Canine Congestive Heart Failure Signs and Treatments

Older Doberman

Canine congestive heart failure is the final result of severe heart disease or a genetic malformation of the heart muscle. When these conditions severely lessen the heart's ability to pump efficiently, circulatory failure eventually leads to fluid retention in the dog's body cavities.

Causes of Canine Congestive Heart Failure

Many things can cause a dog's heart to fail. Some of these conditions are preventable or treatable, others are not. The most common causes of congestive heart failure in dogs are:

  • Degeneration of the heart valves (endocardiosis)
  • Heartworm disease
  • Dilated cardiomyopathy
  • Inflammation and diseases of the pericardium
  • Arrhythmias
  • Heart valve infection (endocarditis)
  • Congenital heart defects

Due to the many causes of heart failure, dogs of any age or breed can develop this condition. Small breed dogs are more apt to have congestive heart failure because degeneration of the heart valves is the more common than in larger breeds. The breeds most genetically prone to this condition are:

  • Cavalier King Charles Spaniels
  • Toy Poodles
  • Cocker Spaniels
  • Pomeranians
  • Yorkshire Terriers
  • Dachshunds

Some larger dog breeds predisposed to heart disease include:

  • Doberman Pinschers
  • Boxers
  • Great Danes
  • Dalmations
  • St. Bernard
  • Afghan Hound
  • Newfoundland


There are two types of canine congestive heart failure (CHF): left-sided CHF and right-sided CHF. They have some symptoms in common, and some that are unique. If your dog is displaying any of these symptoms, take him to his veterinarian and discuss the possibility of heart failure with her.

Left-sided CHF Symptoms

Right-sided CHF Symptoms

  • Swollen abdomen from fluid build up
  • Intolerance to exercise
  • Rapid breathing
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Coughing
  • Swelling of the limbs

If your dog is displaying consistent fatigue, appears depressed, has difficulty breathing, chronic cough, or swelling in his body, you should seek veterinary advice. These symptoms may not be heart failure, but can be an indication of another serious health issue. Any dog with difficulty breathing or collapse should see a vet immediately!


Canine congestive heart failure can often be diagnosed by your vet by using a stethoscope to listen to his heart and lungs. Other testing procedures that may be used are x-rays, an echocardiogram, an electrocardiogram, or measuring blood pressure. Doing these tests will allow the vet to develop a treatment plan. Treatment will depend on the underlying cause of the dog's heart problem.


Depending on the cause of your dog's heart failure, your veterinarian may employ several steps for treating this serious health issue.

  • Initial hospitalization to stabilize your dog if he is in distress
  • Supplemental oxygen
  • Diuretics to encourage fluid elimination
  • Nitroglycerine paste applied topically
  • More advanced drug infusions such as nitroprusside or dobutamine
  • Angiotensin converting enzyme inhibitor drugs that make it easier for the heart to do its work
  • Digoxin to help lower the heart rate and treat certain arrhythmias
  • Pimobendan - a newer drug that can help contractility of the heart
  • Low-sodium diet and nutritional supplements

Following the treatment plan prescribed by your veterinarian will make your dog more comfortable and prolong his life.

At Home Care

Monitor your dog's appetite and activity level. Keep him free from stress and allow him to enjoy an activity level that he is comfortable with. Signs of heavy breathing and fainting signal an emergency situation and should be addressed with your veterinarian right away.

Follow the diet treatment plan advised by your veterinarian and be sure to give your dog all the necessary medications he should be taking.


There are few things that can be done to prevent canine heart failure. Keeping your dog on a regular heartworm preventative can eliminate these parasites as a cause of heart failure. If your vet notices a heart murmur, this can be an early sign of disease in the heart valves. Your vet may recommend a chest x-ray or echocardiogram before any symptoms of heart failure if there is a significant murmur present.

Most heart disease is not caused by factors in the dog's environment, but by genetic predisposition to this health issue. Dogs that have heart defects should not be bred. A responsible breeder tests for such problems and does not continue to include dogs with heart defects in their breeding program.

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Canine Congestive Heart Failure Signs and Treatments