Health & Care
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What to Know About Congestive Heart Failure in Cats

Let’s learn more about congestive heart failure in cats and find out if your kitty could be at risk for this life-threatening form of heart disease.

Angela Lutz  |  Mar 29th 2019


Few feline ailments sound scarier than congestive heart failure in cats. If your kitty is suffering from congestive heart failure, she will require immediate medical attention to improve her chances of survival. Here’s what you need to know about this life-threatening form of heart disease in cats.

What is Congestive Heart Failure in Cats?

A sick gray senior cat wrapped in blankets.

Could your cat have congestive heart failure? Photography ©gilotyna | iStock / Getty Images Plus.

In general, congestive heart failure in cats occurs when a kitty’s heart isn’t pumping enough blood to her body. At first, your cat’s body will naturally find ways to make up for the lack of adequate blood in order to regulate oxygen levels and keep her tissues healthy.

But as congestive heart failure in cats progresses, these regulatory functions stop working, and your cat’s body will be unable to adequately compensate for the increasingly severe damage to her heart, which may be on the right side, left side or both sides of the organ. When your cat’s body isn’t getting enough blood, fluid frequently backs up into the lungs, causing congestion.

What are the Symptoms of Congestive Heart Failure in Cats?

According to Abby Faerber, DVM, of State Line Animal Hospital in Leawood, Kan., the main symptoms of congestive heart failure in cats may include panting after activity or exercise, general lethargy and lack of appetite, as well as possible paralysis of the hind limbs.

Dr. Faerber adds that some cats with congestive heart failure could be at risk of collapse and sudden death, though this is less common.

What Are the Causes of Congestive Heart Failure in Cats?

Congestive heart failure in cats has many possible causes, but one of the most common is hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a condition that damages the heart muscle and thickens the walls of the heart. Other causes of congestive heart failure in cats may include thyroid disease, high blood pressure, heartworm or genetic factors.

All kitties could potentially develop congestive heart failure, though Maine Coons and Ragdolls may be especially at risk. Congestive heart failure can affect cats of any age, though the ailment is most frequently seen in cats that are middle-aged or older.

“The cause of many heart diseases in cats is unknown, but there is likely a heritable component in most cases,” Dr. Faerber says. “Congenital heart disease in cats is present at birth and can be inherited from the parents. Acquired heart disease can result from injury to the heart structures, infections or other concurrent diseases such as hyperthyroidism.”

How is Congestive Heart Failure in Cats Diagnosed?

According to Dr. Faerber, a veterinarian may suspect congestive heart failure in cats if a physical examination reveals changes to gum tissue color, vein distension, irregular pulses, high blood pressure and/or irregular heart sounds. If abnormalities are found, blood work, radiographs, electrocardiogram and/or echocardiogram are often recommended for diagnosing congestive heart failure in cats. Your vet may also refer your kitty to a cardiologist if they suspect she is suffering from congestive heart failure.

What Are the Treatments for Congestive Heart Failure in Cats?

Treatment of congestive heart failure in cats depends on the severity of the symptoms. If a kitty has trouble breathing and/or low blood pressure, he may need to be hospitalized, and he may require oxygen treatments and/or removal of the fluid surrounding his heart and lungs. Once the fluid has been drained, your kitty should have an easier time breathing, and more normal heart function should resume.

There is usually no cure for congestive heart failure in cats, so most often the goal is to manage symptoms to ensure your kitty has the best possible quality of life. Your vet may recommend diuretics, ACE inhibitors and other prescriptions that your kitty will probably need to take for the rest of her life. If a secondary condition such as a thyroid disorder is contributing to heart disease, appropriate medication may lessen the severity of congestive heart failure in cats.

What is the Prognosis for Congestive Heart Failure in Cats?

The prognosis for congestive heart failure in cats depends on how advanced the disease is, as well as how the cat responds to treatment. According to Dr. Faerber, once hypertrophic cardiomyopathy has progressed to congestive heart failure in cats, the prognosis is bleaker: “Cats with more severe changes to their heart, congestive heart failure or thromboembolism are at a greater risk for complications and sudden death,” Dr. Faerber says.

In general, if a cat receives a timely diagnosis and treatment for congestive heart failure, she may live another six to 18 months, though this timeline could vary based on other factors such as overall health, age and the progression of the disease. Keeping regular veterinary exams, giving your kitty plenty of relaxation and TLC, and adhering strictly to your vet’s diet and medication recommendations can ensure your cat’s remaining time after a congestive heart failure diagnosis is as happy and comfortable as possible.

Thumbnail:  Photography @Gumpanat l Getty Images.

About the author:

Angela Lutz is a writer and editor who has been fascinated by felines since childhood. She has more than a decade of experience writing about everything from health care and books to yoga and spicy food. She has written for Catster since 2012. Angela lives near Kansas City, Mo., with her husband, son and three cats.

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