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Health & Wellness

4 stages of congestive heart failure in dogs explained

There are different symptoms depending on what side of a dog’s heart is affected.

As your dog gets older, it's normal to prepare for new changes in their health. You might swap out their hard kibble for a softer version, take walks a little slower or even research ailments that are specific to adult dogs — like heart disease, which can lead to more serious consequences as it progresses. 

One potential outcome of heart disease's later stages is congestive heart failure (CHF). And while anything to do with a dog’s heart might sound overwhelming, knowing all about it will help guide informed conversations with your veterinarian. 

What's CHF?

CHF is the late stage of heart disease when your pet’s heart is unable to pump blood into the body adequately, Dr. Aliya McCullough, Fetch’s on-staff veterinarian, explains. There are two main types of CHF, and each comes with its own set of symptoms and treatments.

“Of the common types of heart disease, small-breed dogs are more likely to develop mitral and/or tricuspid valve disease,” Dr. McCullough shares. “Large and giant-breed dogs and cocker spaniels are predisposed to dilated cardiomyopathy.”

What are the symptoms of CHF in dogs?

Dogs with left-sided heart failure can experience coughing, a decreased ability to exercise, a higher breathing rate at rest and become easily winded. 

Alternately, right-sided heart failure causes fluid buildup in dogs’ bellies, which gives affected dogs a pot-bellied appearance that can lead to discomfort and a decreased appetite, Dr. McCullough explains. 

What are the stages of CHF in dogs?

Veterinarians often refer to the condition of a dog’s CHF in four stages, which can be categorized from A to D, Dr. McCullough explains. 

A dog with a predisposition or high risk of developing heart failure but has no heart disease or symptoms is in Stage A.

In Stage B, there’s structural evidence of heart disease, but a dog isn’t showing symptoms. It’s broken into two substages: In B1, your dog doesn’t have heart enlargement, while in B2, they do.

In later stages of CHF, symptoms begin to show. Stage C indicates that a dog has symptoms of heart disease, and Stage D is met when your dog has ongoing symptoms that are unresponsive to therapy.

RELATED: What are normal vital signs for a dog?

What are the treatment options for CHF in dogs? 

While CHF isn’t typically curable, there are ways to manage your dog’s disease, depending on its progression.

“Most types of progressive heart disease can be managed with medications. Dogs that respond well to medication can have a prolonged survival period with a good quality of life,” Dr. McCullough says.

Your veterinarian will recommend the right treatment plan depending on your pup’s specific type of heart disease. For example, heartworm infections can lead to heart disease but are treatable and preventable. However, other heart diseases require surgery to repair a mitral valve or close a hole in the heart. 

How do I keep my dog with congestive heart failure comfortable?

Special care should be given to dogs with CHF — there are ways to keep them as comfortable and happy as possible. 

“Activities for a dog with CHF should be tailored to their individual abilities, heart disease condition and status,” Dr. McCullough says. “Pet parents should discuss appropriate exercise with their veterinarian.”

Try to minimize stress for your dog as much as possible, and keep your pet in a temperature-controlled environment. As your dog’s disease progresses, consult with your veterinarian to create the best course of action for your four-legged family member.

The Dig, Fetch's expert-backed editorial, answers all of the questions you forget to ask your vet or are too embarrassed to ask at the dog park. We help make sure you and your best friend have more good days, but we’re there on bad days, too.

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