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4 Common Causes of Heart Failure in Cats

Understanding the Underlying Causes of Heart Failure

By Meredith Alling. December 06, 2013 | See Comments

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Heart failure is a very serious condition that should be diagnosed as quickly as possible. Survival is possible with treatment and early detection. Learn what the most common causes of heart failure in cats are.

Cats suffer from heart failure when the heart is unable to adequately distribute blood throughout the body. When this occurs, other body systems go into overdrive and they can become easily overwhelmed, leading to a backup of fluids, most often in the lungs. This condition can be life-threatening. Here are the 4 most common causes of heart failure in cats.

1. Cardiomyopathy

Cardiomyopathy is the most commonly diagnosed heart disease in cats. The disease is brought about by structural abnormalities which lead to dysfunction.

There are three types of cardiomyopathy — hypertrophic, restrictive, and dilated.

  • Hypertrophic is by far the most common and is characterized by a thickening of the heart’s muscle tissue. This thickening causes dysfunction as the heart becomes enlarged and fluid pressure builds. Blood clots can also occur, and can lead to sudden paralysis or lameness.
  • The second type of cardiomyopathy is restrictive. This condition is caused by the buildup of scar tissue which makes it difficult for the heart to relax, fill with blood, and empty with each beat.
  • Dilated cardiomyopathy is somewhat rare in cats. With this condition, the heart walls become thin and slack, which results in a decreased flow of blood from the heart.

All cats are susceptible to cardiomyopathy, but it is most often seen in middle-aged or older cats, and Maine Coons and Ragdolls seem to be particularly at risk. Common symptoms of cardiomyopathy include lethargy, loss of appetite, and trouble breathing.

2. Hyperthyroidism

Hyperthyroidism is the most common glandular disorder seen in cats. It occurs when the cat’s thyroid produces too much of the T3 or T4 hormone. The elevated hormone levels in the blood stream can be toxic and lead to heart disease. Cats with heart disease and hyperthyroidism are usually treated for both, and in most cases, the heart disease reverses after the hyperthyroidism is treated.

Hyperthyroidism most commonly occurs in older cats 8-13 years or older, and the symptoms include weight loss, increased appetite, increased activity, a matted coat, increased drinking and urination, diarrhea, and vomiting.

3. Feline Aortic Thromboembolism (Blood Clots)

Also known as Saddle Thrombus, Feline Aortic Thromboembolism — or FATE — is a painful condition caused by a blood clot in the heart that travels through the aorta artery and settles at its base, which is referred to as the saddle. This clot (or thrombus) becomes a blockage that cuts off the blood supply to one or both of the cat’s legs, and can result in circulatory shock and/or heart failure.

The symptoms of FATE include extreme pain, hardened leg muscles, bluish foot pads, and rapid breathing, either due to pain or heart failure.

4. Congenital Heart Disease

Congenital heart disease is the result of a heart defect that has been present since birth. The two most common types of defects are valve malformation and a hole in the wall that divides the right and left sides of the heart. Both types of defects cause blood to flow abnormally, and this can result in a murmur and in more serious cases, heart failure.

Most cats do not show any symptoms of heart disease until the condition has progressed. When they do appear, symptoms may include loss of appetite, weight loss, lethargy, rapid breathing, sudden collapse, stunted growth (in kittens), and paralysis of the hind legs.

Prevention and Treatment of Heart Failure in Cats

Since heart failure typically occurs after a disease has progressed, the best way to prevent it is with regular visits to the veterinarian during which conditions can be identified before they become severe.

Cats who do have heart failure are generally treated with medications that improve heart function and reduce fluid buildup. A low-sodium diet can also prevent the buildup of fluids. Cats with certain types of congenital heart defects may also be eligible for surgery.

The prognosis for heart failure can vary, but early detection and treatment offer your cat the best chance for survival.

More on Heart Health

Nutrition for Cats And Dogs With Heart Disease
3 Dangers Of An Englarged Heart In Cats
How To Treat Heart Disease In Pets

This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by, your veterinarian with respect to your pet. It has, however, been verified by a licensed veterinarian for accuracy.

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Heart Failure at a glance

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  • 1Heart failure occurs when the heart cannot adequately distribute blood throughout the body
  • 2The 4 most common causes include cardiomyopathy, hyperthyroidism, blood clots, and congenital heart disease
  • 3Visit your veterinarian once a year to catch any problems before they progress to heart failure
  • 4Heart failure is most often treated with changes to diet and medication