About Canine Congestive Heart Failure

Canine congestive heart failure isn’t an illness in itself, but the end result of heart disease.

Dogs don’t have ‘dog heart attacks’ in the way people do, but there are several different types of canine heart problems that can cause heart failure in dogs.

Some of these are inherited, others develop as a result of a separate condition (such as a tumor or viral illness).

Most of these eventually lead to canine congestive heart failure and, heartbreakingly, to death.

This is a horribly sad subject to write about, but as statistics indicate at least 1 in every 10 dogs will be affected by heart failure during their lifetime, it’s something every dog owner needs to know about.

Rottweilers are among the breeds that suffer from a congenital (inherited) canine heart condition called Sub Aortic Stenosis. Overall, this is the second most common form of heart malformation seen in dogs.

In fact, this form of heart disease in dogs seems to be a growing problem and is now being recognized and diagnosed more often, and in more breeds, than ever before.

Sub Aortic Stenosis is the form of canine heart disease most often seen in Rottweilers.

Other breeds that seem to have a predisposition to this problem include also Golden Retrievers, German Shepherds, German Shorthaired Pointers, Bouviers de Flandres, Newfoundlands, Boxers and Bull Terriers.

It’s recently been found that Bernese Mountain Dogs are also at risk of developing this condition.


SAS & Congestive Heart Failure In Dogs

Sub Aortic Stenosis is an inherited and progressive heart disease in dogs. It has three classifications – Mild, Moderate or Severe.

In mild cases dogs may be asymptomatic (show no symptoms at all), or they may be so slight as to go unnoticed. These dogs may live perfectly normal lives, of average length.

For dogs with moderate to severe SAS, symptoms can appear anywhere between 3 weeks of age and 4 – 7 years or more.

Moderately affected dogs may need only medications and some lifestyle changes to reach a reasonable life expectancy, those with the more severe form of SAS (or who show symptoms very early in life) often live for only a year or two, sometimes only months.

Once canine congestive heart failure develops, most dogs die within 6 months.

So, what is Sub Aortic Stenosis?

Basically, it’s a malformation of the heart which results in a narrowed left ventricle. This creates a sort of ‘bottle-neck’ in the bloodflow through this valve, and the heart has to work much harder to pump blood.

Gradually the heart muscle thickens and becomes scarred, and pumping becomes less efficient over time. When the dogs heart is no longer strong enough to pump enough blood to keep up with the body’s need for oxygen, fluid starts to build up in the heart, lungs and other organs and areas of the body.

As it worsens, the dogs’ heart begins to fail and he/she eventually dies from heart failure.

Alternatively, sudden death (without prior warning) is also a fairly common result of SAS. In these cases, the scarring and thickening of the heart alone are enough to cause severe irregularities in the dogs’ heartbeat.

These arrythmias are often fatal and are responsible for many, seemingly ‘out-of-the blue’, deaths.

Although Rottweilers and many other breeds are more likely to suffer from the congenital form of canine congestive heart failure, there are other conditions that can have the same effect.

These include inflammation due to infection, disease or trauma (it’s worth noting that Rotties are one of the breeds who are at high risk of contracting Canine Parvovirus, and Parvo can lead to complications including weakened heart muscle), heart tumors, heartworm infestation, cardiomyopathy (narrowed heart chambers) and more.

Here is a little more information on a two other common causes of canine congestive heart failure….


Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM)

This causes the muscles of the dog’s heart chambers to stretch (dilate), and as they become thinner and weaker the heart becomes less efficient at pumping blood around the body.

As the condition progresses, irregular heartbeats start to occur (arrhythmia) and fluid begins to build up. The end result is canine heart failure.

This condition is most often seen in large and giant breed dogs including Doberman Pinschers, Labrador and Golden Retrievers, Deerhounds and Irish Wolfhounds.


Mitral Valve Disease (MVD)

MVD in dogs is caused by deterioration of the Mitral valves of the heart. As the dog ages, the valves become weak and are unable to close properly after pumping, causing blood to flow back into the dogs heart. The end result of this is canine congestive heart failure.

Mitral Valve Disease is mostly seen in older dogs, and in the smaller breeds. Statistics show that it affects over 10% of elderly dogs.

Although a degenerative condition, it’s also congenital (hereditary) in nature, and is especially common in Cavalier King Charles Spaniels (up to 20 times more common in this breed), affecting them earlier in life and progressing more rapidly.


Symptoms Of Canine Congestive Heart Failure

Although one of the most frightening things about SAS is that affected dogs may not show any symptoms at all, generally dogs who are suffering from congestive heart failure often exhibit several of these symptoms….

  • Coughing – especially at night, or first thing in the morning
  • Shortness of breath – intolerance for exercise, or excitement
  • Extreme Lethargy or Fatigue
  • Loss of Appetite and/or weight loss
  • Drooling or panting excessively – often even when the dog is resting
  • Pale blue or grey gums and/or tongue
  • Possibe abdominal swelling
  • Collapse – may include ‘fainting’ or loss of consciousness

If you notice any of these symptoms in your dog, it’s vital to get him examined by a veterinarian right away.

Bear in mind that many of these symptoms can indicate a whole range of other health problems too – some of them serious, some not.

If your Rottie has some of these signs, it doesn’t necessarily mean his heart is in trouble, but it DOES mean that you need to have him checked out by your vet.

If your vet does suspect a heart problem, there are a few diagnostic procedures he will probably take.

The first is to listen for canine heart murmurs in your dogs’ heart rhythm by listening to his heart with a stethoscope. He may also check for signs of fluid retention/swelling, or take chest X-rays.

The next step would be to refer you and your dog to see a veterinarian who specializes in canine cardiac care (certified veterinary cardiologist).

Although the initial exam done by your vet can often detect a problem, the only difinitive diagnosis of canine congestive heart failure is made using ultrasound – to be exact a dopplar echocardiogram is needed.

The earlier this condition can be recognized, the better chances your dog has of spending more time with you.

Even in dogs who show no symptoms of Sub Aortic Stenosis, a dopplar echocardiogram can detect the underlying condition if it’s present.

Because many dogs have no symptoms, and because this is often a congenital condition, ALL breeding dogs should be screened this way early in life, and before they are bred.


Treating Canine Congestive Heart Failure

What sort of treatment your dog receives for his heart problems, partly depends on the specific condition that has caused his heart failure. But there are quite a few options that your veterinarian may suggest.

Often, a dog who is showing signs of canine congestive heart failure will need to spend some time at the veterinary clinic (maybe overnight, maybe for several days) while his condition is monitored and stabilized.

During his stay he may be given diuretics to reduce any fluid build up in his body, and even oxygen to help his breathing.

After that, he will likely be sent home with some medications and a list of instructions.

The medications that he may be prescribed (and remember every case is unique, and every dogs’ needs are different) include..

  • Diuretics to reduce fluid build-up and prevent future fluid retention
  • Vasodilators to dilate veins/arteries and help improve blood flow (Nitroglycerin Paste is often used)
  • Enzyme Inhibitors (aka ACE Inhibitors) to lower blood pressure thereby reducing pressure on the heart muscles
  • Cardiac Glycosides such as Digoxin to regulate heart rate

In addition to taking medications, your dog will probably need to make some ‘lifestyle’ changes, such as lowering levels of exercise and avoiding too much excitement/stress, dietary changes (particularly reducing sodium), and avoiding extremely hot or cold temperatures.


How To Help Your Dog

So, you’re probably wondering what you can do yourself to help your dog if he’s got heart problems. Although professional, and specialized, veterinary care is vital there are things that you can do to help improve his quality of life, and maybe even lengthen it a bit.

The first and most important task is to make sure that your dog does get that essential veterinary care. Once you have a diagnosis, and a treatment regimen in place, it’s up to you to make sure that your dog is a ‘compliant’ patient!

Always follow your vets’ orders very carefully, and ensure that your dog gets his medications on time and in the correct dosage. Also, implement any dietary or lifestyle changes your vet recommends.

Also important, is to give your dog lots of love and attention, and be patient with him. He may need to urinate a lot more than usual (due to the diuretics), and may be tired a lot and even a little ‘grouchy’. Make allowances for him and support him every step of the way.

Educate yourself about his condition as much as you can, ask questions and find out exactly what has caused your dogs’ heart problems, and what the prognosis is.

There are natural supplements (including certain vitamins and minerals) which can help improve and maintain his condition.

These shouldn’t replace mainstream veterinary care or medications, but you can use them alongside normal veterinary procedures- but don’t forget to tell your vet about any alternative, natural, homeopathic or over-the-counter products you’re giving your dog.

Some natural supplements that are often recommended include Omega-3 Fish Oils, the amino acids Taurine and L-Carnitine and certain , and Vitamin/Mineral Supplements

Always let your vet know whatever you decide to give your dog – he may even have some recommendations himself.

When it comes to dogs that are showing only very mild symptoms, or those that are totally healthy (and you want them to stay that way!) you can give them certain herbal/natural products as a preventative measure.

These supplements can help strengthen your dogs cardiac and circulatory systems, and improve their immune function. Here are a couple that are worth checking out Resvantage Canine for Dog and Young At Heart – Heart for Dog Heart Disease

Getting the right veterinary care for a dog who has a serious health condition can be very expensive.

Make sure that you have the necessary financial resources to take care of your pet if the worst happens. Dog health insurance can help you to do this, it can be a (literal) life-saver!



About The Rotty lover 2159 Articles
My name is Dr. Winnie. I earned a Bachelor of Science in Psychology from Duke University, a Masters of Science in Biology from St Georges University, and graduated from the University of Pretoria Veterinary School in South Africa. I have been an animal lover and owners all my life having owned a Rottweiler named Duke, a Pekingese named Athena and now a Bull Mastiff named George, also known as big G! I'm also an amateur equestrian and love working with horses. I'm a full-time Veterinarian in South Africa specializing in internal medicine for large breed dogs. I enjoy spending time with my husband, 2 kids and Big G in my free time. Author and Contribturor at SeniorTailWaggers, A Love of Rottweilers, DogsCatsPets and TheDogsBone