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What you need to know about Congestive Heart Failure in Dogs

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Any medical condition relating to your precious dog’s heart can be very scary to think about; however, if you want your dog to live as long as possible after their diagnosis of Congestive Heart Failure, you must be ready to seek the best care possible for them.

In this article, you will learn the facts about Congestive Heart Failure that you need to know to take charge of your dog’s veterinary care and treatment plan.

What is Congestive Heart Failure?

According to Hills Pet, Congestive Heart Failure (CHF) occurs when a dog’s heart is incapable of supplying blood to the rest of his or her body.

CHF is often a broadly used term in veterinary medicine, due to the many illnesses that may contribute to a dog becoming a CHF patient.

There are two primary versions of this illness; Right Side Congestive Heart Failure (RS CHF) and Left Side Congestive Heart Failure (LS CHF).

Both types of CHF involve the heart being unable to pump and circulate blood as the body requires, resulting in the blood becoming congested in a dog’s lungs, abdomen, or limbs.

What are the Symptoms of Congestive Heart Failure?

According to Vet Street, CHF patients may not exhibit any symptoms initially, but your dog’s veterinarian may be able to detect CHF before symptoms appear, making regular veterinary examinations crucial to your dog’s health.

The following symptoms may appear as the disease progresses:

  • Consistent Coughing
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of interest in favorite activities
  • Weakness
  • Strained or Brisk Breathing
  • Fainting or collapsing
  • Pale gray or blue gums
  • Struggling to exercise or play
  • Swollen Abdomen
  • Death

VCA Animal Hospitals reports that consistent coughing and difficulty breathing are the most common initial symptoms of CHF.

These symptoms are a result of fluid in a dog’s lungs, or the dog’s heart becoming enlarged and pressing on a dog’s trachea.

Whole Dog Journal states that the symptoms of CHF are easy to over look as part of the normal aging process.

Always mention any new physical symptoms your dog begins to display to your veterinarian; they might seem insignificant to you, but they might mean something to your veterinarian.

How is Congestive Heart Failure diagnosed?

sleeping sick fawn colored chihuahua

VCA Hospital veterinarians discuss how CHF is most frequently diagnosed using the following five methods:

1. Auscultation
The first step is for a veterinarian to listen to your dog’s heart and lungs via a stethoscope, medically known as auscultation. They will be listening for a heart murmur and for fluid in your dog’s lungs.

2. X-Rays
Next, your veterinarian will want to x-ray your dog’s chest to ascertain the size of his or her heart and to determine if there is fluid in his or her lungs.

3. Bodily Fluid Tests
Since CHF is often associated with other medical conditions, your veterinarian will want to collect samples of your dog’s blood and urine to measure the functionality of their other major organs.

4. Electrocardiogram (ECG)
Veterinarians will likely order an electrocardiogram (ECG) to uncover any abnormalities in the rhythm of your dog’s heart, medically referred to as arrhythmias.

5. Echocardiogram
Any patient showing symptoms of problems with their heart will be recommended to have an Echocardiogram which is an ultrasound of your dog’s heart.

Though the veterinary bills for these tests may be hefty, they are all necessary to determine what the best treatment will be for your dog’s CHF.

How Common is Congestive Heart Failure in Dogs?

According to Whole Dog Journal, heart disease is becoming diagnosed more commonly in America in recent years than before.

However, this could be a result of pet parents being more vigilant with veterinary care.

Is Congestive Heart Failure Preventable?

teenage girl holding a fawn chihuahua
Unfortunately, CHF is not completely preventable according to Vet Street. However, there are some things you can do to help your dog stay healthy:

  • Schedule an annual physical examination with your veterinarian to ensure any health problems are caught as early as possible. The earlier a condition is caught, the more you can do for your dog’s health and lifespan.
  • Give your dog Heartworm and flea and tick monthly preventatives. Heartworm and tick diseases can negatively impact the hearts of dogs.
  • ASPCA Pet Insurance recommends that dogs receive regular exercise and that their diet include or be supplemented with Omega-3 fatty acids such as fish oil to help keep their hearts healthy. If a dog does have CHF consult your veterinarian regarding appropriate exercise.

Is Congestive Heart Failure treatable?

According to Dr. Justine A. Lee, there are treatment options available for CHF patients; however, these treatments focus on helping the dogs maintain a good quality of life, as there is no cure for this disease.

Many CHF patients will require special care for the rest of their life, such as medications, prescription diet food, special exercise requirements, and ensuring their stress is minimized as much as possible.

Can Congestive Heart Failure be treated naturally?

Many of the holistic veterinary treatments for CHF are not recommended by traditional veterinarians.

Traditional veterinary medicine treatments for CHF mainly involve medications, which may not be appealing to owners who want to care for their dog as naturally as possible.

If you are uncomfortable with the treatment options recommended by a traditional veterinarian, holistic veterinarians offer alternative treatments for CHF patients according to Whole Dog Journal.

Holistic veterinarians may recommend the following options:

  • Dietary changes, such as a raw diet.
  • Detoxification, involves removing as many toxins as possible from a dog’s diet and environment.
  • Homeopathy and Energy, such as color therapy, crystals, and chakra.

One common thread among the holistic treatment approaches to CHF is dietary changes and keeping your dog’s stress level low.

Owners of dogs with CHF should research and schedule examinations for second opinions if they have any doubts that their dog is not receiving the best possible treatment.

Is Congestive Heart Failure curable?

According to Hills Pet, Congestive Heart Failure is not curable.

Owners should be very cautious of any treatments that are marketed as cures; veterinary medicine has not found a cure for CHF.

Unscrupulous individuals may attempt to market cures in an effort to make money from owners desperate to save their dogs.

Is Congestive Heart Failure hereditary?

CHF is hereditary; some breeds have a history of CHF or other heart problems, such as:

  • Toy Poodles
  • Cavalier King Charles Spaniels
  • Cocker Spaniels
  • Dachshunds
  • Pomeranians
  • Great Danes
  • Newfoundlands
  • St. Bernards
  • Dobermans
  • Irish Wolfhounds
  • Boxers

Sadly, the American Kennel Club states that Chihuahuas are prone to heart problems, such as mitral valve disease, which is associated with CHF. Be sure to arrange for regular preventative veterinary care to help your Chihuahua live the longest life span possible.

Hills Pet states that small breeds of dogs have a genetic tendency to have CHF; their heart valves tend to have more issues than larger breeds of dogs.

Is Congestive Heart Failure contagious?

Most of the conditions that contribute to CHF are not contagious.

However, Heartworm disease and tick-borne diseases may cause CHF to develop, as they negatively impact a dog’s heart, and these diseases are contagious.

Even though they are contagious, there are preventative options available, such as monthly preventatives and the Lyme disease vaccination.

Is Congestive Heart Failure painful?

Some of the symptoms of CHF may be uncomfortable and painful.

Pay attention to your dog and be sure to note what physical symptoms they are experiencing and how they are feeling mentally and emotionally; keeping a journal of their experiences may help you to track the progression of the illness.

Making the decision to humanely euthanize is not an easy one.

Dr. Tammy Hunter writes about quality of life factors for owners to consider as they make this difficult decision.

What are the final stages of Congestive Heart Failure?

PetMD states that dogs in the final stages of CHF will experience uncomfortable symptoms, such as:

  • Inflated abdomen or limbs
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Extreme weight loss
  • Laborious breathing and swallowing
  • Restlessness
  • Inability to stand or walk
  • Gray gums

If your CHF patient begins to display any of the following symptoms, emergency veterinary care is urgently needed, and the dog’s quality of life must be considered:

  • Extreme difficulty breathing
  • Seizures
  • Violent vomiting or diarrhea
  • Collapsing
  • Internal or External Bleeding

What is the life expectancy of dogs who have Congestive Heart Failure?

chihuahua laying in teddy bears

Every dog is different; there are many factors that impact a CHF patient’s survival.

However, PetMD states that many CHF patients are able to live for years after their diagnosis when a personal treatment plan is prescribed by a veterinarian, then strictly implemented and followed by the dog’s owners.

Scientific studies conducted by veterinarians support that most CHF patients were able to survive well after their initial diagnosis of CHF.

Veterinarians have many methods of diagnosis at their disposal to help diagnose your fur baby; however, these methods are not always inexpensive.

Though Congestive Heart Failure is not completely preventable, preventative veterinary care may contribute to your dog’s long-term heart health and many CHF patients may be able to live for years after their initial diagnosis.

I have personal experience with Congestive Heart Failure as my mother died from CHF, as did my first chihuahua Kilo.


female vet holding fuzzy dog

Dr. Sara Ochoa


This article has been fact-checked and approved by Dr. Sara Ochoa DVM. You can read more about her on our About page.


Sunday 12th of December 2021

My little chihuahua of 8 years old was diagnosed with CHF. I rescued her in a shelter when she was 4 weeks old. She is my heart! I know eventually I will lose her. How can you really prepare for that! She is on medication but is slowing down every day!


Sunday 12th of December 2021

It's so hard to watch them decline like that. We have an article on how to prepare for your dog's passing but it will still be hard and break your heart. Here it is though if you want to read it:

Linda mercer

Saturday 11th of December 2021

My chi,Gidgett,has CHF-as do I…it was diagnosed about a year and a half ago..I always took her to the vet,so when all of a sudden he says she has a really bad valve problem which was never mentioned before-she was always very active,healthy and happy-a few months after that,the CHF started to take hold and continued to get worse,she saw a heart doctor,takes 3 pills,4 times a day,her coughing is getting worse and she seems to be getting restless and uncomfortable,is there any way to ease the coughing ? It’s so hard dealing with seeing her sick and knowing what’s coming,I don’t want to have to put her to sleep,I would hope she would go to sleep on her own-it’s destroying me…I lost my mom,my husband 3 years ago,I got CHF and am trying to deal with it,so I know the discomfort-could a tick bite have caused this ?? She had 2 small seizures and 2 bigger ones where she cried and it really upset her-it’s just not fair at all,for any animal or human !sorry,sitting here listening to her cough and missing her old ways…hell of a Christmas,glad I saw your article though-


Saturday 11th of December 2021

Oh I'm so sorry Linda. You have had a tough time of it and poor little Gidgett has too! I don't know of anything that can help with the coughing although I know some say honey helps. I'm not sure if tick bites cause CHF but I do know they cause Lyme disease and that can cause heart issues.

Harry Oscar

Tuesday 1st of December 2020

I grew up with asthma; I suffered sinus and respiratory infections my entire life. I started smoking at 16. When I was in my early 40s, my asthma was becoming increasingly worse. I was diagnosed with CHF at age 47. I am now 55. I quit smoking four years ago. The disease does not improve. My good days were far, I was scared that I won’t survive it but I was so lucky to receive a herbal products from my step father who bought it while coming from South Africa for Rugby league, this herbal remedies saved me from this disease, at first it helps fight the symptoms of diseases and I was seeing good outcome, I had to use it for 13 weeks just as they Dr was prescribed and I was totally cured of asthma and Congestive heart failure (CHF) ( ) do not hesitate to purchase from them they deliver across worldwide also.

Glen charles

Wednesday 8th of April 2020

I am 58 years old, and was diagnosed with heart failure over a year ago. My main symptoms was fatigue, shortness of breath, and a general sense that these symptoms will keep me out of normal life activities, my symptom was not being able to breathe when lying down basically . I’ve kind of resigned to the fact that this is how life will be for me back until I found herbs that stop this CHF easily and relief all the airways. My wife and her caregiver assume I can't be as active, and thus I was excused from normal life responsibilities but natural herbs from www. totalcureherbsfoundation. com really helped a but sometimes I think is God prodigy that I was able to treat my congestive heart failure but total cure herbs foundation herbal formula has a big impact on my recovery because my heart condition has been fully eliminate, during your order you have choose the AATD herbal remedy on their website order list to get the right treatment for Congestive heart failure . They do things for me, and was too happy to comply with their service. This is a equitable of a way to get of your heart failure.

Glen charles

Tuesday 24th of March 2020