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Signs of Congestive Heart Failure in Cats

Why Early Detection Can Be the Difference for Your Cat

By Meredith Alling. October 24, 2013 | See Comments

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    PetCareRx Staff Veterinarian

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Congestive heart failure is a condition that is mostly seen in older cats, but can affect felines at every life stage. Detecting the signs of congestive heart failure can increase your cat's survival rate. Learn more here on what to look out for.

Congestive heart failure is a life-threatening condition that can occur in cats at any age, though it is most common in older cats, or cats with preexisting medical conditions. Cats who are suffering from congestive heart failure need immediate veterinary care, so as a pet parent it is important to be aware of the symptoms.

What is Congestive Heart Failure?

Congestive heart failure in cats occurs when their heart is not able to effectively distribute blood throughout the body. Usually when this first occurs, the body is able to pick up the slack, ensuring that tissues are receiving the blood and oxygen that they need.

However, as the heart disease progresses, the body’s systems that are working overtime can become overwhelmed, leading to a backup of fluids. This fluid can end up in almost any part of the cat’s body, but it frequently shows up in the lungs, causing congestion and making it difficult for oxygen to enter the bloodstream.

Causes of Congestive Heart Failure in Cats

Congestive heart failure is typically seen in middle-aged or older cats who have one or more conditions, including (but not limited to):

Symptoms of Congestive Heart Failure in Cats

The symptoms of congestive heart failure usually appear gradually. In some cases it may be easy to miss these symptoms, or attribute them to other problems, so it is important to keep a close eye on your cat. A few things to look out for are:

Diagnosing Congestive Heart Failure in Cats

To diagnose congestive heart failure, your veterinarian will perform a full physical examination, during which they will focus closely on your cat’s heart and chest cavity, as well as their breathing.

Specific testing may also be recommended, including blood and urine tests, chest x-rays, an echocardiogram (heart ultrasound), and an electrocardiogram (which records the heart’s electrical activity). If your veterinarian is not a specialist, they may refer you to a cardiologist to perform this testing.

Treatment for Congestive Heart Failure in Cats

Once congestive heart failure has been diagnosed in your cat, there are a number of ways to treat the condition.

Cats with severe congestive heart failure may need to be hospitalized until blood and oxygen levels return to normal. Depending on the severity of your cat’s condition this could indicate the need for any of a number of procedures, including fluid drainage and oxygen therapy.

In some cases, treatment of an underlying medical condition can fix the problem, and surgery may be an option for cats with a congenital heart condition (one that has been present since birth).

Congestive heart failure can also be treated through changes in your cat’s diet. A low-sodium diet can help to prevent fluid buildup, and there are many cat foods formulated specifically for this purpose. Your veterinarian will be able to provide information on how to improve your cat’s condition through diet.

Medications can also improve your cat’s condition by reducing fluid buildup and improving heart functions. These medications may include:

  • Diuretics, which remove excess fluid
  • Vasodilators or ACE inhibitors, which dilate blood vessels and allow blood to flow with ease
  • Positive Inotropes, which increase heartbeat force, allowing the heart to pump more blood

Commonly prescribed medications include Lasix, Enacard, Vetmedin, and Digoxin, and many cats with congestive heart failure will require medication for the rest of their lives.

Early detection and treatment of congestive heart failure will greatly improve your cat’s chances of survival so contact your veterinarian at the first sign that something is wrong.

More on Heart Health

Nutrition for Dogs and Cats with Heart Disease
Cat Heart Murmur Treatment Options
Causes and Treatments for a Cat Heart Murmur

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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Congestive Health Failure at a glance

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  • 1Congestive heart failure occurs when the heart cannot pump enough blood into the body
  • 2Any cat can suffer congestive heart failure, but it is more common in elderly or sickly cats
  • 3The most common symptoms of CHF include lethargy, weakness, and labored breathing
  • 4Your cat’s congestive heart failure may be treated with medications, diet, or surgery