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Congestive heart failure


Heart failure occurs when or as the heart is unable to properly circulate blood throughout the body and the heart becomes unable to meet increased demand placed upon it during exercise. The causes of congestive heart disease are numerous as almost any condition that damages the heart or part of the heart in some way will ultimately produce this condition.{{more}} These include valvular disease, cardiomyopathy, congenital diseases/defects, arrhythmia, heartworm disease, pericardial diseases and cardiac neoplasia. Diseases of the respiratory system can also produce failure of the heart.

The heart is divided into two sides. The right side is responsible for receiving blood from the body and pumping it to the lungs; the left side is responsible for receiving blood from the lungs and pumping it back through the tissues of the body. The clinical symptoms of heart disease will vary depending on which side (both sides can be affected) of the heart is dysfunctional.

Right-sided heart failure will generally produce clinical signs that include weakness, fainting, inability to exercise, enlargement of abdominal organs and possibly the collection of fluid within the abdomen (ascites), distention of the veins and swelling to the feet and lower legs. These symptoms occur as venous blood cannot flow back to the heart readily and “pools” in the extremities and abdominal cavity.

Left-sided heart failure will often produce signs of weakness, fainting, decreased urination, coughing, difficulty breathing, sometimes rapid breathing and possibly a blue or purple discoloration to the gums and tongue (cyanosis). Some dogs may find it difficult to get comfortable and lie still. These symptoms occur as fluid builds up in the lung tissues causing pulmonary edema.

Dogs with Generalized heart failure (both sides) will then often exhibit some combination of the symptoms noted above. Generalized and non-specific signs of these conditions may also manifest including weight loss, poor appetite and loss of muscle mass and condition. Diagnosis is based on physical exam, history of the symptoms, X-rays, ultrasonography, blood counts and serum chemistries, EKG analysis etc.


While it should be understood that mostly all cases of heart failure result in death of the dog, many patients can live for years and have a high quality of life with proper treatment and monitoring. Unless treating a specific underlying condition such as a bacterial endocarditis, most therapy centers on controlling the symptoms or problems produced as the heart fails.