7 Risk Factors for Congestive Heart Failure in Dogs How To Know if Your Dog is at Risk

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Congestive heart failure is a an extremely dangerous diagnosis and if left untreated, it can be fatal. Learn what the risk factors are here.

Congestive heart failure (CHF) is a very serious condition that means your dog’s heart cannot circulate an adequate blood supply, and thus oxygen, to the body. Congestive heart failure in dogs is a complicated ailment that requires medical care and lifestyle changes. Understanding these seven risk factors for CHF can help you take proactive measures or prepare for a heart disease diagnosis.

1. Size

Large dogs are at risk for dilated cardiomyopathy, which is the leading cause of heart failure in large dog breeds. Dilated cardiomyopathy means the chambers of the heart have expanded and thus the heart’s walls have thinned. This results in the heart losing its ability to contract forcefully, reducing circulation. Golden Retrievers, Wolfhounds, Labradors, and Dobermans are some examples of breeds commonly affected by CHF.

2. Breed

Although all small breeds are susceptible to the degenerative valve disease that can lead to heart failure, certain small breeds like the Chihuahua, Shih Tzu, Boston Terrier, and Toy Poodle are more commonly affected. Of all the small breeds, the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel has the highest risk of mitral valve degeneration (MVD). Likewise, the Boxer breed is prone to genetic heart conditions, sometimes called Boxer cardiomyopathy, and muscle deterioration that can lead to heart failure. If you know that your breed of dog is at a higher risk for heart failure, you and your vet can take proactive action and plan regular health screenings.

3. Age

The incidence of heart disease increases dramatically in dogs after the age of 16.

4. Heartworms

Heartworms can cause CHF if left untreated for long periods of time. Adult heartworms can clog the heart and its major blood vessels, as well as interfere with the valve action of the heart. Treatment for heartworms is intensive and costly, so a prevention plan to head off the risk is highly recommended for dogs.

5. Heart Murmurs

A heart murmur, which can be detected by your vet during a routine physical, means a valve is letting blood leak back into a chamber. Although some soft heart murmurs never cause problems, they do tend to worsen with time, which can lead to heart failure. Your vet will monitor the murmur, and will be able to advise you on whether medications can help.

6. Diet

Obesity, nutritional deficiencies, and a diet of high-salt foods all increase a dog’s risk of developing heart complications. Obesity means that the heart has to work harder to pump blood throughout the body, whereas regular exercise may help genetic conditions progress more slowly. A deficiency of essential nutrients such as taurine, an amino acid, can lead to an enlarged heart. If your dog is at risk for heart disease because of hereditary conditions, you may want to consider a preventative dietary treatment plan.

7. Periodontal disease

Infections of the gums and teeth have been linked to bacterial infections of the heart and heart disease. There has also been a strong correlation made between gum disease and inflammation of the heart valves. Your vet may recommend a dental cleaning plan for your dog as a preventative measure.

Most forms of heart disease have treatments, not cures. But being engaged in your dog’s wellness—through diet, exercise, and regular health screenings—can help with crucial early detection. Popular CHF medications like Vetmedin is often recommended to improve life expectancy. Take a proactive approach to your dog’s heart health, just as you would for your own heart.

More on Dog Health

Nutrition for Cats and Dogs with Heart Disease
High Blood Pressure in Dogs & What it Means for Your Pet
How a Healthy Dog Weight Can Prevent Disease

This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by, your veterinarian with respect to your pet. It has, however, been verified by a licensed veterinarian for accuracy.

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