Heart Failure in Cats

Heart failure in cats happens when their cardiovascular systems are no longer able to adequately pump blood throughout their bodies. Today, our Boulder vets discuss the signs of heart failure in cats and potential treatment options. 

Heart Failure in Cats

Heart failure is not a specific disease or diagnosis but rather a term used to explain a syndrome in which severe heart dysfunction results in failure of the heart's ability to maintain blood circulation. There are different conditions that can cause heart failure and different symptoms that may present with each.

Types of Heart Failure

There are four functional classifications of heart failure: 

Systolic Myocardial Failure

Systolic myocardial failure is a reduction in the heart muscle's ability to contract. If the reduction is significant enough, your cat's heart will not be able to maintain normal blood flow. This type of heart failure can be caused by numerous factors including genetics, trauma, infection, poisons, heatstroke, tumors, or a taurine deficiency in your cat's diet. 

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 called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, or external compression of the heart, for example from fluid building up in the sac around the heart and creating too much pressure.

Pressure Overload 

Heart failure caused by pressure overload occurs as a result of long-term increases in stress to the heart wall during contraction which leads to the wall of the ventricle that is affected thickening.  Pressure overload can be caused by an 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. 

Volume Overload

Heart failure from volume overload happens as a result of any disease that increases the volume of blood in the ventricle (s), thus increasing blood flow. Eventually, this can bring on signs of congestive heart failure through the enlargement of the affected ventricle's chamber. 

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

Symptoms of 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 

Treatment of Heart Failure in Cats

The type of treatment recommended for your cat will depend on their specific underlying condition. Various treatments for heart failure may aim to improve muscle performance, control blood pressure, improve blood flow, or reduce the amount of blood filling the heart before contraction. It may also be necessary to drain any fluid that has built up in the lungs, abdomen, or chest cavity. 

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 of heart failure in cats varies 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 Rocky Mountain Veterinary Cardiology today to learn how your primary vet can refer your feline friend to be seen by our board-certified cardiologists.