When you think of heart disease, you probably picture a middle-aged man– not a frisky little puppy.  The reality is that heart disease, including congestive heart failure, is not only found in humans but can strike other animals as well.  Though you might associate congestive heart failure with being overweight and sedentary–and that is not necessarily wrong–congestive heart failure can occur in dogs that look outwardly healthy, and it can even be found in puppies.  Heart disease in dogs is a serious matter, and just like in humans, it cannot always be cured. However, with proper treatment heart disease in dogs can be managed, allowing your dog to live for many more years in relatively good health.


What is Congestive Heart Failure in Dogs?

Congestive heart failure in dogs is a condition caused by other forms of heart disease.  When the heart starts to fail, it no longer properly pumps blood. This causes fluid to accumulate in or around the lungs or in the abdomen. Fluid accumulation in the lungs is known as pulmonary edema and fluid accumulation around the lungs is known as pleural effusion.  Fluid pooling in the abdomen is known as ascites. All of these conditions make it difficult for the dog to breathe efficiently. Because dogs with these conditions struggle to obtain enough oxygen, they may have labored breathing and panting and may extend their necks to try to get more air.  They may struggle to exercise, seem weak or lethargic, and have a poor appetite. Other symptoms include a bluish tinge to the lips, tongue, and inside of the ears.


What Causes Congestive Heart Failure in Dogs?

There are a variety of conditions that can cause congestive heart failure in dogs.  In puppies, the most likely causes are congenital heart defects. These defects may be inherited and are associated with certain breeds, but it can strike puppies of any breed.  If you see any symptoms of congestive heart failure in your dog, see a vet for a diagnosis. Early detection and treatment give the best chance of long term success for your dog.

The two most common defects are Patent Ductus Arteriosus (PDA) and Pulmonic Stenosis.  PDA is known to run in German Shepherds and Miniature Poodles but is not limited to these breeds.  It occurs when a blood vessel that normally closes after birth fails to close. Before birth this duct allows blood to bypass the lungs since the puppy is not yet breathing.  If it fails to close after birth, blood leaks back into the heart, leading to heart failure. Pulmonic Stenosis is another common cause of congestive heart failure in dogs, especially smaller breeds.  In this condition the connection between the heart and the pulmonary artery narrows, making the heart pump harder, which can lead to heart failure.


What Treatments Are Available?

PDA can be readily treated with a surgical procedure known as a thoracotomy.  Here, the surgeon opens up the chest cavity and repairs the hole. Puppies typically recover easily from this procedure.  A less invasive procedure uses a catheter threaded in through the coronary arteries to reach and repair the hole. A catheter can also be used to treat pulmonic stenosis.  The catheter is used to place a balloon in the narrowed opening. The surgeon then inflates the balloon with saline, enlarging the opening to a normal size.

If surgery is not an option, medications can also provide relief from congestive heart failure.  Diuretics reduce the volume of fluid retained, thereby reducing the burden on the lungs. Vasodilators widen the dog’s blood vessels, allowing the heart to pump blood more easily.  Your vet can also advise you on dietary changes, such as reducing your dog’s salt intake, in order to improve his quality of life.