Congestive Heart Failure In Cats

Congestive heart failure is a chronic condition in which a weakened heart does not pump enough blood to maintain normal body functions. The body fluids tend to “back-up” behind the heart, either in the lungs or in the abdomen. Signs seen by the owner are a result of these conditions.

Symptoms Of Congestive Heart Failure:

Signs include:

  • Shortness of breath, tiring on exercise.
  • Deep, dry coughing.
  • Weight loss.
  • Enlarged abdomen and/or swollen, puffy legs.
  • Cyanosis-blue discoloration of the tongue and lips.
  • Fainting spells.

Congestive heart failure can result from disease affecting the heart valves or heart muscles, birth defects, infections, heartworm disease, or just “old” age.

Diagnosis Of Congestive Heart Failure:

In order to diagnose congestive heart failure, your cat's veterinarian will need to do a thorough physical exam.

Additional diagnostic tests, such radiographs (x-rays) and/or ultrasound studies of your cat's chest may be necessary to confirm the diagnosis.

Routine blood tests may be necessary to rule out conditions like heartworm infection and to insure that the medications selected for treatment are safe for your cat.

An electrocardiogram (EKG) may be necessary to rule out arrhythmias (irregular heart beat rhythms).

Treatment Of Congestive Heart Failure:

Although congestive heart failure cannot be cured, many patients can live a comfortable life with proper medical management.

There are a number of different medications which are commonly used to treat congestive heart failure. Which medications are appropriate for your cat will depend on your cat's examination findings and individual circumstances.

Your cat's veterinarian may advise medications aimed at

  • helping the heart to pump more efficiently, such as digoxin,
  • and/or medications to help control some of the symptoms associated with congestive heart failure, such as furosemide, a diruretic which helps relieve the "back-up" of fluid within the lungs. Spironolactone is another diuretic which may be used in addition to or in place of furosemide.

Other medications frequently used are

  • angiotension converting enzyme inhibitors, such as enalapril or benazepril, which help the heart pump more effectively against the pressure in the veins and arteries and help to prevent sodium (salt) retention.

Severe cases may require hospitalization and oxygen supplementation through the use of an oxygen mask or cage.

Thoracocentesis (a technique which allows the removal of fluid from the chest)  may be necessary if there is pleural effusion (fluid in the chest cavity) which is causing respiratory difficulty.

Special diets which are low in sodium (salt) are frequently recommended for the cat suffering from congestive heart failure also. These diets can help to control fluid retention.

**Note: As time goes on, your cat will begin to show more severe signs as the heart continues to degenerate. It is impossible to estimate the life expectancy. The major concern is making your cat as comfortable as possible so that his/her quality of life is maintained.

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