Stages and Symptoms of Feline Heart Failure

Black and white Persian cat

The symptoms of feline heart failure are often difficult to detect in the earliest stages. Being aware of the signs can allow you to get help your you cat at the earliest possible point.

What Is Heart Failure in Cats?

Heart failure is any condition that keeps the heart from pumping the correct amount of blood to the tissues of the body. This can lead to other problems including a build up of fluid in the lungs and abdomen. It is this fluid buildup that actually causes many of the symptoms of heart failure.

There are a number of reasons for heart failure in cats. Among them are:

  • Anemia (can lead to disease of the heart muscle)
  • Arrhythmia or irregular electrical impulses within the heart
  • Birth defects
  • Disease of the heart muscle
  • Disease of the lining around the heart
  • Heartworms
  • Hyperthyroidism (can lead to disease of the heart muscle when not controlled)
  • Weaknesses in heart valves

Some Symptoms of Feline Heart Failure

Symptoms of feline heart failure fall into four categories depending on which stage the condition has reached. Veterinarians categorize the stages with the letters A, B, C and D. The A category is the one with the fewest symptoms while the D category has the worst symptoms.

Stage A

Stage A contains no symptoms for heart disease. It simply indicates which breeds are known for having heart problems. Breeds that are automatically categorized stage A include:

  • American Shorthairs
  • British Shorthairs
  • Maine Coon Cats
  • Persians
  • Ragdolls

Stage B

In stage B, the heart problem has been detected, but the cat is not yet showing symptoms. Sometimes medications like beta blockers are prescribed, but often the animal is just observed carefully for signs of progression.

Stage C

During stage C heart disease, there are obvious symptoms that suggest congestive heart failure in your cat. Some of the things the vet will look for are:

  • Enlargement in the chambers of the heart
  • Weak pumping of the heart
  • Heart murmur

There are medications your vet can use to help your cat feel more comfortable and to treat these early symptoms.

Stage D

Stage D indicates moderate congestive heart failure, and long-term treatment is necessary. Medications are prescribed to reduce fluid retention and inflammation of the veins that are both common in stage D. These medications also treat the normal heart changes brought about by the condition. Signs of stage D include:

  • Coughing
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Enlargement of the liver or spleen
  • Fainting
  • Gagging
  • Lack of energy
  • Lameness or even paralysis in hind legs
  • Loss of appetite
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Open mouth panting
  • Shortness of breath
  • Weight gain from fluid retention
  • Weight loss
  • Wheezing

Long Term Prognosis

Heart problems can shorten the length of a cat's life significantly. Your pet can have a higher quality of life and live longer when the condition is diagnosed early and medications are given. Keep in contact with your vet, and be sure to ask questions so you understand your pet's condition as well as how it will be treated, what to look for and how long your pet is expected to live.

Here are some suggestions for caring for your cat.

  • Try not to miss any scheduled appointments even if you haven't seen a change in your cat's symptoms.
  • Keep your cat as stress free as possible. This is not the time to bring home a new kitten or puppy.
  • Light exercise is important, but talk to your vet about how much exercise is appropriate.
  • Give your cat access to plenty of water.
  • Watch your pet carefully for changes in her symptoms, and notify your vet immediately.

By understanding the symptoms and following your vet's instructions, you can ensure that your cat has the best care available, as well as the best chance for long-term quality of life.

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Stages and Symptoms of Feline Heart Failure