Heart Disease In Cats – What You Need to Know
15 December, 2016
heart disease

Heart disease in cats or congestive heart failure is when the cat’s heart is unable to deliver enough blood to the body and fluid backs up into a cat’s lungs. There are many causes of congestive heart failure in cats.  It usually results from a condition that causes the walls of the heart to thicken, but it can also be brought on by thyroid disease, high blood pressure, or birth defects, among other possibilities.

What is congestive heart failure?

Congestive heart failure is a broad term that means that a cat’s heart can’t deliver enough blood to his or her body. It can be caused by a failure of the left side, right side, or both sides of the heart.

When the heart starts to fail in its ability to pump adequate amounts of blood, the body can usually compensate to ensure that tissues receive the blood and oxygen they need. As the heart disease increases in severity, the heart is then unable to pump enough blood to the body so that the fluid backs up, most often into the lungs. This causes congestion of the lung tissue –– hence the term congestive heart failure.

What would cause congestive heart failure in cats?

Hyperthyroidism, high blood pressure, heart valve deficiencies or blockages, defects in the heart walls, fluid in the sac surrounding the heart, blood clots within the heart, heart rhythm abnormalities, heartworm disease, tumors, and/or anemia.

Congestive heart failure can occur at any age, in any breed, and in cats of any gender, but it happens most often in middle-aged to older cats.

What are some of the symptoms of heart disease?

In the early stages of congestive heart failure, some cats might not show any symptoms.  As the disease progresses, some of the symptoms can include:  difficult or rapid breathing, blue or gray gums or tongue, loss of appetite, weakness, tired, sudden collapsing, paralysis in the back limbs, and sudden death.

How is heart disease diagnose?

Congestive heart failure is usually diagnosed based on symptoms and physical examination findings, in which fluid in the lungs causes them to sound congested when your veterinarian listens with a stethoscope. To definitively diagnose the condition and determine its cause, veterinarians will usually recommend a number of tests, such as:

  • Blood and urine tests, including CBC, biochemical panel, thyroid hormone test, heartworm test, FeLV/FIV test, and urinalysis
  • Chest (X-rays)to assess the heart, blood vessels, and lungs
  • An electrocardiogram (ECG)
  • An echocardiogram (an ultrasound exam to evaluate heart structure and function)
  • Blood pressure measurement

All cat breeds may be affected by congestive heart failure, but Maine Coon cats may be genetically predisposed to certain types of congestive heart failure.

Treatment for congestive heart failure

In some cases, such as congestive heart failure that is caused by hyperthyroidism, treatment of the underlying condition may resolve some or all of the heart problems. If the problem is caused by a congenital condition (a heart defect that the cat has had since birth), surgical repair may be an option. In most cases, however, the problem cannot be cured. However, treatment can almost always help improve cats’ quality and length of life.

Cats with severe congestive heart failure may require initial hospitalization and oxygen therapy. If fluid surrounds the lungs  or is found in the sac surrounding the heart, it may need to be removed to improve breathing and help the heart pump more efficiently.

There are plenty of medications veterinarians recommend to help reduce fluid buildup, improve heart function, and/or normalize heart rhythms. A low-sodium diet may also be recommended to help prevent fluid accumulation.

Let’s hope your cat doesn’t ever develop any type of heart disease, but it is always better to be prepared.

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