When To Euthanize A Cat or Dog With Hearth Failure

Making the decision to say goodbye to your cat or dog is the most challenging part of pet ownership.

Congestive heart failure makes this moment inevitable, but it can still be tough to know when it’s time. So how do you know when to euthanize your cat or dog in heart failure?

In this article we will discuss the signs of a pet struggling in their heart disease, and help you understand when it may be time to let go.

Congestive Heart Failure In Cats & Dogs

Dog and Cat Heart Failure When To Euthanize

To understand why your pet is struggling in their condition, it’s important to be aware of the details of congestive heart failure.

CHF in dogs and cats can have multiple causes, but always refers to the inadequate function of the heart.

When the heart is not working properly, it will struggle to perform the tasks needed to pump blood throughout the body.

When the heart is unable to pump blood efficiently, this causes a waterfall effect of complications.

Heart failure can cause blood to leak into the tricuspid valve, a backup of blood in systemic circulation, excess fluid to collect in the lungs, as well as fluid accumulation in the abdomen.

These complications are life threatening for your pet, and will begin to occur when they reach end stage heart failure.

Signs Of Heart Failure In Dogs

If you have a dog that has been diagnosed with cardiac disease, you should always be aware of the signs of heart failure.

A dog may begin to display these symptoms if their disease is worsening, or if their condition can no longer be managed.

Some of the common signs of heart failure in dogs include:

  • Coughing
  • Constant panting
  • Coughing up foam or bloody foam
  • Easily becoming winded
  • High respiratory rate, even when resting
  • Decrease in appetite
  • Weakness or lethargy
  • Blue tinged or muddy gums or tongue
  • Distended abdomen
  • Collapse
  • Fainting episodes

If your dog is experiencing any of the above symptoms, we suggest contacting your veterinarian immediately.

Signs Of Heart Failure In Cats

While many of the signs of heart failure are similar in dogs and cats, there are some cat specific symptoms to be aware of.

A cat may display these symptoms if their disease is worsening, or if their condition can no longer be managed.

  • Open mouthed breathing
  • Panting
  • Vocalizations
  • Hacking up foam or bloody foam
  • Labored breathing
  • Increased respiratory rate
  • Decrease in appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Hiding away
  • Blue tinged gums or tongue
  • Weakness in the hind limbs
  • Paralysis of the hind limbs (this is a serious complication that requires immediate attention)

If your cat is displaying any of the above symptoms, we suggest contacting your veterinarian as soon as possible.

How Do I Know When It’s Time To Euthanize?

Making the decision to euthanize your dog or cat is extremely challenging.

We never want them to suffer, but our judgment can often be clouded due to our love for them.

To help you make the best decision for your pet, let’s discuss the signs of when it may be time to say goodbye.

Congestive Heart Failure In Cats –  When To Euthanize

Heart failure is always serious, but it is usually more aggressive in cats.

Most of the cats that I have seen with CHF will present in extreme distress, often combined with the stress of being in a clinic setting.

Cats are also more prone to experiencing sudden and severe complications from their cardiac disease, ranging from throwing clots to sudden collapse.

For example, cats are more prone to experiencing a condition called saddle thrombus if they have underlying heart disease.

This involves a large clot moving from the left atrium to the thrombus, leading to debilitating pain and paralysis in the affected limbs. This does not happen in all cats with heart failure, but it is serious when it does.

Due to the severity of the condition, many owners make the decision to euthanize at this point.

The most common signs of a cat with heart failure is respiratory distress.

Cats will often come into the clinic with open mouth breathing, unfavorable gum and tongue color, vocalization, along with extreme stress.

Some cats can be stabilized by hospitalization and oxygen therapy, while others cannot.

When it comes to cats, it usually comes down to how well they respond to treatment.

If your cat improves within 48 hours of receiving treatment, you may be able to take them home and manage their condition for a bit longer. However, if your cat is experiencing cardiac symptoms that do not improve with medical intervention, it is usually time to say goodbye.

If you are ever conflicted on what to do, we suggest speaking with your veterinarian about your cat’s situation.

Every cat is different, and may have more resources available for successful management. 

Congestive Heart Failure In Dogs – When To Euthanize

The final stages of heart failure in dogs are a bit more clear than in cats.

While every situation varies, you can often expect a list of common complications in end stage heart failure in dogs.

It may be time to euthanize your dog with heart failure if they are experiencing any of the following symptoms:

  • Constant coughing
  • Coughing up foam, or bloody foam
  • Labored breathing
  • Lethargy
  • Fainting episodes
  • Distended abdomen
  • Decrease in appetite
  • Blue, purple, or muddy gums and tongue
  • Collapse

If your dog is experiencing any of the above symptoms, it may be time to discuss quality of life with your veterinarian.

Saying goodbye is never easy, but it helps to have a better understanding of their worsening condition. Be sure to review the information that we discussed above, and you can make an informed decision about your pet’s quality of life.

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