6 Symptoms of Heart Failure in Dogs and Cats

When your pet is nearing the end of her life, you may find yourself wondering whether or not she’s going into a state of heart failure. Although heart failure may not happen to every pet, it becomes more and more likely the older your pet becomes. It’s important to learn how to recognize the signs and symptoms of heart failure in dogs and cats so you can tell when your pet may be experiencing it.

Symptoms of heart failure in dogs and cats

Common Symptoms of Heart Failure in Dogs and Cats to Look Out For

Read through the list below to learn more about heart failure in dogs and cats. With the help of this guide, you can choose when it’s time to call the vet. If you ever have any questions or concerns regarding your pet’s health, you should always contact a veterinarian or emergency vet as soon as possible so you can quickly find the underlying cause of your pet’s behavior.

Below are 6 common symptoms of heart failure in dogs and cats:

Frequent Coughing

Frequent coughing is often the first sign many pet owners notice in their dogs and cats with heart failure. The type of coughing associated with heart failure is usually dry, although some pets may cough up foam with or without blood in it.

The cough will worsen with time as the heart disease progresses. Eventually, pets will cough even when they are at rest, and eating may become more difficult for them because of this symptom too.

Pacing and Restlessness

Dogs are more prone to pacing and restlessness from heart failure than cats, although both may experience this symptom. Pets may pace because they are in pain from their heart failure or because the secondary symptoms associated with heart failure are causing discomfort.

Additionally, pets may become restless when they have heart failure because they know something is wrong. They may not realize how serious their condition is, but they still recognize that they don’t feel well and are unsure what to do about it. This may lead to anxiety, so some pets are given anxiety medication in later stages of heart failure.

Trouble Breathing

As heart failure progresses, pets will have more and more difficulty breathing. You may notice your pet’s sides heaving in and out more when she breathes, or you may hear her wheezing in her sleep or otherwise at rest. She may also pant or breathe with her mouth open more often.

Trouble breathing can be associated with a wide variety of health problems in pets. However, if your pet has already been diagnosed with heart failure and experiences this symptom, the two are likely linked.

Swollen Abdomen

In later stages of heart failure, some pets may experience a swollen stomach. This symptom is due to the buildup of fluid in the body from the weakening of the heart. Although pets may still live for some time with a swollen abdomen, it is a sign that they have entered the last stages of heart failure.

If your pet seems to be in a lot of pain or discomfort from her swollen abdomen, it may be time to talk to the vet about euthanasia. This is never an easy decision to make for any pet owner, and your vet will work with you to choose when the time may be right.

Lethargy and Weakness

Other common symptoms of heart failure in dogs and cats are lethargy and weakness. Lethargy and weakness are both associated with a wide range of health problems in both cats and dogs. However, if your pet becomes weak or lethargic along with other specific symptoms on this list, then heart failure may be the underlying cause.

If your pet is diagnosed with heart failure and you notice her growing more and more lethargic and weak, this is normal. The disease is progressing, and your pet is weakening as a result of it. Do what you can to keep her comfortable and manage her symptoms throughout the rest of her life.

Fainting or Collapsing

Finally, fainting or collapsing may occur along with heart failure in some pets. These symptoms are more common in dogs than cats, but they can happen in cats as well. If your pet suddenly faints or collapses and you know she has heart failure, you may not choose to take her to the vet, depending on the end of life plan you have for her.

If you are unsure what has caused your pet to suddenly collapse or faint, however, take her to the emergency vet immediately. It could be heart failure, but it could be any number of other issues instead.

Bring Your Pet to VEG for All Symptoms of Heart Failure in Dogs and Cats

As you can see, there are many signs of heart failure associated with dogs and cats. If you have a senior pet, or any pet with a known chronic health condition, it’s a good idea to learn these symptoms. This way, you’ll know when something’s going wrong with your pet, and you’ll be ready to go to the vet.

Remember that there is no cure for heart failure. Although some pets may live a long time with early to moderate stages of heart failure, it will eventually advance beyond any treatment or management. Your vet will help you choose when euthanasia may be the best option for your pet.

If you notice your pet exhibiting any of the symptoms of heart failure in dogs and cats mentioned above, you should seek veterinary care as soon as possible. VEG has locations all over the country, with most of them being open 24 hours a day and all of them being open 24 hours on weekends and holidays. All of our hospitals are staffed with compassionate, caring professionals who always put the wellbeing and comfort of your pet first. So don’t wait, make sure your pet gets the care she needs by calling and speaking to one of our emergency vets now.

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Jason Dombrosky
Medical Director, VEG San Ramon

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About VEG

VEG is a network of Emergency Veterinarians located across the country. We are dedicated to helping people and their pets when they need it most. If your pet is ever in an emergency situation, use the link below to find our nearest location so we can get your pet the help they need.