Dog Heart Failure - When To Euthanise? | Cloud 9 Vets

Dog Heart Failure. When To Euthanise?

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Heart failure in dogs is a difficult condition that can develop from degenerative mitral valve disease – known as DMVD – or chronic valvular disease that can often lead to congestive heart failure.

Congestive heart failure is a common condition in older dogs. It can progress slowly, and affect both sides of your dog’s heart – or the left or right side. Learn more about dog heart failure – when to euthanise here…

Congestive Heart Failure Facts

The four chambers of your dog’s heart are separated by valves – ensuring blood flow in one direction only. Each contraction of the heart muscle pumps blood around the body – giving organs oxygen and energy, and removing waste products.

As heart valves, age blood can leak backwards and with each heartbeat, there will be a heart murmur. With deteriorating heart function, the fluid volume within the heart increases – resulting in the heart chambers stretching and hydrostatic pressure in vessels that supply the veins.

This causes congestion and pulmonary oedema known as left-sided heart failure. Or ascites without pleural effusion – right-sided heart failure. Generally, dogs with heart enlargement are at greater risk of heart failure.

Congestive Heart Failure Causes

Some dogs are actually born with heart defects making them a higher risk for congestive heart failure as they get older. Other heart problems in dogs that may lead to congestive heart failure include:

  • Acquired heart disease
  • Chronic valve disease
  • Congenital heart disease
  • Degenerative mitral valve disease
  • Dilated cardiomyopathy
  • Heart murmurs
  • Heartworm disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy
  • Pulmonic stenosis


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Congestive Heart Failure Symptoms

The most common signs of early-stage congestive heart failure in dogs are:

  • Coughing
  • Diarrhoea
  • Fainting
  • Increased sleeping
  • Reduced activity and exercise intolerance
  • Weight loss

Dogs heart failure symptoms end-stage continue with all of the above symptoms and:

  • Crying from pain
  • Difficulty breathing with fluid lung sounds
  • Distended stomach and swollen legs
  • Frequent fainting or sudden collapse
  • Gums that are blue-grey in colour
  • Profuse bleeding
  • Seizures
  • Severe weight loss
  • Unable to settle
  • Vomiting and diarrhoea


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Congestive Heart Failure Diagnosis

Your vet will gather information about your dog’s medical history to determine whether it supports heart disease and heart failure. Or if congenital or acquired heart disease is more likely. Findings from the history will help combined with results of the physical examination.

Radiographs are essential for assessing cough and respiratory signs as they provide data on heart size, chamber enlargement, and pulmonary patterns. They also confirm the presence of venous congestion and pulmonary oedema – and rule out pneumonia.

Biochemistry monitoring will ensure the lowest effective doses of drugs will be administered. Blood work will also determine heartworm. Fluid analysis may be performed, and Holter monitoring will capture heart rate and rhythms.

Echocardiography may be used to establish the type of heart disease and identify any complicating factors.

Heart Murmur Data

There are three types of heart murmur – systolic, diastolic, and continuous. Systolic murmurs take place when the heart is contracting, caused by narrowing blood vessels obstructing blood flow. Diastolic murmurs occur in between beats – leaks from the aortic valve cause this and it’s very rare.

Continuous murmurs take place throughout the heartbeat cycle possibly due to congenital heart disease. Dog heart murmur life expectancy, in this case, can be up to two years.

How long can a dog live with a heart murmur? You can be trained to regularly monitor your dog to help live the longest and best life. Maintaining a healthy weight, having regular dental cleanings, and providing a high-quality diet with increased omega-3 essential fatty acids are all a proactive way of keeping your dog healthy for many years.

Treatments for Chronic Heart Failure

The goal of any treatment is to reduce the amount of fluid surrounding the heart – letting it function properly pumping blood to lungs and other vital organs.

The severity of the disease will determine the treatment. And the plan will include a variety of drugs and supplements. Heart medication may include:

  • ACE inhibitors – drugs that open up constricted blood vessels
  • Diuretics – medications used to take away excess fluids from the lungs or abdomen
  • Inodilators – treatments that increase myocardial contractility, reducing workload on your dog’s weakened heart

In rare cases, surgery may be necessary to remove excess fluid from the abdomen or chest, repair a torn heart valve. Or insert a pacemaker to regulate the heartbeat.

Old dog outside

Recommendations for Quality of Life

You’ll be given advice on how to monitor your dog’s heart disease at home. This may include recording resting and sleeping breath rates. The normal heart rate for dogs is a resting rate of less than 35 breaths per minute – commonly mid-teens to mid-twenties. An elevated breathing rate repeated within the hour of more than 40 breaths a minute needs attention from your vet.

You need to make sure that your dog is taking medication – and eating properly – low salt foods will be recommended. Your vet will want to see your dog every two to four months to monitor the progression of the disease. And to recheck evaluations in case medications have to be adjusted.

Light activity is encouraged but strenuous actions need to be avoided. Your vet will set an exercise plan suitable for your dog based on individual needs. Congestive heart disease is progressive – so even after getting your diagnosis new symptoms and problems may arise. Fluid may return to the heart and lungs causing lethargy and fainting.

With timely treatments and therapy, most dogs with congestive heart failure can still have a good quality of life. Regardless of the progression of the disease immediate vet assistance is needed if your dog suddenly:

  • Collapses
  • Develops prolonged seizures
  • Experiences uncontrollable vomiting and diarrhoea
  • Has difficulty breathing
  • Is affected by profuse bleeding either internally or externally
  • Whines from pain consistently


Old dog on sofa

Saying Goodbye

Sadly, you may have to consider dog euthanasia at home as your final option. You can make a calm decision in your own time after talking to an understanding care coordinator. When you’re ready your vet will come to your home and give your dog a gentle sedative that brings a peaceful sleep. The anaesthetic agent that’s administered next will slow the heart before it softly stops. And your dog will be at peace.

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by Cloud 9 Vets on August 29, 2019

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Dog Heart Failure. When To Euthanise?

Heart failure in dogs is a difficult condition that can develop from degenerative mitral valve disease – known as DMVD – or chronic valvular disease that […]

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