heart failure causes:

  • Swollen abdomen or "pot-bellied appearance" due to fluid build-up
  • Anorexia
  • Fatigue

Later Signs of Heart Failure In Dogs

Any of the above in addition to:

  • Difficulty getting up or walking
  • Intolerance to exercise
  • Excessive panting and difficulty breathing
  • Dilated pupils
  • Weight loss
  • Lethargy
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Seizures
  • Gray/blue gums

Treating Congestive Heart Failure

If any of those conditions are present, seek veterinary attention immediately. Congestive heart failure can be diagnosed through x-ray and ultrasound, which can pick up an enlarged heart or fluid surrounding the heart or other organs. There is no cure for congestive heart failure and the reversal of the underlying heart disease is usually untreatable by this point. However, herbal remedies and veterinary medications may be able to extend your pet's life and increase his quality of life.