Dog Heart Failure When to Euthanize? (Advice from Vets)

Dogs are not spared from heart complications. Heart failures will reduce the quality of your dog’s life. With the situation deteriorating, when would be the best time to euthanize a dog with heart failure?

When treatments no longer help dogs with end-stage congestive heart failure, veterinarians often recommend humane euthanasia.

The choice to euthanize your dog with heart failure is obviously not the easiest to make. You need the correct information to ensure it is the last and valid option.

When to Euthanize a Dog with Heart Failure?

Facing the question of euthanasia is profoundly difficult and personal. As your dog’s heart function deteriorates, at a certain point the compassionate choice becomes letting them go peacefully. Consider euthanasia when:

Quality of Life is Compromised

  • Your dog pants constantly, unable to breathe normally even while resting.
  • If your dog often shows weakness, tiredness, or collapse, it may be suffering from cardiac cachexia, a muscle-wasting condition due to heart disease.
  • Vomiting, diarrhea, and appetite loss result in weight loss and frailty.
  • Fluid buildup in the abdomen or limbs can’t be controlled with high doses of diuretics.

Medical Management No Longer Controls Their Symptoms

  • Despite adherence to all medications, CHF symptoms still rapidly worsen.
  • Sudden congestive episodes often require emergency room visits, as they don’t stabilize well in the long term.
  • Kidney dysfunction from chronic diuretic use adds disease burden.

Your Veterinarian Confirms End-Stage Heart Failure.

  • Tests show that the heart muscle isn’t working well enough to respond to more treatment.
  • A cardiologist suggests that all possible treatments have been tried, and euthanasia would be the kindest option.

Saying goodbye is a painfully difficult yet uniformly loving last act as your dog’s guardian. Take comfort knowing you gave them the very best life filled with joy. The gift of a peaceful passing frees them from further suffering. Your veterinarian will guide you sensitively through this process – you don’t have to shoulder this decision alone.

What Is Congestive Heart Failure in Dogs?

Congestive heart failure (CHF) is a life-threatening condition that affects the hearts of many dogs, especially seniors. This happens when the heart fails to pump blood well, depriving body tissues of oxygen. When the heart weakens, the lungs and other tissues can get congested.

In simple terms, CHF causes fluid to accumulate in parts of the body like the lungs. This excess fluid congestion is caused by the heart’s reduced pumping capacity. Knowing how this occurs can help you notice early symptoms in your dog.

Congestive heart failure worsens over time, reducing the heart’s ability to pump blood. This disease can affect either one side of the heart or both sides at once.

Left-sided CHF causes blood and fluid to back up into the lungs. This fluid builds up in the lungs instead of circulating through the body.

Right-sided CHF leads to widespread fluid buildup in the body. Due to this, fluids seep into body areas because the heart fails to pump blood effectively.

Types of Congestive Heart Failure in Dogs

The main categories of congestive heart failure (CHF) in dogs include Left-sided CHF, Right-sided CHF, and biventricular CHF.

The type of CHF is determined by whether the left, right, or both sides of the heart fail first. Identifying the affected side of the heart allows veterinarians to tailor treatments and medications more effectively.

Left-Sided Congestive Heart Failure

Left-sided heart disease is the most common cause of CHF in dogs. It stems from mitral valve degeneration or dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM).

The left heart pumps oxygen-rich blood to the body. When it pumps less effectively, blood accumulates in the lungs.

The blood back up in the lungs leads to pulmonary edema, which is fluid and inflammation in lung tissue. You’ll notice troubling respiratory signs as your dog struggles to breathe.

Symptoms of Left-Sided CHF

  • Shortness of breath
  • Labored breathing even at rest
  • Frequent coughing/gagging
  • Loss of appetite or energy
  • Bluish gums
  • Fluid in the lungs apparent on X-rays

Thankfully, left-sided CHF symptoms often respond well to medical treatment once properly diagnosed. However, detecting lung congestion early is essential for your vet to adjust medications effectively.

Right-Sided Congestive Heart Failure

Right-sided CHF is less common and stems from pulmonary hypertension or pulmonic stenosis.

When the right heart fails, blood can’t reach the lungs properly and starts leaking into the body’s tissues. These issues lead to symptoms like swelling, fluid buildup, and weight gain, among others.

Symptoms of Right-Sided CHF

  • Swollen abdomen or “pot belly” appearance
  • Difficulty breathing when lying down
  • Significant weight gain/loss of muscle tone
  • Excess fluid accumulation in tissues visible on X-rays
  • Abnormal buildup of fluid in the abdomen (ascites)

Right-sided CHF usually worsens more quickly and severely compared to left-sided CHF. Close monitoring and medications aim to relieve fluid buildup and congestion throughout the body.

Biventricular Congestive Heart Failure

Biventricular CHF, the most serious type, affects both sides of the heart. When more heart muscle weakens, congestion quickly spreads throughout the body.

  • Fluid accumulation in body tissues
  • Labored breathing from lung fluid
  • Fatigue/weakness
  • Weight loss/muscle wasting – cardiac cachexia

With both sides failing, quality of life often diminishes quickly. Biventricular CHF’s long-term outlook is worse because there’s no healthy heart tissue left to help.

Symptoms of Congestive Heart Failure in Dogs

CHF symptoms usually start slowly and then get worse over time. Dogs are masters at hiding weaknesses, so you need to watch vigilantly for any signs of illness. Symptoms generally fall into two main functional categories:

  • Respiratory signs from lung congestion
  • Congestion issues like swelling, fluid buildup, and weight changes

Be alert for unusual signs so you can get your dog prompt care. Certain symptoms may require an immediate visit to the vet.

Early Warning Signs to Look For

  • Increased panting or labored breathing
  • Sleeping more often, less interest in play
  • Dry hacking cough – often worse at night
  • Sudden weight gain from fluid accumulation
  • Pot belly appearance as abdomen swells
  • Lethargy, tiredness, weakness
  • Bluish or pale gums
  • Fainting or collapse

If your dog ever passes out or has seizure-like muscle tremors, seek ER care immediately! These symptoms indicate that the dog’s oxygen levels may be dangerously low.

Respiratory Distress Signs

Lung congestion shows earliest with left-sided heart failure. As pulmonary edema sets in, you may notice:

  • Shortness of breath (dyspnea)
  • Wheezing or raspy breathing
  • Nostril flaring as they struggle to inhale
  • Shallow “air hunger” type breathing
  • Labored breathing even while resting

Fluid accumulation and inflammation in lung tissue severely impair oxygen exchange. All these respiratory signs mean your dog can’t breathe normally.

Systemic Congestion Issues

Right-sided CHF allows fluid to leak out into body tissues. Subtle generalized swelling is an early clue, along with:

  • Weight gain from fluid retention
  • Pot-bellied bloating appearance
  • Visible distension of the abdomen (ascites)
  • Swelling of the legs or paws (peripheral edema)
  • Chest congestion – wet-sounding cough

Tracking your dog’s weight, stomach size, and swelling helps your vet measure the severity of congestion. Catching fluid accumulation early prevents it from becoming life-threatening.

Causes of Congestive Heart Failure in Dogs

Mitral Valve Disease

  • A degenerative mitral heart valve allows abnormal leaking of oxygenated blood backward into the lungs. Such leakage of blood can overwhelm the heart, leading to left-sided CHF.
  • Smaller dog breeds are more likely to have valve deterioration, which can cause congestive problems later.

Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM)

  • The heart muscle dilates and thins out, losing pumping strength. This weakening of the heart can cause widespread congestion and, in some cases, sudden paralysis in the rear legs.
  • Certain large breeds like Dobermans seem particularly vulnerable to DCM.

Chronic Valve Disease

  • Heart strain from issues like leaky valves or abnormal openings can gradually lead to CHF.
  • Management aims to delay heart muscle weakening.

Stages of Heart Failure in Dogs

Basically, there are four stages of heart failure in dogs. These are classified as Stage A, B, C, and D of heart failure.

Going by the specifications of the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine classification, Stage C and D are more commonly associated with congestive heart failure.

  • Stage A mirrors a dog whose breeds increase its predisposition to heart disease. However, this inclination has not physically affected the dog’s heart. Also contained in Stage A are dogs with existing conditions (that increase their heart disease risks) but have healthy hearts.
  • Stage B encompasses dogs in which a heart murmur was detected on physical examination. Nevertheless, the dog’s heart’s structural integrity (or makeup) at this stage is yet to be compromised. Also, dogs in this phase don’t yet exhibit any other clinical sign of congestive heart failure.
  • For Stage C, the dog is already manifesting conditions symptomatic of congestive heart failure.
  • By Stage D, the dog’s congestive heart failure condition has consolidated up to unresponsiveness to treatment.

Congestive Heart Failure Facts

CHF cannot be cured, but progression can be slowed with treatment.

  • While damaged heart muscle can’t heal itself, medications help strengthen pumping function and reduce strain. Follow prescribed treatments faithfully.
  • Strict adherence to medication routines, diet, and exercise restrictions is key to prolonging a good quality of life.

Caught early, dogs with CHF can live happily for years.

  • With aggressive diuretics and other medications, many dogs enjoy 1-3 years post-diagnosis.
  • Regular check-ups and careful monitoring for worsening symptoms enable ongoing adjustments to medications.

Advanced diagnostics clarify each dog’s unique heart issues.

  • Chest x-rays confirm fluid buildup in lungs or body tissues.
  • Cardiac ultrasounds visualize heart function and pinpoint exactly which structures are damaged. These detailed insights from ultrasounds enable veterinarians to create tailored treatment plans.
  • Holter or event monitors can reveal intermittent rhythm abnormalities.

Severe CHF may necessitate hospitalization

  • If your dog collapses, has sudden breathing problems, or has other serious symptoms, immediate veterinary hospitalization with oxygen and IV drugs can save its life.
  • Hospital care helps stabilize dogs in crises situations until congestion and symptoms are better controlled.

How Long Can Dogs Live with Heart Failure?

With the right treatment plan, your dog’s survival span for heart failure can be appreciably lengthened. It helps to discuss the befitting medication and care therapy for your dog.

Aside from using medications like furosemide, pimobendan, and benazepril, your vet would formulate the best care plan for your dog. This would comprise the right dieting and significant reduction in your dog’s physical exertions.

More than this, you would need to faithfully keep up with your vet for periodic checkups to ascertain the condition of your dog’s lungs and hearts. 

This depends on the cause of congestive heart failure and the stage. Take the cardiac arrest caused by degenerative mitral valve disease. The symptoms of this disease are usually suppressed at the start.

However, by the time such degenerative mitral valve disease progresses to congestive heart failure, the dog’s chances of survival are drastically reduced. By this time, the dog’s survival span ranges between 6-14 months.

Studies have shown that the average time between stage C heart condition and advanced heart failure in dogs is approximately 163 days. After such advanced heart failure is diagnosed, the dog rarely survives more than nine months.

Indeed, in some cases, the dog could end up living more than 880 days. But there are also cases where the dog dies as early as 72 hours after the advanced heart failure diagnosis.

While there is no scientifically established time for this, it is well known that senior dogs are more prone to death from congestive heart failure. This is because of the natural deterioration of body organs and the reduction in resilience that comes with aging.

Is Dog Heart Failure Painful?

While dogs with heart failure tend to experience labored breathing and coughing, sharp pain or physical hurt cases are rare.

Your dog could also experience difficulty breathing (more particular to dogs who habitually sleep sideways), a swollen stomach – courtesy of an unnatural buildup of fluid in the abdomen – and increased weakness.

Can Dogs Survive Congestive Heart Failure?

It is not possible to wholesomely reverse congestive heart failure in dogs. Nonetheless, your dog’s survival span can be appreciably increased (and the severity of the symptoms reduced) by adopting the right treatment plan.

Most of these therapies focus on improving the pumping and distribution of blood to the body organs like the lung by decreasing the heart’s fluid buildup.

Some of the most effective treatments vets resort to in treating congestive heart failure include the use of diuretics, calcium channel blockers, ace inhibitors, beta-blockers, and digoxin.

Using Calcium Channel Blockers

Vets leverage calcium channel blockers to enhance the relaxation of the dog’s heart muscles. This is to suppress the instability, improving the steadiness of the dog’s heart rhythm.

These blockers are also effective in reducing the speeding of your dog’s heartbeat. Such procedures diminish the chances of cardiac arrest.

Use ACE Inhibitors

ACE inhibitors’ efficiency in treating congestive heart failures can be largely attributed to their capacity to dilate the dog’s blood vessels. This way, there is lesser resistance to the flow of blood.

In the face of such reduced resistance to flow, there is a lesser workload on the heart. ACE inhibitors are the most frequently adopted treatment plan for congestive heart failure. Indeed, most vets like to combine them with other therapies.

Beta-Blockers Work Too

Vets resort to beta-blockers in normalizing the rhythm of your dog’s heart. These blockers achieve this by slashing the volume of demand for oxygen from your dog’s system, consequently reducing its heart’s beating speed.

Besides this, diuretics are excellent options for eliminating unhealthy fluid accumulation in the heart region. Some vets also use inodilators to increase muscle heart strength, enhancing blood’s smooth passage to neighboring vessels.

Can a Dog Die Suddenly from Congestive Heart Failure?

Cases of sudden death in dogs from congestive heart failure are common. Following cardiac arrest, the dog’s condition often deteriorates drastically.

Such arrest is commonly followed by the dog collapsing and becoming unconscious. This can be succeeded by the progressive shutdown of the dog’s bodily functions.

Should the dog not be quickly resuscitated – say within the first five minutes – it could die. This is only expected as an average dog can’t survive more than 6 minutes of sustained oxygen deprivation to vital body organs like the brain.

What Does Dog Heart Failure Cough Sound Like?

Dogs with heart failure cough as there is an unhealthy accumulation of fluids in their heart region. This common is labored and sometimes whizzes.

However, if your dog’s activity levels are not distorted and yet retains a healthy appetite, a harsh cough (especially that terminating in a gag) is not certainly indicative of heart failure.

How to Soothe a Dog with Congestive Heart Failure?

There are both medicinal and non-medicinal home care plans to soothe your dog if it has congestive heart failure. You should be diligent with administering its medication if your vet recommends them to correct the irregularities in your dog’s pulse.

Following the diagnosis of heart failure in your dog, you need to regularly monitor and check its heart and the progress the adopted treatment plan is making. Upon stabilizing the dog’s condition, you could reduce the frequency of such tests.

In this guide, we will further learn the befitting diet and exercise plan to soothe a dog with congestive heart failure.

How Many Breaths Per Minute Should a Dog with Congestive Heart Failure Have?

When your dog’s breathing rates when sleeping perpetually exceed (or lesser than) 30 breaths/minute, it is indicative of a heart abnormality.

Should You Walk a Dog with Congestive Heart Failure?

A dog with congestive heart failure doesn’t need exhaustive physical stimulation. Overexerting by walking it over long distances can pile up more stress in the heart, triggering an aggravation in the heart condition and worsening irregularities in heart rhythms.

If your dog has been diagnosed with congestive heart failure, avoid intensive exercises like lengthy running, long hikes, swimming, and ball chasing.

What Do You Feed a Dog with Congestive Heart Failure?

The meals you feed a dog diagnosed with congestive heart failure should be low in sodium. This is mainly in cases where the heart failure is already in Stage D.

If your dog is not yet in this stage (typical of asymptomatic heart disease cases), you must not necessarily feed it low-sodium foods. Starving it of salt as such deficiency could trigger the activation of undesirable hormones.

However, you must effortfully keep off table snacks and other high-salt food off your dog’s eating menu. In place of store-bought treats, you should feed your dog home-made alternatives that contain minimal salt.

What Dog Breeds are Prone to Congestive Heart Failure?

Certain dog breeds have increased vulnerability to congestive heart failure. Cavalier King Charles Spaniels are some of the most susceptible to heart failures.

As early as five years of age, 50% of these dogs develop a heart murmur, which indicates a heart abnormality. Almost 95% of cavaliers develop heart murmur by age 10.

Daschunds are also prone to congestive heart failure. This breed is ill-famed for developing a leaky heart valve. Doberman Pinschers, miniature, and toy poodles also fall into this prone list.

Will a Humidifier Help a Dog with Congestive Heart Failure?

No, a humidifier will not necessarily pacify a dog with congestive heart failure.

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