Canine Congestive Heart Failure

by DFS-Pet-Blog on July 28, 2009

Canine congestive heart failure (CHF) occurs when the dog’s heart is no longer able to pump blood to the lungs and/or body at the designed volume and pressure. 

When the output of blood from the heart is decreased, the relative amount of blood entering the heart is increased.  This increase in blood upstream from the heart changes the balance of fluid pressures in the upstream blood vessels and surrounding tissues.  When these pressures are increased, blood fluids leave the vessels and “congest” the surrounding tissues.  In the case of a decrease in output on the left side of the heart, fluid will accumulate in the lungs.   If this occurs on the right side of the heart, there will be congestion in the abdomen or other body spaces. 

Problems with the heart’s valves (especially the mitral valve) or a thinning of the heart’s ventricular wall are the two most common causes of CHF in dogs.  In both cases the heart’s ability to pump blood is decreased.  In the early stages of CHF, the dog’s body is able to compensate for a lower cardiac output.  Peripheral blood vessels constrict increasing the resistance to blood flow, the heart rate will be elevated and a mechanism will be activated that causes the dog’s body to retain sodium and water.  These three factors lead to an increase in blood pressure which helps to maintain normal blood circulation.  Eventually, however, the decrease in cardiac output and the increase in blood pressure will lead to an accumulation of fluid in tissues and body cavities (congestion).   

Clinical symptoms include but are not limited to: a cough or a belly full of fluid.

Treatment involves decreasing the work load on the heart by dilating the blood vessels and lowering the fluid load in the dog’s body.  Special diets may be prescribed in an attempt to lower the amount of sodium in the dog and as a result, the dog will retain less water.  

CHF is a progressive disease with no cure.  Strict medical management can reduce symptoms and offer a good quality of life.

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Paul DiPippa August 7, 2010 at 4:58 pm

My 6 year old male Dobermin named Magnus was in perfect health 2 weeks ago. He started couching and gagging and we took him to the vet where they diagnosed him with dilated cardiomiopathy. He started taking Lasix and Enacard right away to help with the fluid and heart. My question is what other medications/treatment options are available to help him lead a good quality of life as you say in the above article?

Paul DiPippa

Holly R. Nash, DVM. MS August 11, 2010 at 11:22 am

I am so sorry to hear that your Doberman was diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy. This disease is more common in that breed. Pimobendan (Vetmedin) is another drug that is sometimes used in the treatment of dilated cardiomyopathy. You may wish to discuss its use in Magnus with your veterinarian. You can read more on pimobendan at . Unfortunately, the disease is progressive, even with the use of these medications. They will help relieve some of the symptoms however, and help Magnus be much more comfortable. I wish you and Magnus the very best.

Holly R. Nash, DVM, MS
Veterinary Services
Drs. Foster and Smith

Tracy Ravenscraft May 20, 2011 at 3:11 pm

My 9 month old Pomeranian Chandler Bing just got diagnosed with Canine Congestive Heart Failure on the right side of the heart. I brought him in because his belly was getting huge. At first I thought he was gaining weight after being fixed. He ened up haviing x-rays then the vet 1.5 liters of fluid removed from his belly. After this he had more energy and seemed happier. This Moring I gave him his prescribed meds digoxin and Lasix. He seemed pretty sleepy after giving him the pills. The vet said some dogs can live a year or two with this condition but, who knows. Is there better meds for his condition?

Dr. Scott A. McKay May 23, 2011 at 11:29 am

Dear Tracy, I’m sorry to hear that your dog has developed congestive heart failure. This condition is managable and the medications and outlook (prognosis) your veterinarian gave you is realistic. There aren’t really any better medication choices; only different choices. I would recommend you follow-up with your veterinarian regarding any options you may have and point out the symptoms you are observing in your dog (the sleepyness). Best of luck.

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