When to Euthanize a Dog With Heart Failure

Our dogs are our family and we never want them to experience pain or discomfort, but at the same time, letting go can be equally difficult.

No matter how hard it is to say goodbye, you must always put your dog’s quality of life first. Heart failure can affect dogs in many different ways and in varying degrees of severity. So, when is the right time to euthanize a dog with heart failure?

What is heart failure in dogs?

Heart failure is the term given when the heart is no longer performing effectively. This means the heart is not pumping the required amount of blood for the dog’s other organs to function normally.

As the condition progresses, blood will start to accumulate in other areas of the body such as the stomach or the lungs. This puts the dog at high risk of hemorrhage and other serious complications.

What are the end stages of congestive heart failure in dogs?

Symptoms of congestive heart failure include:

  • Weakness during physical exertion, especially where the dog may previously have been fit and active
  • Gum changing from pink to greyish-blue, suggesting poor blood circulation
  • Fainting or collapse
  • Increased heart rate and blood pressure
  • Weight loss
  • Abdominal swelling caused by a build-up of blood in the stomach
  • Chronic cough, more frequent during the night or after getting up from a lying or sitting position
  • Obvious discomfort in the chest
  • Breathing difficulties

When should I put a dog down with congestive heart failure?

If your dog is suffering chronic symptoms of heart failure and their quality of life is low, then it may be time to euthanize your dog. Choosing the right time to put a dog down can be overwhelming, but your veterinarian can guide you through the process.

How long can dogs live with congestive heart failure?

The average life expectancy of a dog with CHF is about a year. However, if a dog responds well to treatment and you do not see any deterioration in their condition after a few months of therapy, the prognosis is much better.

How can I make my dog comfortable with congestive heart failure?

Your vet may recommend that you place your dog on a commercial or prescription low-salt diet. This will let him eat and drink all he wants, but it will provide lower levels of sodium and fluid in his body and help decrease the fluid build-up associated with CHF.

Limited activity or exercise: You can make sure your dog is getting enough exercise while limiting the stress on his heart by walking him for short distances and only on nonstrenuous surfaces like grass; this will allow him to get plenty of movement without putting too much strain on his body. You should also monitor his breathing closely during any physical activity and stop if you feel he’s getting too winded or tired.

What should dogs with heart failure eat?

Feeding your dog a prescription diet for heart failure can improve quality of life and extend it.

Dogs with heart failure should eat a diet that combines controlled levels of sodium, phosphorus, potassium and calories to help reduce fluid retention and relieve symptoms. These diets can be very effective in slowing down the progression of heart disease. Some balanced diets include Royal Canin® Veterinary Diet Canine Cardiac, Rayne Clinical Nutrition™ Restrict-CKD™, or Hill’s® Prescription Diet® h/d®.

The primary objective of feeding a dog with heart failure is to minimize the amount of sodium and water retained in the body. This minimizes the stress on the failing heart by reducing fluid overload that will require more work from the heart to pump blood throughout the body. The goal is to maintain a good quality of life for your dog by controlling her symptoms and prolonging her life.

The diet should be designed based on your dog’s weight and other nutritional needs, as well as her stage of heart failure. A veterinarian should assess your dog’s condition to determine the type of diet that will provide her with optimal nutrition while helping relieve her symptoms. Your veterinarian may recommend adding fiber to help slow down digestion and prevent rapid stomach emptying, which helps to control bloat. Fiber also helps control diarrhea caused by other medications used to treat heart disease.

What is the most common cause of canine heart disease?

There are many conditions of the body that may bring about heart failure, some more common than you might think. This is why there are so many possible symptoms that a dog with heart failure may experience.

Heartworm

Treating heartworm is vital to prevent your dog from developing heart failure. Heartworm is a disease spread by mosquitoes. They carry heartworm larvae which are transmitted to the dog when the mosquito bites. The larvae migrate through the dog’s body towards the heart, where they continue to grow. Heartworms can reach lengths up to 12 inches, quickly overwhelming the heart and blocking the blood vessels. Left untreated, heartworm is fatal.

Dilated Cardiomyopathy

This condition causes the walls of the left ventricle in the heart to weaken over time. The left ventricle is the chamber with the thickest walls as it pumps blood out of the heart and around the body. Due to this weakness, the heart cannot pump blood effectively.

Endocarditis

This is an infection of the heart valve caused by bacteria in the bloodstream. The bacteria may come from an infection, abscess or skin wound in another part of the body. Large breeds and older dogs are more susceptible to this condition, particularly Rottweilers, German Shepherds, Labradors and Golden Retrievers. It is also more commonly seen in males.

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Hannah Elizabeth is an English animal behavior author, having written for several online publications. With a degree in Animal Behaviour and over a decade of practical animal husbandry experience, Hannah's articles cover everything from pet care to wildlife conservation. When she isn't creating content for blog posts, Hannah enjoys long walks with her Rottweiler cross Senna, reading fantasy novels and breeding aquarium shrimp.

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