Congestive Heart Failure – What is it and What to Expect

What is Congestive Heart Failure (CHF) in Dogs & Cats?

  • CHF occurs when heart disease in dogs or cats is so severe that the cardiovascular system is no longer able to maintain its functions.
  • Normally, blood returns from the body to the right side of the heart, is pumped to the lungs to be oxygenated, returns to the left side of the heart, and is finally pumped to the body again. A basement sump pump is analogous to the heart’s function. If the basement sump pump fails to pump water away from the foundation during a rainstorm, the basement floods. When the left side of the heart fails as a pump, the lungs begin to “flood” and when the right side of the heart fails, the abdominal and/or chest cavities “flood.”

How serious is CHF?

  • A common misconception is that congestive heart failure in dogs and cats is an end-of-life disease process.
  • Fortunately, while the long-term prognosis for most cardiac diseases resulting in heart failure is guarded, most dogs or cats with congestive heart failure will live many months to even years on medical therapy while still maintaining a good quality of life.

How is it treated?

CHF is a medically managed condition. As your pet’s heart disease progresses and relapses or CHF occurs, we will continue to work with you and your primary care veterinarian to adjust medical therapy in an effort to regain control of clinical signs.

vet and client checking on dog

Congestive heart failure is usually managed by a three level approach:

  • Decrease the heart’s preload (volume it must pump) so that it can function more efficiently.
    • Diuretics such as Lasix (furosemide), Spironolactone, Hydrochlorothiazide (HCTZ)
  • Decrease the heart’s afterload (resistance which it has to pump out against) by dilating the arteries in the body and lungs
    • Vasodilators
    • ACE inhibitors:(Enalapril, Benazapril, or Lisinopril)
    • Norvasc (Amplodipine)
    • Hydralazine
  • Increase the heart’s force of contractions: by supporting and improving the overall strength of the heart muscle more blood can be pumped out to the rest of the body and its vital organs
    • Positive inotropic agents (improve the strength of the heart muscle)
      • Pimobendan for dogs
      • Digoxin

What to expect and monitor in your pet with congestive heart failure: