Feline CHF: Understanding Cat Heart Failure

Cat heart failure occurs when a cat's heart is unable to pump adequate blood to its body. A failing heart may lead to extreme fatigue, excess fluid retention in various body cavities and death. Recognizing feline congestive heart failure (CHF), as well as common feline heart failure symptoms, will help you to protect your cat against this emergency medical condition.

What is CHF?

CHF may strike cats of any gender, age and breed, although it most typically affects older cats or cats with preexisting heart or thyroid gland conditions. A cat suffering from congestive heart failure suffers a dramatically reduced flow of blood to all areas of the body. Without the necessary blood flow, muscles become extraordinarily fatigued. Simultaneously, the cat may suffer an abnormal buildup of fluid in the chest or abdominal cavities and occasionally in the lungs.

Symptoms of CHF

Due to the extreme fatigue and added fluid buildup that often afflicts cats suffering from congestive heart failure, some of the primary symptoms include wheezing or coughing, difficulty breathing, and lethargy. Other common symptoms include:

  • Weight loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Difficulty moving

Symptoms of CHF may develop quickly, and immediate action is necessary to remedy the condition. If your cat displays any combination of these common CHF symptoms, take him to a veterinarian for an immediate examination and electrocardiogram.

Diagnosing CHF

In order to diagnose CHF, your veterinarian will first make a general examination of your cat, focusing on the heart and chest cavity as well as your cat's breathing. Additionally, the veterinarian may take electrocardiogram and echocardiogram tests to measure the functionality and health of your cat's heart. Chest x-rays may be helpful in determining the underlying source of the heart failure.

Treating CHF

In many cases, a cat suffering from congestive heart failure will need to be hospitalized while fluid levels and blood flow are returned to normal. However, congestive heart failure may require a variety of treatment methods, depending upon the severity and underlying causes of the condition.

For extreme fluid buildup in the chest or abdominal cavity, your veterinarian may drain the fluid and relieve internal pressure by inserting a needle into your cat's stomach or chest. Although somewhat painful, this process will help to return your cat's breathing and coughing to normal.

One effect of congestive heart failure is the buildup of sodium in your cat's body. Your veterinarian may prescribe one of several drugs that blocks sodium buildup, in order to help regulate your cat's sodium levels and maintain a chemical balance. Additionally, it is important to limit your cat's sodium intake following a diagnosis of congestive heart failure.

Feline heart failure is a serious medical condition that may be fatal. Treating your cat quickly and correctly will greatly improve his chances of survival, as well as his overall quality of life. Familiarize yourself with the warning signs and effects of feline heart failure, and act promptly if you suspect that your cat may be suffering from CHF.