Congestive Heart Failure in Dogs

Congenital Heart Disease in Dogs

Your beloved pet can have heart problems just like you. Know the symptoms so you can get your companion the help they need.

Heart disease may lead to congestive heart failure. That's when your dog's heart has trouble pumping blood to the rest of its body.

Heart disease can affect one side of the heart or sometimes both sides. It can progress slowly and may take years to spot.



Your dog may have been born with a heart defect. Old age, injury and infection can exacerbate it. Diet and exercise play roles too.


Take notice of these early symptoms of heart problems:

  • Coughing more than usual (during or after exercise or a few hours before bedtime)
  • Having a hard time breathing or exercising
  • Tiring easily
  • Pacing before bedtime and having a hard time settling down
  • Increased respiratory rate -- how many breaths per minute

More symptoms may develop, as the disease gets worse, including:

  • A swollen belly from fluid buildup in (called ascites)
  • Fainting because of blocked blood flow to the brain
  • Change in tongue or gum color to bluish gray because of poor oxygen flow
  • Weight loss as your dog loses their ability to store healthy fat


Getting a Diagnosis

Your vet will want to know any symptoms you've noticed. They will want to know what the dog eats, what medications and supplements they may be taking, and if they are currently on heartworm protection.

The vet will listen to your dog's chest and may want to run some tests, including:

  • A blood and urine test to check for any other problems that could be affecting your dog's heart.
  • Chest X-rays. These use radiation in low doses to make images of your dog's internal organs.
  • An EKG. This test measures electrical signals from your dog's heart and tells how fast it's beating and if that rhythm is healthy.
  • An ultrasound. Ultrasound uses sound waves to look at the size, shape, and movement of the heart.
  • Heartworm antigen test. Your vet will take blood from your dog to test it for heartworms.
  • Holter monitor. This is taped to your dog’s chest and worn for 24-48 hours to capture heart rhythms and rate.




Your dog's treatment depends on what specific heart problem they have and what may be causing it.

Your vet may recommend one or more of the following:

  • Medications to help the heart work and correct irregular heartbeats
  • Medications to slow fluid build-up in the lungs
  • Surgery to correct a torn valve or to insert a pacemaker to correct the heart beat
  • A commercial or prescription low-salt diet to help decrease fluid build-up in your dog's body
  • Limited activity or exercise to manage weight without putting too much strain on your dog's heart

Your vet may also recommend supplements. Dogs with congestive heart failure may benefit from vitamin B supplements, taurine (an amino acid that supports brain development), or carnitine (an amino acid that helps turn fat into energy). Antioxidants like Coenzyme Q and vitamin E may also help.

Medication can also clear heartworms or bacterial infections if they're caught early enough.

What to Expect

Make sure to bring your dog for regular visits with your vet and stick with your treatment plan. Unchecked heart problems can make things harder on your dog and even shorten their life. With the right treatments, care, and monitoring, your dog can live a long, comfortable life.

WebMD Veterinary Reference Reviewed by Amy Flowers, DVM on September 13, 2020



American Heart Association: "Pets May Help Reduce Your Risk of Heart Disease."

AKC Canine Health Foundation: "Aortic Stenosis."

VCA Animal Hospitals: "Congestive Heart Failure in Dogs."

Christina Fan, DVM, Pasadena Pets Veterinary Hospital

Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine: "Leaky Valve Disease in Older Dogs."

Tufts University: "Treatments for Pets with Heart Disease: Congestive Heart Failure."

American Veterinary Medical Association: "The Facts on AVMA's Proposed Policy on Raw Pet Food Diets."

The Humane Society of the United States.

Doctors, Fosters & Smith: "Heart Failure in the Dog."

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