Any time you take your dog to the vet, you want to hear good news. And, the vet definitely wants to tell you good news. Unfortunately, some medical conditions are more difficult to share and hear about than others. Congestive heart failure in dogs is definitely one of the more difficult ones, as the condition means your dog’s heart has trouble pumping blood to the rest of the body, ultimately altering your dog’s way of life and longevity. Heart failure is a congenital defect that becomes exacerbated by age or injuries that have strained the heart. Untreated heartworms are also a possible cause. Larger breeds of dogs, in particular, are prone to having enlarged hearts. The good news is that you can be on the lookout for symptoms and take your dog to the vet right away for a clear diagnosis and treatment plan.

Symptoms of Congestive Heart Failure in Dogs

Be on the lookout for the following symptoms, which often result from a lack of oxygen to the blood and from fluid build-up. Because these symptoms may or may not imply heart failure, it’s best to have a proper vet checkup. Only with a visit to the vet and proper tests, including chest X-rays, blood and urine tests, blood pressure analysis, ultrasounds, and/or an EKG, will you know for sure. Through the various tests, the vet can listen and check for heart murmurs and an abnormal heart rhythm, which are some clues that can help confirm the diagnosis. Possible symptoms you might observe in your pup include the following:

  • Showing signs of fatigue or weakness
  • Difficulty breathing and/or excessive panting
  • Coughing after exercising or before bed
  • Having trouble settling down at bedtime
  • An inability to exercise (based on health, not a general dislike for exercising!)
  • A swollen stomach due to excess fluid
  • Fainting episodes
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Bluish-gray gums and/or tongue due to poor circulation

Treatment for Heart Failure

Treatment for heart failure varies depending on the overall health and particular diagnosis your dog receives. Commonly, your regular vet or a recommended vet cardiologist prescribes certain medications that strengthen your dog’s heart and reduce fluid in the lungs, vitamin supplements, a prescribed or over-the-counter low-salt diet, and a lifestyle-management plan that includes low-strain forms of exercise. In some cases, surgically repairing a leaky heart valve is a beneficial option as well.

How Long Can a Dog Live with Heart Failure?

You can admit it. This is the question weighing most on your mind, right? It’s understandable given the severity of the situation. Unfortunately, this is the question with the least precise answer. Many factors are at play, including your dog’s past medical conditions and luck. Some dogs live for several months after the diagnosis, and others live for several years. The key is maintaining the quality of your dog’s life. When your dog starts to suffer more and more even with treatment, unfortunately it’s time to consider saying goodbye. Having an end-of-life plan in place (just in case) is an important step to take when your vet diagnoses your dog with congestive heart failure. Even though you don’t want to say goodbye, you certainly want what’s best for your dog.

Don’t Panic!

An important decision you can make is to contact your vet when you’re unsure about your dog’s symptoms or responses to treatment. What you know can give you and your dog more quality time together. If you happen to be in the Somerset area, contact Animal Medical Center at 814.443.6979 to set up an appointment to check your dog’s heart health.