Treatment for congestive heart failure in dogs

Updated November 21, 2016

Different problems cause congestive heart failure (CHF), which is the most common type of heart condition for dogs, according to VetInfo. Left untreated, CHF continues to damage the heart until it stops working. Treatment does not cure CHF, but it can help you prolong the length and quality of your dog’s life. Your veterinarian can evaluate for CHF using X-rays, ultrasounds and other diagnostic measures and help you plan a treatment program.


CHF occurs if the heart is unable to pump enough blood out. As a result, the heart collects more blood, which increases the pressure and forces fluid from the blood vessels into surrounding tissue. This fluid causes the “congestion” part of the heart failure. According to VetInfo, it causes fluid to collect in your dog’s lungs. Damage to the right side of the heart causes fluid to collect in the abdomen or chest, according to VeterinaryPartner author and cardiac specialist Robert Prosek, D.V.M.


Any dog could possibly have CHF; however, most are older and overweight. The most common causes of the condition are from heartworms and hereditary disorders. Heart enlargement or a thickening of the heart walls can cause congestive heart failure. The thickening form, hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, is rare. Mitral valve disease (MVD) allows blood to flow backward into the heart. The extra blood makes the heart work harder, weaken and stop pumping enough blood, resulting in CHF, according to Colorado State University Veterinary Teaching Hospital. It is more common in toy and small breeds. Another common cause is dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM), a disease that results in the heart muscle contractions weakening, according to Prosek. It is more common in certain breeds, including boxers, Great Danes and Doberman pinschers. Causes of DCM include genetic, toxins and damage from diseases such as parvovirus.


CHF symptoms include coughing, fatigue, fainting, laboured or fast breathing, a swollen abdomen and a bluish tint to tongue and gums—especially after any exertion, according to VetInfo. Progressed symptoms include problems walking or getting up, excessive panting, problems breathing, irregular heartbeat and seizures. You may not notice symptoms until the CHF is advanced.


Unless the underlying cause of CHF is treated, heart damage will continue. According to the Colorado State University Veterinary Teaching Hospital, there is no treatment for dogs with MVD, and it eventually results in death. DCM that's caused by nutritional deficiencies, such as lack of the amino acid taurine, can stop the problem. According to Prosek, although most DCM causes are not curable, medications for the DCM and draining abdominal and chest fluids help prolong life for your dog. Researchers are studying other methods for treatment, such as stem cell and surgeries. If the problem is caused by heartworms, treatment includes medication or surgery to remove worms in the heart.


CHF treatment improves symptoms, but does not cure the condition. Weight loss and avoiding strenuous activities help reduce the heart workload. Nutrition and some supplements, such as B-complex with niacin, L-carnitine, taurine, vitamins and minerals may help your dog, according to VetInfo. According to O. L. Nelson, D.V.M., of the Washington State University, common medications for heart failure include drugs that dilate blood vessels, remove excess fluids (diuretics), strengthen heart muscle contractions, control heart rhythm, slow heart rate and reduce congestion.

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Daniel Cobalt lives in Georgia and has been writing online for over five years. He has a technical certificate in printing from the Philadelphia Printing School. His areas of expertise include fitness, home schooling, parenting, personal relationships, small business ownership and pet topics including breeding, training and responsible ownership.