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Congestive Heart Failure in Cats

Heart failure in cats occurs when their cardiovascular systems are no longer able to sufficiently pump blood throughout the body. Today, our Corpus Christi vets discuss the signs of congestive heart failure in cats as well as potential treatment options. 

Heart Failure in Cats

Heart failure is not a specific disease or diagnosis, but rather a syndrome characterized by severe heart dysfunction and failure of the heart's ability to maintain blood circulation. Heart failure can be caused by a variety of conditions, each with its own set of symptoms.

Types of Heart Failure

There are four functional classifications of heart failure, all of which require special care: 

Pressure Overload 

Pressure overload causes heart failure as a result of long-term increases in stress on the heart wall during contraction. This causes thickening of the wall of the affected ventricle. Obstruction of blood flow from the heart (such as pulmonic or aortic stenosis) or increased blood pressure throughout the body or in the arteries found in the lungs can cause pressure overload.

Volume Overload

Any disease that increases the volume of blood in the ventricle (s), resulting in increased blood flow, causes heart failure due to volume overload. Enlargement of the affected ventricle's chamber can eventually lead to signs of congestive heart failure.

There are several diseases that can cause volume overload, including degenerative valve disease, hyperthyroidism, or anemia. 

Systolic Myocardial Failure

Systolic myocardial failure is characterized by a decrease in the ability of the heart muscle to contract. If the decrease is severe enough, your cat's heart will be unable to maintain normal blood flow. Genetics, trauma, infection, poisons, heatstroke, tumors, or a taurine deficiency in your cat's diet can all cause this type of heart failure.

Systolic myocardial failure can be identified with an echocardiograph.

Impedance to Cardiac Inflow 

This type of heart failure is caused by an obstruction to blood flow into the heart that results in the heart not getting enough blood. 

This can be caused by abnormalities in the physical structures of the heart, a condition known as hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, or external compression of the heart, such as fluid buildup in the sac around the heart causing excessive pressure.

Signs & Symptoms of Congestive Heart Failure in Cats

The symptoms of heart failure depend on what is causing the heart failure and what part of the heart is affected. Some of the more common signs include: 

  • Coughing (although cats with heart failure are less likely to cough than dogs with a similar condition)
  • Increased breathing rate
  • Loss of appetite 
  • Reluctance to play or exercise 
  • Abnormally cold paws and ears 
  • Bloated or swollen abdomen (caused by excess fluid build-up)
  • Sudden collapse 
  • Lethargy

Unfortunately, these symptoms can also be indicative of end-stage congestive heart failure in cats too. Only your vet can make a proper diagnosis though. If it is end-stage congestive heart failure, you might need to have a conversation about when to euthanize your cat.

Treatment for Heart Failure in Cats

The type of treatment recommended for your cat will be determined by the underlying condition. Heart failure treatments may aim to improve muscle performance, control blood pressure, improve blood flow, or reduce the amount of blood filling the heart prior to contraction. Any fluid that has accumulated in the lungs, abdomen, or chest cavity may also need to be drained.

There is a range of drugs available for treating heart failure. The specific drugs, dosage, and frequency used will vary depending on the causes and severity of the heart failure and other factors. Your veterinarian is best able to decide on the appropriate medications for your cat.

In addition to drugs, your vet may recommend lifestyle changes such as changing your cat to a low-sodium diet or supplementing their diet with taurine supplements. Oxygen therapy or surgery may also be suggested by your veterinarian. 

The prognosis and life expectancy for congestive heart failure in cats vary widely based on the type of heart failure and how early it is detected. It is important to take your cat for regular vet visits so any underlying conditions can be detected and treated as early as possible. 

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Has your cat been diagnosed with a heart condition? Contact our Corpus Christi vets today and we'll do what we can to help your four-legged friend.

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