The Meaning of “Failure” When the Vet Says “Heart Failure”


The vet says your dog has heart failure, and you assume it means death is imminent. After all, if the heart “fails,” death ensues.

Don’t panic. The term heart failure, short for congestive heart failure, means the heart is failing gradually, not that it has stopped working altogether.

A normal canine (or human) heart pumps blood to all the body’s tissues. But if the heart is losing strength, blood goes in the wrong direction, causing fluid buildup. If it’s right-sided congestive heart failure, the fluid buildup occurs in the abdomen, adversely affecting all the organs there. If it’s left-sided, the fluid buildup happens in the lungs. That’s called pulmonary edema.

None of this is good, of course. It makes it difficult to breathe properly, and a dog will eventually succumb. But treatment protocols for congestive heart failure in dogs have greatly improved, and a pet diagnosed with this condition can live relatively comfortably for months to years.


  1. I rescued a puppy mill Yorkie and she is a joy, but unfortunately she has severe allergies and a collapsing trachea. My vet prescribed hydrocodone twice a day for her trachea cough, which is very harsh and loud. He also discovered she had fluid in her lungs and prescribed a diuretic for that issue. She nibbles and licks her paws constantly and they are a dark burgundy colour. She was caged for 8 years and bred until she could no longer produce puppies. She is now 11 years old and I want desperately to help her feel better and I know her remaining life span is quite short. Is there a medication that could address these two problems – her allergies and the collapsing trachea? She is the sweetest little girl and I want her remaining time to be as comfortable as possible. I am 75 and on a fixed income so the cost of medications can be a problem. Thanks so much for reading my reply.


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