Heart Failure (CHF) In Dogs [Signs, Symptoms & Treatment]

by | Jul 19, 2023 | Dogs, Health & Wellness

Pets are like family to us; the thought of them suffering from old age diseases is heartwrenching. Because 10% of all dogs suffer from some heart disease, with 75% being senior dogs, dog parents must understand heart disease in dogs. One common heart disease is congestive heart failure (CHF). To give your pet the best care, you need to gain insight into congestive heart failure (CHF) in dogs, including its causes, signs, and symptoms, while uncovering the ideal treatment and prevention. Knowing this information helps you provide your beloved pet with the best care during their senior years. 

Table of Contents

What is Congestive Heart Failure (CHF) in Dogs?

  • Which Dog Breeds Have a Higher Predisposition to Heart Disease?

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Congestive Heart Failure (CHF) in Dogs?

  • Is It Common for Dogs to Have Heart Attacks?

How Does Right-Sided CHF Differ from Left-Sided CHF?

  • Right-sided Congestive Heart Failure
  • Left-sided Congestive Heart Failure
  • Biventricular Failure

What Causes Congestive Heart Failure in Dogs?

How is CHF Diagnosed in Dogs?

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  • Diagnostic Tests for CHF 
  • Four Stages of CHF in Dogs 
  •  How Long Can Dogs Live with Congestive Heart Failure?

Effective Treatments for CHF: Medications, Oxygen, and Diets

  • Medication Treatment for CHF in Dogs
  • Oxygen Treatment for CHF in Dogs
  • Diet Treatment for CHF in Dogs

Preventing Congestive Heart Failure in Your Beloved Dog

What is Congestive Heart Failure (CHF) in Dogs?

Heart failure in dogs isn’t a specific disease but a condition occurring when a dog’s heart isn’t pumping properly to get the right amount of blood throughout the dog’s heart. It’s a progressive condition that affects both sides of a dog’s heart. In a healthy dog heart, the right ventricle sends blood through the lungs to get oxygen. Then, the left ventricle pumps the oxygenated blood throughout the dog’s body. Healthy heart valves open and close – this is a heartbeat sound. If a valve doesn’t close completely, leakage occurs so that blood slips back into a chamber. This “heart murmur sound” is often the first symptom your veterinarian may hear indicating your dog has CHF. Even younger dogs can have a heart murmur, but they’re more common in older dogs. 

Which Dog Breeds Have a Higher Predisposition to Heart Disease?

The risk of having heart disease increases as your dog ages, but certain dog breeds have a higher predisposition to heart problems. 

Certain breeds, such as miniature poodles, cocker spaniels and others are more prone to heart problems.

Cardiovascular disease (CVD)

This heart condition in dogs is also called endocarditis. It’s the most common heart disease in canines. When your dog’s heart valves lose flexibility and get thick, it distorts the shape of the valves so they can’t close correctly. Dogs with a higher risk for CVD 


  • King Cavalier spaniels
  • Miniature poodles
  • Cocker spaniels 
  • Dashchunds
Larger breeds, such as Great Danes, Dobermans and Boxers may be predisposed to Dilated Cardiomyopathy.

Dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM)

This is a heart condition where the left ventricle gets enlarged and dilated. The left ventricle is the main chamber of your dog’s heart. When it gets enlarged, the chamber walls get stretched thin, causing them to weaken. This affects your dog’s heart’s ability to pump oxygenated blood to the rest of its body. It can lead to blood clots, arrhythmia, or a sudden heart attack. This condition is less common in dogs, but larger breeds can be at risk, including

  • Great Danes
  • Dobermans
  • Boxers

Grain-free diets have been found to put dogs at DCM risk. A grain-free diet should only be fed if you talk to your vet first to understand the risks. 

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Congestive Heart Failure (CHF) in Dogs?

Here is a list of common symptoms and signs to watch for congestive heart failure in dogs. If, for days, you see these symptoms in your dog, be sure to mention them to your vet.

  • Constant panting – This includes suddenly panting at night. Your older dog may pant at night due to anxiety, pain, or cognitive problems.
  • Coughing a lot and coughing up foamy-looking substance
  • Trouble catching their breath
  • Getting winded quickly
  • Lethargy 
  • Loss of appetite
  • Blue-tinted gums due to lack of oxygen
  • Sudden weight loss or gain

Extreme signs include:

  • Swollen abdomen
  • Collapsing 

Is It Common for Dogs to Have Heart Attacks?

Poor diet, minimal exercise and obesity are contributing to the rise off heart attacks in dogs.


Heart attacks in dogs are rare, but they can happen. If they occur, they’re dangerous. Sadly, dog heart attacks are on the rise in the United States. Poor diet, overweight, obesity, and lack of exercise are contributing factors. They also suggest that dogs are getting less exercise, leading to being overweight. 

Studies show that dogs with atrial fibrillation,  a common type of arrhythmia, are the most at risk for a sudden heart attack. The most common dog breeds with AF include:

  • German shepherds
  • Labrador retrievers
  • Newfoundland
  • Boxer
  • Irish wolfhounds
  • Rotweiller
  • Golden retrievers

It’s not known what causes sudden cardiac arrest in dogs. Dogs diagnosed with heart disease at a young age can have a faster progression of heart disease. 

How Does Right-Sided CHF Differ from Left-Sided CHF?

Congestive heart failure (CHF) is a condition where fluids build up in a dog’s heart due to the heart pump not moving the blood correctly through the dog’s body. If a dog’s heart is damaged, it can also not pump blood properly, causing the blood to back up in their lungs and accumulate in the chest, abdomen, or both areas, depending on which type of CHF a dog has. 

  • Right-sided Congestive Heart Failure – When fluids build up on the right side of a dog’s heart, it causes their circulatory system to get backed up with blood all over the dog’s body. Fluid gathers in their abdomen and extremities. 
  • Left-sided Congestive Heart Failure – This is most common in older dogs. It occurs when the left side of the dog’s heart doesn’t function correctly, so a backup of pressure in the areas where the blood is going in the left atrium and lower chamber, the ventricle. Fluid builds up in the dog’s lungs. CHF on the left side causes a dog to cough and have trouble breathing. 
  • Biventricular Failure – This condition is when both the left and the right ventricles aren’t working correctly. 

What Causes Congestive Heart Failure in Dogs?

Some dogs are born with heart defects that can result in CHF later in life. It may take years for the condition to show up. Congenital heart disease accounts for approximately 5% of all dog heart disease cases. Common congenital heart diseases dogs may be born with include:

  • An enlarged heart
  • Mitral valve leaks
  • As a puppy, the dog’s blood vessels don’t close properly 
  • Hole in the heart

Other causes of CHF in dogs include conditions such as

  • Heartworms – If your dog gets heartworms, these worms can block the heart valve so they can’t open or close. To prevent heartworms, keep your pet on heartworm medication year-round, plus get them checked for heartworms during their check-ups.
  • Parvovirus – This virus infects the dog’s heart muscle. It can lead to heart failure. Keep your dog up-to-date on their parvovirus vaccinations to avoid this problem.
  • Bacterial infections – Bacteria in a dog’s mouth may get into their bloodstream and attack the heart, causing inflammation of the heart’s lining inside the valves. Good dental care helps prevent this from occurring. Brush your dog’s teeth at least twice weekly to prevent bacterial buildup. 
  • Thyroid problems – Hypothyroidism causes a slower heart rate, which can lead to heart problems. 
  • Vitamin E deficiency – Lack of this vitamin can lead to damaged heart muscles. 

How is CHF Diagnosed in Dogs?

A vet will give a complete physical exam and run diagnostic tests if a dog is thought to have a heart condition.


If your vet suspects your dog has a heart problem, they’ll give your pet a complete physical exam to diagnose congestive heart failure. To confirm your dog has the condition, they will run a series of diagnostic tests. 

Diagnostic Tests for CHF 

Chest X-rays ( $75-$500) This test examines the shape and size of a dog’s heart and any fluid build-up.

EKG ($725 – $1,000) Electrocardiograms detect any abnormalities in the rhythm or rate of a dog’s heart. 

Echocardiogram ($575) This test checks a dog’s heart movement, size, and shape. This test also checks if the heart is pumping properly. 

Blood tests ($100-$200) Heart disease in dogs causes problems in a dog’s kidneys and liver. 

Heartworm antigen test ($50-$200) This checks for any abnormal proteins made by the heartworms. 

Four Stages of CHF in Dogs 

Congestive heart failure has four stages of determining the severity of the condition. 

  • Stage one – No visible signs or symptoms of CHF, but your dog’s heart has some deterioration. 
  • Stage two – Your dog will experience fatigue, panting, and shortness of breath when exercising. 
  • Stage three – Coughing and wheezing have started with shortness of breath and fatigue during short walks. The fluid build-up is evident in tests. 
  • Stage four – This is the final stage of CHF. Your dog will have trouble breathing even while resting. Fluid builds up and causes swollen stomach and legs, preventing walking. Vomiting may occur.

How Long Can Dogs Live with Congestive Heart Failure?

Dogs diagnosed with CHF can live six months to two years. 

Effective Treatments for CHF: Medications, Oxygen, and Diets

Depending on the severity of CHF, there may be treatments that can extend the lifespan of a dog.


Treatment for CHF depends on the severity of the condition. There is no cure for this condition, but there are treatments to enhance or extend a dog’s life. If the condition is congenital, your vet may suggest surgery to repair a dog’s heart. Otherwise, the best treatment reduces fluid build-up and helps the blood flow to the dog’s lungs and body.

Medication Treatment for CHF in Dogs

  • Diuretics – Helps the kidneys remove fluid from the abdomen and lungs. 
  • ACE inhibitors (benazepril, enalapril, captopril) – These help lower blood pressure and volume. They also slow the deterioration of the heart muscles and lower the stress on the dog’s heart. 
  • Vasodilators and positive inotropic drugs – These drugs dilate blood vessels and lower pressure on the heart to help the heart pump blood more easily.
  • Good nutrition – Lower your dog’s sodium intake to reduce fluid build-up. Supplements, such as Vitamin E, B, and Coenzyme Q10, are also helpful. 
  • Physical rehabilitation – While too much exercise may exacerbate the condition, physical activity is important to improve heart health and extend your dog’s life. Work with a certified physical therapist to design a CHF-appropriate exercise plan to ensure your dog strengthens its heart muscles and improves function.

Oxygen Treatment for CHF in Dogs

Dogs with CHF can be treated with oxygen. Oxygen therapy is used to supplement the air a dog breathes. Some dogs have trouble absorbing oxygen or moving the oxygen around their body. Extra oxygen boosts a dog’s ability to heal from injury or sickness. 

Diet Treatment for CHF in Dogs

Low-sodium diet treatment is best for a dog with heart conditions. Other important foods to add to a dog’s diet include

  • Lean poultry
  • Fish, particularly fish high in Omega-3 fatty acids like Salmon
  • Healthy fats (polyunsaturated fats like fish oil and flaxseed oil)

Preventing Congestive Heart Failure in Your Beloved Dog

While congestive heart failure is not curable, a healthy diet, exercise routine and medication can help extend a dog's life.

Studies show a link between grain-free diets, DCM, and heart disease. Talk to your vet if your dog is on a grain-free diet. They may want to monitor your dog for any heart problems. 

One dog breed linked to DCM is the Golden Retriever. This could be related to the high consumption of pulses/legumes since they are used instead of grains in grain-free diets. Instead of grain-free carbs, choose whole grains, complex carbs such as whole rice, complex carbs, and whole oats. 

To prevent CHF in your dog, provide a well-balanced diet. Make sure your dog maintains a healthy body weight for their size. Skip food scraps off the table because these can be filled with saturated fats, sodium, and excess calories. Take your dog on regular walks. 

Congestive heart failure isn’t a curable condition. But your dog can live happily with proper medication, diet, and exercise routines. Scheduling regular check-ups for your pet is important for your vet to monitor the condition. 

Pet insurance provides peace of mind when your dog experiences an unexpected illness or accident.

Odie’s Pet Insurance

Having pet insurance allows you to give your dog the best possible care. You’ll have peace of mind knowing you can afford the medical bills if your pet gets sick or injured. 

Odie’s Illness & Injury Plan – This is the best insurance for CHF because it offers a wide range of services for your dog. 

Odie’s Wellness Plan – An add-on plan ensures your dog gets routine care so heart disease can be diagnosed early.

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