Heart Failure in Dogs: Causes, Symptoms, Treatments and Prevention


Heart failure in dogs is a serious illness. Although it mainly affects dogs that have already reached an advanced age, it can equally well affect younger dogs, and especially certain breeds, which are more sensitive to it.

It will therefore be very important to learn to recognize heart failure from the first visible symptoms, in order to be able to act quickly accordingly, and thus allow your dog, thanks to fortunately effective treatments nowadays, to be able to live an almost life. normal by your side.

Causes of heart failure in dogs

Understanding the role of the heart

To understand this disease, it is first of all important to understand what exactly is the role of the heart in a dog’s body, and how it works: it is a muscle that constantly beats, ranging from 50 at 200 beats per minute, knowing that small breeds of dog have a heart that beats faster than large breeds.

With each pulse, the heart sends blood to the animal’s other muscles and organs, providing them with oxygen and nutrients, allowing them to function properly.

What Causes Heart Failure in Dogs?

Knowing all this, heart failure becomes a much more understandable disease. It is a failure of the heart, and more precisely, of its ability to emit pulses, and therefore to send blood to muscles and organs.

Heart failure can be caused by various dysfunctions of the heart. It can be either partial (ie only a problem of the right half or the left half), or total, so the whole heart will have difficulty beating correctly.

Heart failure can also be caused by a failure to close the heart valves, thinning of the wall of the ventricles, or high blood pressure.

All this can also be explained by a congenital malformation, or by problems of which the dog was victim during his life, which will have unfortunately led him to these weaknesses or these dysfunctions.

Symptoms of heart failure in dogs

Heart failure in dogs will start gradually. More exactly, there will be three phases, to which you will have to be very careful as a master.

First stage: the asymptomatic stage

During this first stage, the dog will not show symptoms visible to the naked eye, this is called an asymptomatic phase. The heart begins to function less efficiently, but it will be able to compensate for this failure on its own, either by increasing its size or by increasing the frequency of its beats.

Although these symptoms can be checked by a veterinarian via an X-ray or a stethoscope, the owner will probably not have the reflex to consult a veterinarian during this phase since no symptoms are noticeable.

Second stage: the decompensated stage

After the asymptomatic stage comes the decompensated stage, which can occur a few months to a few years later. During this stage, the dog will begin to show symptoms since the heart which, until now, managed to compensate itself for its weaknesses, is no longer able to correct itself. In the event of stress or significant physical exertion, the dog will therefore present the following symptoms:

  • cough after exertion,
  • rapid and unusual fatigue after exertion (climbing a staircase for example),
  • rapid shortness of breath after exertion,
  • unusual cough, as if the dog is choking and trying to cough up something that is blocking its throat,
  • worsening of the symptoms mentioned above during periods of intense heat.

After observing one or more of these symptoms, you will need to make an appointment with a veterinarian.

Third stage: the severe stage

During this third and final stage, the heart is extremely tired and worn out, so much so that it cannot function properly even when the dog is at rest. The dog may therefore present with the symptoms of the second stage, but this time worsened, even if he is simply lying in his basket.

You will have to be extremely careful with your little one during this phase, since the slightest effort, the slightest source of stress or the slightest exposure to too much heat could cause him cardiac arrest, syncope, or even pulmonary edema.

Treatment of heart failure in dogs

At first, the first reflexes to have as a master will be to limit the dog’s efforts as much as possible. It will also be necessary to protect it from excessive heat, as well as from all sources of stress, to avoid the slightest accident which could unfortunately be fatal.

Of course, it will also be necessary to consult a veterinarian, who will carry out various examinations in order to detect the importance of the heart failure, via hearing the heart murmur with a stethoscope, a chest x-ray, an ultrasound of the heart, and even in some cases, an EKG. This will allow him to be able to accurately analyze the severity of heart failure, and thus make an accurate diagnosis of the condition from which the dog is suffering.

Obesity as well as a diet that is too salty worsening the symptoms, it will be necessary to force the dog to a diet if he needs it, as well as to make him switch to a diet low in salt.

From a drug point of view, the dog will in most cases have a tablet-based treatment, which he will have to take for the rest of his life. These drugs improve the work of the heart and regulate its pulsations, in addition to preventing the appearance of pulmonary edema.

However, it will be necessary to ensure that the dog always has his tablets, since the abrupt stopping of the treatment without the agreement of the veterinarian can worsen his symptoms, or even be fatal.

How to prevent heart failure in dogs?

As previously written, too salty food and obesity promote the onset of heart failure. It will therefore be necessary to ensure that the dog has a diet that meets his needs, without being too rich. It will also be necessary to avoid giving him the remains of human food, often much too salty for our four-legged friends.

Older dogs being more susceptible to this disease, it will be necessary, as the dog ages, to limit his physical activities that are too “violent”, in order to prevent his heart from working too much.

Finally, dog breeds like Cavalier King Charles, Poodle, Yorkie, Newfoundland, Boxer, and Doberman are more susceptible than others when it comes to heart failure. It will be necessary to have their heart checked regularly by a veterinarian to prevent disease as much as possible, and to be prepared if ever heart failure should occur.