Signs Of A Dog Dying Of Heart Failure

If your dog has just been diagnosed with congestive heart failure, you likely have many questions about what this means for their future.

CHF is a serious condition that cannot be cured, but can be managed over time with proper care.

So how do you know if your dog is beginning to suffer in their condition?

In this article we will discuss the details of CHF in dogs, and help you understand the signs of a dog dying of heart failure.

What Is Congestive Heart Failure In Dogs?

Signs of a Dog Dying of Heart Failure

Congestive heart failure in dogs is a condition that refers to the inadequate function of the heart.

The main role of the heart is to pump blood to the rest of the body to help carry out vital functions.

When a dog has CHF, the heart is unable to do this properly.

This leads to a number of complications, all of which significantly impact a dog’s life.

The two most common causes of CHF in dogs is mitral valve insufficiency and dilated cardiomyopathy.

MVI accounts for nearly 80% of all congestive heart failure cases, making it the prime culprit of canine heart disease.

There are multiple different forms of heart disease in dogs, but they all result in either right or left-sided heart failure.

Right-Sided CHF

A dog with right-sided CHF will experience blood leakage into the tricuspid valve.

This blood will then back up into the dog’s main circulation, causing the dog to experience fluid accumulation.

Due to this, right-sided CHF is the most common cause behind ascites (the accumulation of fluid in the peritoneal cavity, causing abdominal swelling) and peripheral edema.

In other words, this is what leads to the pot belly appearance of some dogs with heart disease.

Left-Sided CHF

A dog with left-sided CHF, a dog will experience a backup of blood in the lungs due to the insufficiency of the left ventricle.

This will cause fluid to build up in the lung tissue, leading to coughing and other forms of respiratory distress.

This is the most common form of heart failure that we see in our canine friends. 

Symptoms Of Congestive Heart Failure In Dogs

the top signs your dog is dying

The standard symptoms of heart failure in dogs will vary based on the side of the heart that is affected.

While we often hear of the typical “heart failure cough”, there are many more signs to be aware of.

Some of the most common symptoms of CHF in dogs include:

  • Constant panting
  • Coughing
  • Coughing up foam
  • Difficulty catching their breath
  • Elevated respiratory rate, even when resting
  • Easily winded after activity
  • Lethargy
  • Decrease in appetite
  • Weakness
  • Blue tinged or muddy gums
  • Distended abdomen
  • Collapse
  • Passing out

If your dog is experiencing any of the above symptoms, it’s best to contact your veterinarian immediately for further care.

What Are The Stages Of Heart Failure In Dogs?

When diagnosing heart failure in dogs, the veterinarian can typically break it down into 4 different stages:

A, B, C, and D.

While it is best to see a cardiologist to determine the true extent of your dog’s condition, there are a few ways to categorize your pup’s disease upon physical exam.

Stage A

A dog is at risk of heart disease due to their breed, other medical conditions, or any other risk factors.

They will not have any symptoms of heart disease, as well as being free of any structural changes to the heart.

Stage B

A dog has a heart murmur on physical exam, but is not yet showing symptoms of the disease.

There will also be no structural changes to the heart at this point.

Stage C

The dog has a heart murmur, has symptoms of cardiac disease, or is even displaying signs of heart failure.

They may still respond to treatment in this stage, and can often be managed for a short period.

Stage D

The dog has been diagnosed with  heart failure and is no longer responding to any treatment.

Their symptoms are often severe at this point.

When referring to the end stages of heart failure in dogs, veterinarians are typically referring to stages C and D.

A dog may be managed with stage C heart failure if they are receiving proper treatment, but they will lose their battle to the condition at some point.

Treatment Options For Heart Failure

Once your vet has diagnosed your dog with congestive heart failure with a physical exam and diagnostic imaging, there will be a few treatment options that can offer your dog more time.

These management options will only be a band aid for your dog’s heart disease, but can offer them much needed comfort as the condition progresses.

Some of the most common treatment options for dogs with CHF include:

Diuretics

Diuretics are a treatment option that is used alongside other heart medications, that helps to control the accumulation of fluid in the body due to heart failure.

ACE inhibitors

ACE inhibitors help to dilate the blood vessels in the body.

This means the heart does not have to work as hard, and is an effective management option with the addition of other heart medications.

Beta-blockers

Beta-blockers are used to slow down a dog’s heart rate and maintain a normal heart rhythm.

This also leads to a decreased demand of oxygen, which takes additional stress off the heart.

Inodilators

Inodilators are used to help strengthen the heart muscle in dogs.

This not only helps the heart beat more effectively, and allows the blood to flow more easily to the vessels.

Most dogs will be prescribed more than one of these medications at once, as they will work together to take the stress off the failing heart.

Some dogs will be immediately helped with the addition of oral medication, while other dogs may first require hospitalization to stabilize them.

Life Expectancy Of Heart Failure In Dogs

Unfortunately, there is no cure for congestive heart failure in dogs.

Medical management can be effective in offering a dog more time, and making their life more comfortable as their disease progresses.

Though there is no known cure for CHF, daily medication and lifestyle changes can add significant time to their life.

If your dog has been diagnosed in the early stages of their heart failure, they may have anywhere from 1 to 3 years.

Early detection along with proper medical care can significantly improve a dog’s prognosis.

However, if your dog is diagnosed with CHF when they have begun to display serious symptoms, their time may be limited.

These pups typically have a life expectancy of 1-6 months, and will need to be monitored closely for any sign of suffering.

The Signs Of A Dog Dying Of Heart Failure

If your dog is in the final stages of their heart failure, you may be curious about the typical signs of a dog suffering in their CHF.

To help you make the best decision for your furry friend, let’s list some of the signs of a dog dying from their heart failure.

  • Frequent coughing
  • Coughing up foam, or bloody foam
  • Labored breathing
  • Lethargy
  • Weakness, or inability to exercise
  • Fainting episodes
  • Distended abdomen
  • Decrease in appetite
  • Blue, purple, or muddy gums
  • Constant panting

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

Chat with an emergency vet now

Final Thoughts On Heart Failure In Dogs

Heart failure in dogs is a serious condition that requires extensive care.

Your veterinarian can help you through this process but eventually your dog will pass away with this condition.

Be sure you watch for the signs of heart failure to really understand where your pup may be in this process.

Review the information that we discussed above so you can better understand the stages of your dog’s condition going forward.

There are 21 comments:

  • Gail at 4:12 am

    My heart goes out to everyone on here. It’s heartbreaking to read everyone’s stories. My boxer girl just turned 11 in November which I’m told is really good for a boxer but about a year ago my vet told me she has an issue with her heart but not to worry and that she didn’t need meds yet. She can’t take heat anymore and sometimes pants quite heavy even when it’s not too warm. Sometimes 3:00am I’ll be up putting ice packs on her belly trying to cool her down and I’ll be freezing because the windows are open and fans on to keep her cool. My vet says it’s because of seizure meds that she’s on. She gets focal seizures. She injured a back leg last Saturday and I’ve been trying to get my vet to make time to see her. She has only texted and said it’s probably her cruciate and bring her in for laser therapy with a tech and that she can’t have surgery at her age. I replied I would like to know for sure that’s what it is and could she please see her. I’ve gotten no reply. I’ve been carrying her up and down the steps on the deck and supporting her by holding the handle on her harness and a belly strap but it’s still hard on her. This evening she refused her favourite treats and wasn’t thrilled about supper which is odd because she’s very food motivated. When I took her out to pee before bed she was trying to lead me out of the yard for a walk even though it was very hard on her but I let her go where she wanted. I just had a really strange feeling she needed one more walk and that something was going to happen to her. It totally exhausted her and she’s been breathing heavy on and off for over an hour now. I can’t sleep because she opens her eyes and looks for me but has a strange look in her eyes and she looks scared and trembles. She’s on metacam daily and cartrophen shots once a month for bad arthritis so I don’t think it’s pain that’s making her like this. She’s sleeping now but breathing heavy. She’s been coughing and hacking for a couple days which makes me think it’s her heart. It’s now a couple hours of heavy breathing. I’m scared to sleep incase something happens to her. I’m scared to death to lose her. I lost two Boston’s a couple years ago and she went into a depression and I almost lost my mind. Like everyone else here I form such a deep attachment to my babies and don’t do well when I lose one and she is my girl. Does anyone know if this is what happens at the end or is this an episode. She just opened her eyes and was trying to breathe through her mouth and still breathing heavy. Thank you to anyone who reads this and any replies would be so appreciated. I’m worried and afraid but I don’t want her to be and the look in her eyes tells me she is.

  • Rose womble at 9:52 am

    March 22,2022 we lost our 15 year old mix chihuahua to CHF. Had a collapsed trachea for years. Vet never diagnosed CHF. Noticed for the past couple of months panting at ready and more coughing. In the back of our minds we suspected CHF. Was not treated with meds since not diagnosed. He went down hill within a few hours… rushed him to emergency vet and died. We do have regrets that we did not pursue treatment with different vet. However, CHF will ultimately take their life.

  • Cari at 7:08 pm

    To All that have lost their pets due to CHF, this is for you:

    I feel your pain. I just put my sweet Rupert down for the same thing. He was a 14 year old Weiner dog and was my best friend. He went into heart failure in August and caught the signs early enough to have the ER vet sustain him. It took 48 hours for him to be stable and to be able to come home. He was still very playful and normal after, but I could always see his little heart pound. I was blessed with an extra 217 days with my boy and loved every moment with him. On March 13, the intense coughing came back and I took him into the ER again. The vet said she would try to pull him out again, but I promised Rupert I would only let him go through that once. So I let him go. He was suffering. I was with him until his least breath and that’s always how I wanted him to go. It HURTS more than anything.

    I feel a sense of community with you all who watched your babies go through the same thing. It’s an ugly way for them to go and it seemed premature for little Rupert.

    For those that still have their pups, love them every chance you get. And it’s ok to let them go.

  • Tina Smith at 5:57 pm

    My German Shepherd is being treated for heart failure. For how severe his heart failure is he’s doing pretty good. He’s 1 1/2 yrs old at this time. Lately I’ve noticed the skin on top of his nose and inner skin on his ears get really red like a person does with high blood pressure. Have you ever heard of this?? Am I being to paranoid. We just love him so much and know our time with him is limited

  • Sonia Villanueva at 3:05 am

    My pet was 13 yrs, diagnosed w/a heart murmur since being a puppy, every exam it was confirmed. He was a happy – otherwise healthy dog for 12 years. Last May it was recommended he see a cardiologist because he had a heart murmur. Hearing he had a heart murmur, year after year and he was fine, I did not this seriously. I was not aware a pet could have cardio/pulmonary disease w/no signs and them develop CHF. He coughed sometimes, but that was it. I noticed he began not wanting to take walks with me but attributed this to his age. I did not make the connection to CHF. For the past month or so, I noticed he started to cough more frequently….and thought it was allergies. I did not suspect anything serious and since I’ve been so busy and preoccupied with my two moves, I basically didn’t pay attention to the symptoms. However, when I noticed distention of his abdomen I google CHF and this was a symptom along with coughing and reduced exercise…plus he twice collapsed; I then knew something was wrong; he was dying a slow death. I did not want him to suffer and could not make a decision about putting him to sleep. I took him to a Vet Hospital, he collapsed as we went in, they took him in right away and confirmed CHF. They informed me they could have him see a cardiologist, give him an echocardiogram, ultrasound. I told the MD I did not want him to suffer, couldn’t incur a lot of expense, but wanted their professional opinion and when I advised her that we were thinking of putting him to sleep, she immediately responded that it was the right decision and she would have made that decision if it was her pet. My pet was put to sleep in our presence, but I still wonder if I did the right thing…should I have tried treatment…I’m feeling so sad and torn. I read that if a pet is showing the signs of my pet they are dying. There is no cure for CHF, they would continue to build up fluid, go back for treatment, the disease would continue to get worse and everything would just repeat itself until he chokes to death. I’ve heard of adults with CHF going through this ritual; it’s exhausting and not a good quality of life. It would be worse for a pet, who does not understand. I hope I made the right decision and it wasn’t hasty. I’ve also heard of many situations where an owner incurs large vet expenses to no avail and I was trying to balance this all in my head. I’m sad and feeling guilty as well. I miss my pet so much and also didn’t want to prolong his life only because I didn’t want to let him go. I welcome your comments. I’m so distraught about this….my poor baby…..

    • Amber at 1:58 pm

      Sonia, first of all so sorry you had to go through this with your puppy. CHF can be hard to manage and expensive to help your dog live a little longer. Even then, if you spend all of this money trying to manage CHF, the end is still the same. Your puppy sounded like he/she was suffering. As hard as it is, putting down our dog will always cause the feeling you have. Don’t regret or feel guilty about it. If you look back on your pups life, how much were they suffering or how much could you see that they were suffering. This could help you come to terms with the final outcome, that you did the right thing.

    • Cat H. at 11:24 pm

      Im so sorry for what you and your beloved dog went thru. Your story is identical to mine except my baby was 12 1/2 years old. Also heart murmur since young. On Feb 11, I too had made the decision upon finding out the severity of her condition. She was actually in the dying process and we had no idea how bad she was until the last week and a half of her life. The day before I took her to the vet the last time, I was watching her breathing very labored while lying down and suddenly the Lord revealed to me she was in very bad condition by allowing me see an extremely large glowing red area floating over her lower chest and upper abdomen area. I immediately made an appointment to see the vet. We got the news of how severe her condition was and I made the decision to have her go to sleep in my lap that day. I too felt guilt and not sure if I was being hasty afterward but you know God gave man dominion to care for the animals in our lives and I have concluded having mercy on them is not wrong. You will see your fur baby again and he is healthy and happy now. I truly believe that. I miss my sweet little precious so much and my heart breaks over and over thinking about her but she is no longer suffering so terribly bad. I am so sorry you are experiencing the same pain and false guilt that I am. Its a terrible feeling. I pray God fills you with His peace as He does me when I call upon Him.

    • Jackie at 12:56 am

      Sonia
      I would like offer my condolences as I am second guessing my decision. On the evening of march 1, 2022. I noticed my Little Rudy having some difficulty breathing with a slight cough. My first thought – I’ve given COVID to my fur baby (currently +and in isolation) Then I heard his wheezing/crackles. I called the animal hospital and was told to watch him and bring him in if he got worse. Being a nurse I knew he was in heart failure and more than likely was not going to make it until my regular vet opened @8am. Around midnight he started sitting straight up with his little nose in the air. He was struggling to get air in and out. I picked him up and wrapped him in his softest blanket was going to ER but stopped at doorway then sat down in my rocking chair. Looked at my husband and told him he’s dying/drowning and I was not going to put him in the hands of strangers where he would’ve really stressed. I rocked, sang and told him how much I loved him, how he was a good boy and Moma is right here. I did that for over 2 hours, crying/wiping fluid/foam from his nose. Until his last breath Now I’m second guessing my decision. Then my husband pointed out that he never saw him struggle. That’s when it dawned on me that the whole time that I was holding him like a baby, singing/talking to him we never took our eyes off each other. I believe we both did right for our fur babies. We eased their suffering in a situation that the outcome was evident. Nothing would’ve prevented it. I’m still grieving as I’m sure you are. My heart goes out to you tonight.
      RIP my Little Rudy
      3/2/22

    • Krista at 8:38 pm

      Dear Sonia,

      I feel so sorry for you. Your little baby, and the guilt you feel…. I would be just the same. But I think you made the right decision. We don’t want them to suffer too much during their last days of a good life. It must have been difficult though. When is the right time to make that decision, right? I am glad I read your story.
      We have a 13.5 year old miniature schnauzer with CHF. He takes medication now, but I know that at some point the meds won’t work anymore and that we will have to make that decision as well. Or is he going to die from a heart attack…. we don’t know …. Every time I go for a walk with him now, I feel a bit stressed. He can still get very excited, but he can also collapse anytime. Just like you, we want him to be with us as long as possible. But as soon as I feel that his quality of life is not good anymore, I will make that decision too. Just like your pet, he has had a good life …. We are so attached to them. They gave us so much unconditional love. Stay strong Sonia. You made the right decision. Thanks for sharing your story.

    • Melinda at 8:46 pm

      Prayers for you. You did the right thing❤️

    • Rosemarie Burke at 3:00 am

      Our Curly also had CHF and passed away in his sleep a few days ago. He had been on meds for about a year but the coughing was geting worse and the day before he died it was constant. I had planned to take him to the vet the next day, but thankfully, he just went to sleep. He was such a wonderful pet. I really think he went as he did to save us from having to put him down. I kept thinking that maybe we could have done more for him, but after reading about CHF, I realize that it would not have been doing him any favors to keep him alive only to suffer. I am devastated and I am sure you are as well.

    • Robbie at 8:44 am

      You absolutely made the right decision although it is so very hard on you to live without your pet, know you are not alone as we do are struggling and need to make that decision.

    • I at 9:23 pm

      I felt like you. Today I rushed my boy to hospital and after CPR, contemplation, extracted fluid around heart and it was blood. He was a fighter hung on to the last minute. Mar.10/22 @ 1:15pm I had to put him to sleep.

    • Cari at 7:15 pm

      Sonia, I am so sorry to hear. You did the right thing. It is very stressful for them to get treatment. And just like my pup, it comes back. He went into heart failure twice. And the second time I let him go. Because the vet told me he would just go through it again. I still felt guilty too. It’s so normal to feel that way. You are not alone in that. But it’s the right thing. They do not know what is going on like a human does. Rupie fell asleep for good in my arms. I just knew I did right by him. But it was the hardest thing I’ve done.

    • Prissy’s Mom at 7:53 am

      I completely understand and agree with everything you said you did for your dog. I believe you made the best decision for your baby. Pet ownership is not easy, but the rewards outweigh the hard decisions we make. I’m sure you gave your baby the best life while he was with you. Thank you for sharing. Your story helps me in my decision with my beautiful baby. It’s never easy to let go.

    • Brandi at 5:48 pm

      I’ve owned many dogs throughout my life and there are two things they will teach you if you let them… how to love and how to let go.

      Sonia. You did the right thing. You let your dog go to heaven and you loved your pet unconditionally until the end.

      It sucks but you did right by your dog.

  • Nancy llytle at 6:39 pm

    The decision to put your dog down, sucks immensely. It isn’t fair. I’ve dealt with my baby girl, Cha Cha now over a year with stage 5. Just heartbreaking to see her go thu this. I want her to go to sleep peaceful and no pain.

    • Charmaine Liccardi at 11:53 am

      My little Emma has an enlarged heart and murmur and she is now I believe in the final stages. Seizures, constant labored breathing, coughing, won’t eat BUT will find the water dish and drink. She is my BABY and we are so sick to our stomachs. It all happened in about a week, this sudden decline! Think I found a vet to put her down today.

  • Cindy at 3:12 am

    My 15 yr old Bichon is in heart failure. She’s on 4 different medications. She is experiencing full symptoms, even with meds. She is still eating but very choosey. I have to offer different things until she wants something. She collapses a couple of times a day. We are visiting the vet every two weeks. Deciding when it is time to let go is brutal. I just want her to go to sleep and be at peace on her own.

    • Marsha at 1:04 am

      My 12 year old Maltese has a collapsing trachea and it has put terrible strain on his heart. He is experiencing everything but collapsing and I fear his time is drawing close. I can’t bear the thought. He sleeps with me and I hear his labored breathing at night. I was praying he would just pass peacefully in his sleep. I’m struggling to make the decision.

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