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Congestive heart failure (CHF) is a condition that occurs when a pet’s heart can no longer pump enough blood, causing fluid to back up into the lungs or the belly. The specific treatment for congestive heart failure depends on the underlying type of heart disease and its severity.

The primary goals of treating congestive heart failure are to reduce the buildup of fluid and to increase the blood being pumped by the heart to the lungs and the rest of the body. These outcomes can help to improve the quality and length of your pet's life. A variety of medications, diets, and nutritional supplements are available to help reach these goals. To learn more about supplements and diets that may be appropriate for a pet with heart disease or congestive heart failure, please visit our Nutrition tab.

Usually once a pet has congestive heart failure, they require life-long medications. Sometimes treatment is started during a short stay in the hospital, and other times your veterinarian will feel comfortable starting treatment at home.

Medications that are commonly used to treat congestive heart failure include diuretics like furosemide and spironolactone, ACE inhibitors like enalapril, benazepril or lisinopril, and a drug called pimobendan. Pimobendan increases the strength of contraction of the heart and has been shown to prolong survival of dogs with congestive heart failure.

These drugs might control difficulty breathing and other signs of heart failure for several months, but eventually the heart disease progresses and adjustments to the medications are required. These adjustments might include higher doses of the drugs that have been already prescribed, or they might include the addition of extra medications.  Some of the extra medications that might be used include torsemide, sildenafil, sacubitril/valsartan, or medications to control irregular heartbeats (arrhythmias).

Learn more about medications used to treat heart disease here.

These dogs have a large amount of fluid build-up in their abdomens (ascites), causing them to have a “pot-bellied” appearance

If your pet has had fluid build-up in their belly in the past, you can monitor for recurrence by checking the size of their waist with a floppy tape measure or by monitoring their body weight. Increasing trends may indicate that a recheck to remove the fluid, or a change in medication, is needed.