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Heart Failure in Cats: Signs & Symptoms

Heart failure is a condition that occurs when the heart is unable to pump properly impacting the flow of blood throughout the body. Today, our Springfield vets talk about the types of heart failure in cats, the signs and symptoms to watch for, and what the expected outcome may be.

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 fails in the heart's ability to maintain blood circulation. Different conditions can cause heart failure and different symptoms may present with each.

What are the types of heart failure experienced by cats?

When a cat experiences heart failure it will be classified as one of four different types. These types are:

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. 

Your vet or veterinary specialist will use an echocardiograph to help diagnose this type of heart failure.

Impedance to Cardiac Inflow 

If your cat experiences a blockage that reduces the flow of blood into the heart it will be diagnosed with impedance to cardiac inflow.

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. 

Several diseases can cause volume overload, including degenerative valve disease, hyperthyroidism, or anemia. 

Signs & Symptoms of Heart Failure in Cats

While the exact signs and symptoms of heart failure in cats will vary depending on which side of the heart the issue occurs on, there are a few common signs to watch for, including:

  • 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 & Prognosis

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 are many different medications that can be used to treat and manage heart failure in cats. 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. 

Veterinary Cardiology in The Regional Veterinary Referral Center

Although your family veterinarian can diagnose and treat many problems very well, there are some conditions that require specialized diagnostics and care in order to optimize the outcome for your pet.

At The Regional Veterinary Referral Center, our board-certified cardiologists are trained in the diagnosis and treatment of cardiovascular (heart and blood vessels) disease in pets.

The tools in our cardiology department help us to diagnose and treat disorders such as congestive heart failure, hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, dilated cardiomyopathy, degenerative valve disease, systemic hypertension, arrhythmias, congenital heart disease, and cardiac tumors.

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 The Regional Veterinary Referral Center today to learn how your primary vet can refer your feline friend to be seen by our board-certified cardiologists.

New Patients & Referrals Welcome

The Regional Veterinary Referral Center is accepting new patients in emergency situations or by referral! Our experienced specialists are passionate about the health of Springfield pets. Contact us today to learn more.

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