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Heart Failure in Dogs


Heart failure (or “congestive heart failure”) is a term used in veterinary medicine to describe the heart’s inability to pump enough blood throughout the body to keep the circulatory system from “backing up.” Not only does this lead to a condition whereby fluid accumulates upstream of the failing chambers of the (right sided heart failure affects the animal differently than left sided heart failure), it means less blood––and therefore less oxygen––is getting to the tissues of the body. For this reason, heart failure is an unsustainable condition that must be quickly reversed if the animal is to survive.


What to Watch For


The symptoms of heart failure will differ depending on which side of the heart is affected, right or left.


Right-sided heart failure (backward failure):

  • abdominal distention (ascites)
  • exercise intolerance
  • lethargy/weakness


Left-sided heart failure (forward failure):

  • coughing
  • breathing difficulty
  • lethargy/weakness
  • bluish skin/gums


Primary Cause


In pets, heart failure is most commonly the result of chronic valve disease (in which the valves of the heart degenerate and prove incompetent), abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmias) and nutritional or hereditary conditions affecting the heart muscle or the major vessels leading to and from the heart. It should go without saying that the treatment of heart failure should address both symptoms and root cause(s).


Immediate Care


In cases of heart failure, the timing of treatment is critical.


  1. Check for a pulse or heartbeat.
  2. Squeeze the dog’s gums and see if blood runs back into them when you remove your fingers.
  3. If the gums refill with blood, the heart is still active. You may need to give artificial respiration.
  4. If the gums do not refill with blood, the heart has stopped. You will need to give CPR and artificial respiration.
  5. Seek immediate veterinary care in all cases.


Because oxygen therapy and drug therapy is considered essential, hospitalization will be required.


Veterinary Care




Long-term treatment is required in almost all heart failure cases in which the crisis has been overcome. Drug therapy, dietary changes and/or surgery (as in the case of some congenital heart defects), can be extremely effective in preventing future episodes, mitigating the overall severity of the underlying disease and increasing the quality of life.


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  • Only document case in USA
    02/26/2013 03:08pm

    My Lab Bitch Willow is THE ONLY DOCUMENTED CASE IN THE USA to have undergone two procedures for severe tricuspid valve stenosis and dysplasia.
    Willow was first diagnosed when she turned two years old . After months of meds and different vets she landed at Upstate Veterinary Specialties in Latham ,NY.
    It was there that we met Dr Cassidy Sedacca" newly acquired Cardiologist" to the area. He performed his first valvuloplasty procedure on Willow.
    Two years later she started with her symptoms again.
    In Sept of 2012 she once again went under the same procedure that required the use of six balloons.
    For the rest of her life she will need an EKG and sonogram every 6 mos as well as 6 pills daily with strict diet and exercise for her well being.
    We were told in the beginning that she would NOT have a long life. On March 1,2013 Willow will turn 5 years old.
    We were told that the head cardiologist at UVS, Dr Aaron Weih is now writing a book on such a disease and afformentioned procedure.
    Aside from all the heartache, work and not to mention financial strain........
    We celebrate WILLOWS turning 5 !
    Keep yours eyes out for the book!
    Christine Kuever