Symptoms and Treatment of Congestive Heart Failure in Dogs

You may have heard of the condition Congestive heart Failure tossed around but many pet owners aren’t sure exactly what it is.  Educating yourself is the best line of defense in keeping your dog in tip top shape, so keep reading! Congestive heart failure is a broad medical term which simply means that a dog’s heart cannot supply enough blood to the body. The condition can be caused by a failure on the right side or left side of the heart, or the both sides.

When the heart starts failing, the body can compensate for it to ensure that tissues receive the oxygen and blood they need. As the severity of the heart disease increases, these compensatory mechanisms become overwhelmed. This results in the heart’s inability to pump a sufficient amount of blood, causing fluids to accumulate in the pet’s body, which leads to congestion. Failure on the left side of the heart leads to fluid retention in the lungs, while failure on the right side leads to fluid accumulation in the abdomen.

Rama the Bouvier.

Rama the Bouvier.

Causes of congestive heart failure

Many conditions can lead to congestive heart failure in dogs, but one of the most common causes is dilated cardiomyopathy. In this medical condition, the heart chambers become enlarged, weakening the muscle walls so that they are unable to pump sufficient amounts of blood to the body. This may result in the fluid coming back into the lungs, making breathing difficult, and giving the dog a potbellied appearance.

Some other causes of congestive heart failure in dogs include:

  • deficiencies of the heart valves
  • defects in the heart wall
  • accumulation of fluid in the sac that surrounds the heart
  • heart rhythm disturbances
  • heartworm
  • increased blood pressure
  • infection of the heart valves
  • tumors
  • pregnancy


In the early stages of congestive heart failure, your dog may not show signs at all. As the disease progress, the following signs may become noticeable:

  • difficulty or rapid breathing
  • exercise intolerance
  • weakness or lethargy
  • fainting, gray or blue gums
  • abdominal distension
  • collapse
  • sudden death


Once a proper diagnosis has been made, your veterinarian should determine the most appropriate treatment for your dog. The treatment will be based on the specific condition of the dog, and the purpose is to alleviate the adverse effects.

  • Sometimes, administering medications may be necessary to promote healthy heart pumping activity. The vet will give further recommendations to ensure the welfare of your dog, which may include a restriction on the amount of exercise and further treatment if your dog is overweight.
  • Since most of the symptoms observed in dogs are related to retention of water, treatment may include extraction methods and control of excess accumulation. Diuretics, which are drugs that increase the frequency and volume of urination, are very helpful to expel excess fluid. Additionally, feeding your dog a diet that is low in sodium may also helpful to prevent the storage of excess fluids.

Congestive heart failure can occur at any stage of a dog’s life but is mostly seen in middle-aged and older dogs.  Being armed with the signs and symptoms is always the first step in helping your dog maintain optimum health.  Always work closely with your vet and keep regular examinations as advised by your vet.

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