Congestive Heart Failure (CHF) in Cats

Overview of Heart Failure in Cats

Heart failure is a condition, caused by an abnormality in the structure or the function of the heart, in which it is unable to pump normal quantities of blood to the tissues of the body. The heart is a pump, and when it fails, it often leads to fluid retention in the lung and the body cavities leading to congestive heart failure. Congestive heart failure is commonly abbreviated and referred to as “CHF”.

Below is an overview about Congestive Heart Failure in Cats followed by In-depth detailed information about the diagnosis and treatment of this condition.

There are many causes of heart failure in cats, including:

Cats of any age and any breed can develop heart failure. The most common cause of congestive heart failure in cats is heart muscle disease (cardiomyopathy), though anemia and uncontrolled hyperthyroidism can also lead to this problem.

Heart failure affects your cat by reducing the amount of blood that is pumped to the muscles, leading to fatigue. In addition, most cases of heart failure are associated with accumulation of fluid (edema) in the lungs, the chest cavity (pleural effusion), or the abdominal cavity (ascites). This fluid accumulation can lead to shortness of breath and other problems such as coughing and difficult breathing.

Some of the symptoms of heart failure, and the progression of heart failure, are related to increased activity of the nervous system and to increased concentrations of circulating hormones (and related chemicals).

What to Watch For

Diagnosis of Congestive Heart Failure in Cats

Your veterinarian may suspect CHF after examining your pet, but he will probably run several diagnostic tests to confirm the diagnosis and underlying cause. Tests may include:

Treatment of Congestive Heart Failure in Cats

Treatment for congestive heart failure will vary depending on the underlying cause. This may include one or more of the following:

Home Care

At home, administer all veterinary prescribed medications on a regular basis. Be aware of your cat’s general activity, exercise capacity and interest in the family activities. Keep a record of his appetite and ability to breathe comfortably (or not), and note the presence of any symptoms such as coughing or severe tiring.

Do not stop medication or change the dosage without checking with your veterinarian. Most medications are for the life of your cat. And never withhold water, even if your pet urinates more than normal, unless specifically instructed to do so.

Difficult breathing is usually an emergency. See your veterinarian immediately.

Preventive Care

In general, heart failure cannot be prevented, although early diagnosis of the underlying cause can provide an improved quality of life. Once diagnosed, you should prevent excessive physical activity or excitement, avoid high heat/humidity and avoid high salt (sodium) foods or treats.

In-depth Information on Congestive Heart Failure in Cats

Congestive heart failure leads to inadequate blood flow to the tissues of the body, resulting in depression and fatigue. Accumulation of fluid often impairs breathing. When the fluid accumulates in the lungs (pulmonary edema) or around the lungs (pleural effusion), the condition can become life threatening. Though dramatic, the symptoms of congestive heart failure are not specific for only that condition. As there are dozens of reasons for coughing, difficult breathing and fatigue; therefore, your veterinarian must formulate a diagnostic plan to make a correct diagnosis.

The conditions most often confused with heart failure are diseases of the airways, the lung and the chest cavity (pleural space) including:

Veterinary care should include diagnostic tests and subsequent treatment recommendations.

Diagnosis In-depth

Diagnostic tests are needed to properly diagnose congestive heart failure. Tests may include:

Your veterinarian may recommend additional diagnostic tests to insure optimal medical care. These are selected on a case-by-case basis. Examples may include:

Treatment In-depth

The principles of therapy for congestive heart failure include improving heart function, preventing fluid accumulation, preventing further deterioration of the heart muscle and antagonizing chemicals and hormones produced in excessive quantities in heart failure. Rarely is it possible to treat the heart disease. The most important cause of heart failure in cats is cardiomyopathy (heart muscle disease). Definitive treatment usually requires heart transplantation (not done currently). Heart failure caused by fluid accumulation in the sac around the heart (pericardial effusion) is not treated by drugs but instead requires drainage of the fluid or removal of a portion of the pericardial membrane. Congenital heart defects should be referred to a specialist for management.

Follow-up Care for Cats with Congestive Heart Failure

Optimal treatment for the pet with congestive heart failure requires a combination of home and professional veterinary care. Follow-up can be critical. Administer prescribed medication(s) as directed and be certain to alert your veterinarian if you are experiencing problems treating your cat. Optimal follow-up veterinary care for heart failure often involves the following: