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What are the symptoms of the final stages of congestive heart failure in dogs?

Dogs with congestive heart failure will, over time, experience 4 clearly defined stages of the disease. Our vets at VRCC Veterinary Specialty & Emergency Hospital describe the stages of congestive heart failure, and what to expect when your dog reaches the final stage of this condition. 

CHF - Congestive Heart Failure in Dogs

Congestive heart failure in dogs - sometimes referred to as CHF in dogs for short - is a term that refers to the inability of your pet's heart to pump sufficient blood to their body. When this occurs, blood begins to back up into the lungs and fluid accumulates in the chest, abdomen or both. This, in turn, leads to further constriction of the pet's heart and lungs limiting oxygen flow throughout their body. There are many causes of CHF in dogs, but the two most common causes are:

  • Mitral valve insufficiency (MVI), refers to a leaky mitral valve, which is the valve between the left atrium and the left ventricle.
  • Dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) occurs when the heart chambers enlarge and lose their ability to contract.

Signs of CHF in dogs vary depending on whether your pup has left- or right-sided heart failure.

Symptoms of Right- & Left-Sided Congestive Heart Failure in Dogs

Right-sided congestive heart failure occurs when a heart contraction causes some blood to leak into the right atrium from the right ventricle rather than being pushed through the lungs and becoming oxygenated. As a result, the main circulation system becomes congested with blood, and fluid accumulates in the abdomen, interfering with adequate organ function. Excess fluid might also build up in the limbs and cause swelling.

Left-sided congestive heart failure is the most common type of congestive heart failure in dogs and occurs when blood from the left ventricle leaks back into the left atrium through the mitral valve rather than getting pumped into the body's systemic circulation when the heart contracts. This causes pressure overload to the left side of the heart. Fluid begins to leak into the tissue of the lungs, causing swelling which results in coughing and difficulty breathing.

Treatment for Dogs With Congestive Heart Failure

There are various medications used to treat congestive heart failure in dogs, including diuretics to remove the excess fluid buildup in the lungs and body, angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors which help improve symptoms, and vasodilators to relax the body's blood vessels. A positive inotrope may also be prescribed to help strengthen the force of contractions in your dog's heart and improve blood flow. Regular trips to the veterinarian for examinations and monitoring are essential for dogs diagnosed with this condition.

Congestive Heart Failure in Dogs - Stages

There are four stages to the progression of this condition:

Stage 1: Although the condition has taken hold and begun to deteriorate your dog's heart there may not be any noticeable symptoms.

Stage 2: In this stage symptoms such as shortness of breath, panting and lethargy will begin to appear, especially when your pup is playing or exercising. 

Stage 3: Now your dog's symptoms will begin to become more obvious. Even short walks may bring on coughing, wheezing and other noticeable signs of breathing difficulties.

Stage 4: During this final stage of congestive heart failure, your dog's breathing will become difficult even when they are resting. Fluid will likely begin to accumulate in various parts of your pup's body, leading to swollen legs or abdomen, which will make walking difficult and may lead to vomiting.

Last Stages of Congestive Heart Failure in Dogs

Although treatment for congestive heart failure can help to manage the disease and improve your dog's quality of life for a good period of time, at some point your dog will reach stage 4 of the condition.

Difficulty breathing even while resting, frequent bouts of coughing, bluish-grey color gums, fainting when rising to stand and a reluctance to walk are all common signs of the end stages of congestive heart failure in dogs. Your pup will also have difficulties sleeping or resting on their side, and many dogs reach a stage where they prefer to sit upright rather than lay down since an upright position can help to ease breathing.

The sad truth is that symptoms of late stage congestive heart failure cannot be well managed in dogs, and once this stage it may be time to consider speaking to your veterinarian about humane euthanasia. While this is a very painful decision to make, many pet parents feel that euthanasia allows their beloved pet  to pass peacefully without further suffering.

If your dog has congestive heart failure, be sure to begin having open and honest discussions with your veterinarian early in the diagnosis and at each appointment as your pet's condition progresses. Your vet will be able to provide you with detailed information about the progression of your pet's symptoms and provide you with a prognosis based on your pet's precise symptoms. These discussions can help you to know what to expect and prepare for whatever decision you feel is right for your four-legged family member.

Specialist Care for Dogs in Englewood with Congestive Heart Failure

While your family veterinarian will be able to diagnose and treat a range of problems very well, some conditions need specialized diagnostics and care so your pet will have the best chance for a positive outcome.

This includes disorders such as congestive heart disease, dilated cardiomyopathy, hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, systemic hypertension, degenerative valve disease, cardiac tumors, arrhythmias, and congenital heart disease.

Our team of specialists offer a combination of services, from non-invasive testing to services including cardiac catheterization, pacemaker implantation, and more to clients throughout Englewood and the Denver Metro area.

Learn More About Our Veterinary Cardiology Services

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Our board-certified veterinary cardiologists specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of heart disease in pets. Contact VRCC today to learn more about advanced care for your pet.

New Patients Welcome

VRCC Veterinary Specialty & Emergency Hospital in Englewood is always accepting new patients! Our board-certified specialists and emergency veterinarians are passionate about restoring good health to Denver Metro area pets.

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