Heart trouble is a common issue among canines, especially as they age.
It can cause a lot of distress, both for the dogs and their owners, as it can be hard to watch.
Once they notice the signs, many dog owners wonder if the diagnosis is the end of the line.
Others begin immediately looking for ways to treat heart failure.
The question among most, though, is how to know when it’s time to let go.
To make that decision, it’s crucial to understand more about heart failure, how it impacts dogs, and what options are available.
What is Canine Congestive Heart Failure?
At its core, congestive heart failure (CHF) in dogs means that their blood is not being pumped adequately throughout the body.
Like a human, a dog’s body survives by the blood that gets pumped through its veins.
Every part of the body relies on that blood to keep it alive, well, and healthy.
When the blood does not reach those parts, different parts of the body suffer.
Additionally, even if that blood does not go to the proper places, it still goes somewhere, leading to medical issues.
Where it goes and the problems it causes depends on the type of CHF the dog has.
Types of CHF in Dogs
There are two types of congestive heart failure in dogs: left-sided and right-sided.
Left-Sided Congestive Heart Failure
Left-sided congestive heart failure (LS-CHF), the most common type, is when blood leaks back through the mitral valve, into the left atrium, and then into the lungs.
It leads to the dog having a hard time breathing and a lot of coughing.
Essentially, the blood is causing the pup to drown in his own fluids, which can be agonizing.
Right-Sided Congestive Heart Failure
Right-sided congestive heart failure (RS-CHF) is when the blood that the right ventricle pushes to move through the lungs leaks into the tricuspid valve.
It then moves back into the right atrium, backs up into the body’s main circulation, and accumulates in the abdomen.
RS-CHF typically leads to swollen limbs and malfunctioning organs, leading to a great deal of pain and discomfort.
Commone Causes of Congestive Heart Failure in Dogs
There are many reasons why your dog may be suffering from congestive heart failure.
Some of the most common ones include old age, infections, injuries, poor diet, and lack of exercise.
Some breeds are believed to be predisposed to the condition due to genetics.
Some of these include:
- Cocker Spaniels
- Doberman Pinschers
- German Shepherds
- Great Danes
- Labrador Retrievers
It is important to note, though, that any breed can be subject to CHF.
Some other causes of canine CHF include:
- High blood pressure
- Heartworm disease
- Defects of the heart walls
Symptoms of CHF in Dogs
The most common symptoms of CHF in dogs include the following:
- Abnormal or constant coughing
- Trouble moving, playing, or exercising
- Lethargy, weakness, and exhaustion
- Abdominal distention
- Fainting or collapsing
- Difficult, rapid, or abnormal breathing
- Blue or gray gums
- Sudden death
Most dogs with CHF cough more at night when trying to rest or early in the morning before moving.
The cough often eases or lessens when the dog is active as the body is better able to pump the blood through the system.
How Long Can a Dog Live With Congestive Heart Failure?
It is possible for dogs with CHF to carry on living comfortably for some time, from a few months to several years.
The length of time depends on a number of factors, such as the stage the dog is in when diagnosed and how it gets treated.
There are no guarantees, of course. Generally speaking, though, the earlier CHF is diagnosed, the better the chances of a more desirable outcome.
Treatment Options for CHF in Dogs
When you take your dog to the vet, they will run a series of tests for a proper diagnosis.
- Urine and blood tests
- Measure blood pressure
- Chest x-rays
In some cases, your dog might need to stay in the vet hospital to be monitored for a couple of days.
After completing all required tests and monitoring, your vet can explain the extent of the condition and give you a course of treatment.
Medical treatment typically includes a combination of medications.
The type of medications will depend on the cause of the CHF.
For example, if heartworm disease is the culprit, part of the medication will be specifically for the treatment of heartworms.
Other medications might help fight fluid buildup, regulate the heart’s rhythm, or improve the overall heart function.
Again, your vet will determine the best combination according to the current issues.
However, those medications may be altered over time to improve the course of treatment.
You can also help at home to treat CHF or prevent it.
Most importantly, be sure you are getting your dog to all of its appointments with your vet.
From the time they are babies to the end of their life, a vet can help ensure your beloved pet attains the maximum quality of life.
Vets do this through vaccinations, detecting potential issues early, and educating pet parents.
It is also up to you to ensure that your dog maintains a healthy weight.
Feed him a high-quality and nutritious diet, and keep him active as often as possible.
If you are unsure about the diet, consult the vet about what is safe.
When to Consider Euthanasia
Deciding to euthanize a pet is difficult, and no one wants to do it before their dog’s time.
Though nothing can make the process painless, there are some things to consider that can help smooth the journey a little.
There’s no such thing as “perfect.”
If you are waiting on the perfect time to euthanize, you will be waiting forever.
There is no perfect or right time to do it.
There will be pain, grief, and doubt regardless of whether you do it now, tomorrow, or three years from now.
How is your dog’s quality of life? Is he able to walk and play comfortably?
Does he eat regularly? Is his breathing labored?
Does he get up and greet you on most days?
While euthanizing your dog may be painful, it is also painful watching them suffer.
If you notice a major decline in his quality of life, you have to ask yourself whether keeping him alive is causing him misery.
If the answer is “Yes,” it is likely time to make an appointment with your vet.
Is your family suffering?
As difficult as it can be to lose someone you love, it can sometimes be more difficult watching their decline.
When families watch a loved one suffer and die slowly, it is often an emotional burden they do not know how to bear.
When that loved one does pass, the family – while certainly sad – feels a sense of relief that their family member is no longer suffering.
Knowing that he or she has moved on to a more peaceful existence provides a sense of closure.
You have to ask yourself if your family would your family be able to cope better with their grief if they were no longer watching your dog suffer.
If you are unsure, talk it through.
Ask everyone – adults and children alike – how they feel.
Have you spoken to your vet?
CHF does not have to be the end of the line.
There are many dogs that can be treated, and – in some cases – the CHF can be reversed.
However, the key is in speaking with your vet.
He or she can tell you how serious the condition is, whether there is any treatment that can help and whether the condition has progressed too far.
It is always best to speak to your vet prior to making any decisions, as it can help you make a more informed one.
Ultimately, the decision is yours, and it does not have to be made in haste.
Take a little time to learn all you can, speak to someone you trust, and truly consider the situation.