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 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 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 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.

Here Are 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.

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Final Thoughts

Heart failure in dogs is a serious condition that requires extensive care. Be sure to review the information that we discussed above, and you can better understand the stages of your dog’s condition going forward.

There is one comment:

  • 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.

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