Congestive Heart Failure In Dogs – Life Expectancy For Dogs With CHF

Medical review by K9 Healthcare Council of America (K9HCA). Intended for educational purposes only. Always seek medical advice from your veterinarian.

Congestive Heart Failure In Dogs

Even though dogs don’t experience “heart-attacks” (myocardial infarction) the same way humans do, they can still succumb to canine heart disease and heart muscle failure–a condition known as Congestive Heart Failure (CHF).

Congestive Heart Failure in a dog is a term that refers to the heart’s inability to pump adequate blood to the body.

There are many causes of CHF in dogs. The two most common causes are mitral valve insufficiency (MVI) — or a leaky mitral valve, where the valve between chambers of the heart is damaged allowing blood to flow backwards; and the second most common cause of CHF is dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) — where the heart muscle itself is enlarged but the muscle wall is actually thinner, resulting in a less-forceful heartbeat.

Congestive heart failure in dogs.
It is estimated that degenerative valve disease accounts for approximately 75% of all heart disease in dogs.

No matter the specific cause, the underlying issue in all cases of canine congestive heart failure is there is a degradation of the cardiovascular system’s ability to pump blood effectively to all parts of the body resulting in symptoms of distress.

Symptoms Of Congestive Heart Failure in Dogs

Canine Congestive Heart Failure is a progressive disease with no known cure. The symptoms of canine Congestive Heart Failure (CHF) are easy to overlook and are often mistaken for other less severe conditions like a lack of adequate sleep or upper-respiratory infection.

Even mild symptoms like intermittent fatigue are erroneously written-off as simply signs of ‘normal’ canine aging.

Dog Heart Failure Cough Sound

By far the most prevalent symptoms of congestive heart failure in dogs is decreased stamina, difficulty breathing and a ubiquitous dry, hacking “cardiac-cough”.

This cough is due mainly to pulmonary edema or the accumulation of fluid in the lungs. The enlarged heart will also push against the trachea, causing irritation that can induce coughing.

A persistent cough (and excessive panting) following mild exercise or even when stationary, at rest or sleeping, are early signs associated with progressive heart failure.

Early indications of CHF usually start off as a very quiet, inoffensive, occasional cough which many people don’t think is significant but can progress into a profound cardiac cough.

As the CHF progresses, the dog’s cough becomes more frequent, more obvious, and is usually followed by a propagation of other debilitating symptoms. For instance, the dog’s chest sounds “water-logged”, with wheezes and crackles that are evident when listening with a stethoscope.

Until you actually witness your dog experience these constant, incapacitating, hacking coughs, it is difficult to characterize the impact this physical stress can put on your pet as the disease progresses.

Signs of A Dog Dying from Heart Failure

In congestive heart failure, the heart doesn’t actually fail or stop beating; instead, its valves become thick with scar tissue, which prevents them from closing properly.

Leaking valves cause fluid to accumulate on either the right or left side of the heart–and the heart muscle grows larger as it works harder to supply blood to the extremities.

Although we think of the heart as one organ, it’s actually more or less two pumps put together. Clinical signs of Congestive Heart Failure (CHF) vary depending on whether the dog has left- or right-sided heart failure.

Fluid accumulating on the right side of the heart produces lung congestion and coughing; fluid on the left side leads to fluid retention (edema) in the abdomen.

While the right side takes blood from the body and pumps it into the lungs to create oxygen, the left side is responsible for taking blood from the lungs and pumping it through the body for circulation.

Heart failure in dogs
Dogs with advancing CHF often tire quickly and begin panting as soon as they commence exercise.

CHF is a serious, progressive disease, so early detection and appropriate intervention can provide early symptomatic relief and potentially stave off impending progression toward more severe stages.

Dog Congestive Heart Failure Stages

Four functional classifications of Congestive Heart Failure (CHF) have been identified in dogs:

CLASS I – Dog has no obvious signs of disease or distress. In this early phase, during which the heart begins to show weakness, can last for years.

CLASS II – Is characterized by minor symptoms like occasional lethargy or fatigue but the dog is still considered otherwise healthy. There could be early indications of shortness of breath accompanying active exercise or heavy physical activity. There are no symptoms when the dog is sitting still or lying down.

There can be a lack of circulation in the extremities in during this stage that may interfere with wound healing. Mental confusion can occasionally result from a lack of circulating oxygen to the brain.

CLASS III – Progressing into repeat negative symptoms. Even slow walking on a level surface can produce shortness of breath and fatigue. Other potential signs include excessive sleeping, intolerance to exercise and a persistent dry or hacking cough (especially upon rising), wheezing, sudden collapse (fainting), and a bluish discoloration of the tongue and gums during exercise.

Because the accumulation of fluid in the chest interferes with deep breathing, the dog may seek fresh air outdoors more than usual in order to “catch-its-breath”. Along with swelling in the extremities, the dog may have distended abdomen and be unable to rest comfortably. Vomiting, diarrhea and weight loss are all signs of stage three CHF progression.

Class IV – Further development of severe, debilitating symptoms. The patient is uncomfortable at all times, even while resting. Persistent edema can affect the legs and feet as well as abdomen and chest area. In advanced cases, fluid collecting in the chest cavity can push on the heart and collapse the lungs.

Prolonged seizures can occur along with internal bleeding. Immediate veterinary assistance and medical intervention are now required!

Congestive heart failure in dogs.
After potentially years of activity free from cardiac symptoms, dogs can rapidly lose stamina in late-stage CHF.

Progressive Symptoms of CHF In Dogs

In contrast to the long-time lag between Class I and Class II symptoms (potentially years) the illness progresses quickly from Class III to Class IV, so a dog that seemed healthy, active and symptom-free, may suddenly enter a critical phase where the condition requires extensive medical and surgical treatment to manage in order to preserve the life of the dog.

If you notice any of these telltale signs & symptoms of congestive heart failure, make sure to have your pet examined by a veterinarian as soon as possible.

Congestive Heart Failure Dog Life Expectancy

Congestive Heart Failure is increasingly common in America’s dogs, with many showing symptoms by age seven or eight. It’s estimated 20–25 percent of dogs between the ages of 9 and 12 years can be affected with CHF.

Although CHF occurs more commonly among older, senior canines–some young dogs develop congestive heart failure, inheriting the propensity for the disease from their parents. Some dog breeds (such as King Charles Cavalier Spaniels) commonly have genetically defective valves and have a much higher incidence of CHF than other breeds.

Holistic Dog Care By K9 Medibles
Heart mitral valve disease (MVD) is the leading cause of death of Cavalier King Charles Spaniels throughout the world.

Breeds that are predisposed to canine heart disease include:

Boston Terrier
Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
Fox Terrier
Miniature Pinscher
Miniature and Toy Poodles
Miniature Schnauzer

Canine Congestive Heart Failure is a progressive disease and new problems, and symptoms may arise in the future.

For example, the return of fluid in the lungs, followed by lethargy and sudden collapse, can occur even during extended treatment. Pain from inflammation and gastro-intestinal problems can also be a side-effect of the condition as well as from the drugs used in treatment.

Fortunately, with appropriate medical therapy and proper symptom management, most dogs feel better during treatment and experience a good quality of life.

How Long Can a Dog Live with Congestive Heart Failure?

If your dog has just been diagnosed with congestive heart failure, you’re probably still reeling from the awful news. Considering the critical role, the heart plays in keeping your dog alive & thriving, there’s no doubt that if it’s not pumping enough blood into your dog’s body–and without properly managed care–the consequences of CHF can be fatal.

Some dogs lose weight due to their poorer appetite and suffer further debilitating symptoms due to lack of nutritional support.

However, while congestive heart failure can lead to a wide range of other health problems (kidney filtration, etc.), it’s not all bad news for our furry friends. If caught early enough and treated properly, congestive heart failure can be adequately controlled, allowing your dog to live a happy, normal life.

Congestive heart failure is a progressive disease that gets worse over time, especially if it remains untreated. Even so-called mild cases of CHF can result in post-traumatic stress, refractory cognitive deficits, and lower life expectancy.

Holistic Dog Care By K9 Medibles
Some dog breeds, like the Whippet, have genetically defective heart valves and are prone to much higher incidence of CHF than other breeds.

Dog owners should be aware of the first signs that their dog has coronary insufficiency–if your dog has a decrease in their activity level or they don’t have the willingness to exercise as much as they used (because the heart can no longer meet the increased oxygen needs of strenuous exercise) that’s a time to take preventive action.

The key thing to remember is that congestive heart failure doesn’t spell the end for your pooch. There are several options available to help manage the condition, particularly if it’s caught early. You and your vet can create a treatment plan tailored to the special needs of your pet.

Treatment For Congestive Heart Failure in Dogs

It is important to remember that treatment for CHF does not cure the disease–but it can help your dog resume a more normal functioning life. The objective of successful treatment is to make your dog feel better and live longer, at the same time minimizing unexpected problems and emergency visits.

Small white dog with heart murmur.
Medical treatment for CHF involves reducing the amount of fluid in the body to ease some of the strain on the heart and improving the heart’s ability to pump blood.

Your veterinarian may recommend one or more of the following pharmaceutical treatments:

  • Diuretics are medications help to remove excess fluid buildup from the lungs or abdomen (e.g., furosemide, hydrochlorothiazide).
  • ACE Inhibitors, or inhibitors of angiotensin-converting enzyme, are a group of medications that open up constricted blood vessels and are used primarily in the treatment of hypertension and congestive heart failure as a way to help the heart pump blood more effectively. (e.g., enalapril, benazepril, and ramipril).
  • Inodilators, are medications that both increase myocardial contractility and open up constricted blood vessels, reducing the workload on your dog’s weakened heart (e.g., pimobendane).
  • Beta-Blockers, in some cases, vets may also prescribe beta-blockers to support efforts to control the heart rate.

These medical interventions effectively treat the symptoms of the disease, vastly improving the quality of the animal’s remaining life, but do nothing to prevent the progression of the illness.

It’s likely that your dog will be put on long-term medication after being diagnosed with compromised heart function, so your visits to the veterinarian may need to be more frequent at first, but once your dog’s condition has stabilized with treatment, you can expect to resume a more regular and potentially less frequent visit schedule as your dog shows improvement.

Natural Treatment for Congestive Heart Failure in Dogs

Conventional veterinary medical practitioners consider congestive heart failure and other circulatory problems to be progressive and irreversible, but there are natural, holistic treatment options available for pet owners that show promise in slowing, reversing and even preventing CHF in the first place.

Cannabidiol, a primary constituent of Canine Support Formula, can reduce heart rate & blood pressure associated with stress and anxiety.

Congestive heart failure in dogs treatment
Since all drugs used to treat symptoms of CHF have some adverse effects, another goal is to facilitate the safe reduction or even elimination of the dog’s conventional prescriptions.

The goal of any treatment is to improve whatever underlying imbalances or deficiencies the dog may be experiencing, which may help to slow or stop the progression of disease.

Of course, treatment outcome depends on the type, severity, and duration of the dog’s illness, but many veterinarians and dog owners have seen great improvements in their patients by taking a more natural, holistic approach to canine heart disease.

CBD Oil from Hemp for Dogs with Congestive Heart Failure

At The Heart of The Matter…

Although there is no cure for the common causes of Congestive Heart Failure (CHF) in dogs, there are natural therapies available that can greatly improve and extend the life of your dog–specifically, botanical extracts like CBD-rich hemp oil.

Scientists are just beginning to understand the specific pharmacological mechanisms underlying Cannabidiol’s potential as a treatment for cancer, heart disease, seizures, anxiety, diabetes & depression and numerous other canine health disorders.

CBD oil for dogs. Cannabis for dogs. Hemp CBD oil.
Supporting your dog’s Endocannabinoid System with good nutrition and CBD-rich hemp oil is important for regulating metabolic stress responses, immune function, pain, bone growth, and many other physiological processes in the canine body.

Published scientific literature has identified more than 65 molecular targets of CBD. This versatile plant cannabinoid is highly active against heart and brain ischemia (deficiency of blood supply) by modulating many of the molecular and cellular hallmarks of systemic inflammatory immune response.

Cannabidiol from hemp and cannabis is a compound that produces many effects through multiple molecular pathways so it can affect both the structure (valve formation) as well as functional aspects of the heart muscle (contractility, blood pressure, heartbeat).

CBD taps into how dogs’ function biologically on a very deep level. CBD from full spectrum hemp can penetrate the cell membrane and bind to receptors on the nucleus which regulate gene expression and mitochondrial activity.

CBD represents the greatest advancement in veterinary science & animal welfare introduced in the last 50 years.

What Does Science Say About CBD For Congestive Heart Failure in Dogs?

Collectively, the current findings present evidence for CBD’s alleviation of cardiovascular anomalies and the diminution of myocardial oxidative stress–two factors directly related to symptoms of canine Coronary Heart Failure. Similar studies show that CBD induces a substantial cardioprotective effect from ischemia.

Cannabidiol (CBD) may represent a promising novel treatment for CHF in dogs by protecting the heart and other organs from oxidative damage due to myocardial ischemia.

Accumulating evidence also suggests that CBD is beneficial in the cardiovascular system by its direct actions on isolated arteries, causing both acute and time-dependent vasorelaxation (necessary to reduce the intrinsic stress on the heart).

Signs of congestive heart failure in dogs.
Cannabidiol (CBD) can reduce oxidative stress & support normal heart function in dogs with Coronary Disease.

Additionally, pre-clinical data appear to support a positive role for CBD treatment in the heart as well as in the peripheral and cerebral vasculature.

At its core, cannabinoid-based therapy can minimize symptoms related to Congestive Heart Failure to–

(1) make your dog feel better & more comfortable,

(2) reduce unexpected peripheral vascular problems that arise, and

(3) offer a better safety-profile and eliminate the potential long-term side-effects from prescription medications.

Thereby achieving the three objectives of effective natural, holistic pet care for canine Congestive Heart Failure (CHF).

Future Outlook on Canine Congestive Heart Failure

Canine Congestive Heart Failure (CHF) has many possible causes with just as many potential treatment solutions. But with early detection, by focusing on proper diet & nutrition, and by providing appropriate support therapies like CBD-rich hemp extracts, many canine patients with Congestive Heart Failure can experience a preservation of life and total restoration of health.

Authors Update: This article was originally published February 16, 2019. Accumulating evidence now suggests that CBD is beneficial in the cardiovascular system and has direct action on isolated arteries causing both acute and time dependent vasorelaxation.

CBD protects against the vascular damage caused by a high glucose environment, inflammation or the induction of type 2 diabetes in animal models and reduces the vascular hyperpermeability associated with such environments.

A common theme throughout these studies is the anti‐inflammatory and antioxidant effect of CBD. In the heart, in vivo CBD treatment protects against ischemia‐reperfusion damage and against cardiomyopathy associated with diabetes. Similarly, in a different model of ischemia‐reperfusion, CBD has been shown to reduce infarct size and increase blood flow in animal models of stroke, sensitive to 5HT1A receptor antagonism.

Taken together, these preclinical data appear to support a positive role for CBD treatment in the heart, and in peripheral and cerebral vasculature.

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3 thoughts on “Congestive Heart Failure In Dogs – Life Expectancy For Dogs With CHF”

  1. Thank you so very much for this article. My little girl was recently diagnosed with CHF, but due to COVID-19 her Vet did not explain things very well to me. This was very helpful,

  2. I lost my min pin of 15 years on friday, my heart is broken. We were never told that she had a heart issue. She would cough often and vomit too. The vet put her on Pursis and legalon capsules. She was struggling to breath on Friday and took her to the vet. They immediately put her on oxygen but as she did not improve sufficiently they suggested that we take her to a 24 hour vet to be put on oxygen in the ICU. We stepped out of the room for a minute and when we returned he was gone. My question is surely heart failure cannot happen overnight? If I can get some clarity this could ease the pain that we are feeling. Thank you.

    • Hi Andrea,
      I’m so sorry about the passing of your little Girl. 🐕
      Losing a companion of 15 years is devastating, more so with such a quick & unexpected loss.

      While the effects of heart failure may take many months (or years) to slowly develop, the consequences can be so sudden they seem to be over-night.
      Take pride in having taken such good care of your Girl for her lifetime.

      I wish you peace & grace as you transition from this painful loss into remembrance and appreciation of the time you spend together.
      She will always be with you–❤


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