Heart Failure in Dogs
Heart Failure in Dogs

Heart Failure & Your Dog


Well over three million dogs have some form of acquired heart disease and may be in heart failure. Heart failure results when the heart is unable to pump blood at a rate necessary to meet the body’s needs. As the heart tries to work harder, further damage occurs. 
Two forms of heart disease occur in dogs: Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM) and Mitral Valve Insufficiency (MVI).   

In Dilated Cardiomyopathy the muscle of the heart’s wall becomes thin and weak. The result is that the heart muscle cannot contract properly and circulation is impaired. In Mitral Valve Insufficiency the fibers of the heart valve degenerate. The valve can no longer close correctly which impairs blood flow and circulation.

Cardiomyopathy is common in large breeds, like Great Danes, whereas Mitral Valve Disease usually occurs in older small breeds, notably miniature poodles and dachshunds. Signs of heart failure include getting tired easily; coughing, especially when waking up in the morning; difficulty breathing; fainting; weakness; and lack of energy.

FACT: Chest x-rays illustrate the size and shape of the heart and lungs, either of which may be abnormal with heart disease.


Routine diagnostics for heart disease include blood and urine tests, chest x-rays, and an electrocardiograph, which detects electrical disturbances in the heart. An echocardiograph may be recommended which helps pinpoint the specific problem within the heart. An echocardiogram works similarly to an ultrasound machine and allows more in-depth visualization of the heart.

Treatment will vary depending on the specific type of heart disease. Options generally include one or all of the “four Ds” of heart failure therapy: low sodium diet; diuretic medication which reduces fluid buildup in the lungs by stimulating the kidneys to eliminate the excess, vaso-dilators or medication geared to help dilate or enlarge veins which promotes proper blood flow; and Digitalis, another cardiac medication that encourages the heart to beat stronger and more slowly. This helps the heart pump blood more efficiently and more effectively.

Pacemaker surgery is an effective treatment for electrical disturbances in the heart that are unresponsive to medical management. These dogs generally faint, have a slow heart rate, and get tired easily with exercise. The pacemaker is inserted surgically through the jugular vein and placed down into the heart. The wires are attached to a pulse generator which is placed under the skin of the neck. The pacemaker is effective for the lifetime of the dog. Post-operative care is minimal. Because of the location of the pacemaker’s generator in the dog’s neck, a harness as opposed to a collar is necessary for all cases.


Crataegus oxycantha 3x (hawthorne berry) is helpful for heart weakness and heart murmurs: one pellet on the tongue once daily for 30 days. Withhold food 10 minutes before and after treatment. (Use with caution in certain Hypertropic forms of Cardiomyopathy.)

Digitalis purpurea 6x (foxglove) may be helpful when the heartbeat is irregular. One tablet for fainting or episodes of distressed breathing that occurs after exercise. Cactus grandiflorus 6c is recommended when there is poor circulation because of heart valve problems.

As opposed to humans who need treatment for Arteriosclerosis and Hypertension, medications geared to support heart muscle function are most helpful in dogs and cats with heart failure.

1. Omega-3 Fatty Acids (found in Fish oil, Flaxseed oil)

2. Coenzyme Q10

3. Antioxidant Vitamins A, C, E

4. Magnesium

5. Herbs containing Berberine:

         • Coptis

         • Goldenseal

         • Oregon Grape