Heart Disease in Pets

I’m sure you’ve heard of a friend or family pet who passed away from heart disease. But just what is congestive heart failure, and how do dogs and cats suffer from this debilitating state? What signs or symptoms should you look out for, and what treatments are available? In the following article, we will discuss congestive heart failure in dogs and cats and the potential signs of this disease, of which you should be aware.

To understand Heart Disease, it’s helpful to use an analogy. We can think of the heart as a pump similar to a pool’s motor. However, instead of circulating water to remove leaves from the pool, the heart pumps blood to circulate around our bodies. That blood fuels our cells with the oxygen needed to carry out each cell’s individual function. Without this oxygen, animal cells cease to perform the functions essential for life.

When pets go into congestive heart failure, a disease or defect in the heart prevents it from meeting the body’s circulatory demands. As a result, the blood which should be traveling forward throughout the body backs up into the organs from which the blood flowed immediately before moving back to the heart. These organs are the lungs and liver; the last place blood travels before returning to the heart for another cycle around the body. The result is congestion and a failure to meet the body’s oxygen demands.

There are many causes of congestive heart failure, and it’s best to think of this more as a “state of being” than the disease which causes it. Pets can go in and out of congestive heart failure many times as medications are initiated, dosages are changed, or a disease state progresses. There is always an underlying disease state which causes this condition. The most common cause of heart failure is valvular disease or an age-related defect in the valves that separate the heart’s chambers.

When pets go into congestive heart failure, you may notice the two most common signs are lethargy and coughing. Dogs that normally go for a walk may seem tired part of the way through and may lay down on the grass instead of continuing their walk.

When you take your pet to the veterinarian, they may detect an abnormal sound of blood flowing through the heart, called a murmur. X-Rays will likely be suggested to help your vet visualize changes to the size and shape of the heart, as well as the fluid which is backing up into the organs. Bloodwork may also help show organ function, helping to evaluate the safety and type of medication prescribed. Fortunately, there are medications that can get dogs and cats out of congestive heart failure for some time. While these medications do not correct the underlying abnormality, they improve the heart’s ability to function by increasing its ability to contract and remove excess fluid from the body. Many times, these medications can greatly improve your pet’s symptoms.

Pet Heart Disease Veterinarian

If you suspect your dog or cat has heart disease, we recommend scheduling an appointment with a doctor at our Veterinary Hospital for a consultation. A thorough history will be taken along with a complete physical examination during your appointment. Heart disease sounds scary, but a little information and a few non-invasive tests can result in a dramatic improvement in the management of this condition.


Jeffrey Stupine, V.M.D.

Medical Director

World of Animals Hospitals