Medically Reviewed by Taylor Froiland, PharmD, RPh
Written by Adam McCown, PharmD
Congestive heart failure in cats is a cardiovascular condition that can affect animals of any age, although it is mostly seen in older felines. It is a broad term that refers to a condition in which your cat’s heart cannot deliver sufficient blood to its body. Congestive heart failure can result from a failure of the left side, the right side, or by both sides of the heart.
Whether we’re talking about ourselves, our dogs, or our cats, the heart is essentially a pump made of muscle. Day in, day out it pumps endlessly to ensure a continuous supply of oxygenated blood and nutrients reach your cells and tissues in order to keep them alive and functioning correctly. It also is responsible for bringing the blood back through the body in order to drop off carbon dioxide and refill on oxygen and nutrients.
What Is Congestive Heart Failure in Cats?
Your heart and the wider cardiovascular system are an intricate series of interconnected mechanisms designed to supply your entire body with everything it needs to survive. It is constantly changing and adapting to meet the varying conditions and demands of your cat’s other organ systems.
For example, the heart will slow down when your cat is sleeping as they are not exerting much energy and their cells don’t need as much sustenance. If they are running, on the other hand, the heart will work harder to meet those demands.
We all already know this, because our hearts do exactly the same thing. When the cardiovascular system becomes unable or less able to meet the ever shifting demands of your cat’s body, then the heart and its support mechanisms begin to fail and results in what we call congestive heart failure.
More specifically, congestive heart failure in cats and other animals is brought about when the heart stops working at peak efficiency. In order to mitigate the situation and ensure all your cat’s cells are adequately supplied, their body will attempt to compensate for the lack of efficiency or productivity. As the failure becomes worse, the body’s mitigation methods become overwhelmed. The heart is unable to pump blood adequately throughout the body, and so fluid backs up.
This backup creates pressure that manifests itself in the vessels of the lungs. The result is a leakage and accumulation of fluid in the lungs themselves, as well as outside of the lungs in the chest cavity. The fluid makes it difficult for your cat to breathe properly and reduces the amount of oxygen that is able to enter their bloodstream.
Causes of Feline Congestive Heart Failure
There are a number of conditions that can cause congestive heart failure in cats and other animals. One of the most common culprits is a condition in which the muscle walls of the heart thicken, making them unable to effectively fill with adequate amounts of blood to pump through the body. This then leads to the fluid backup that characterizes congestive heart failure.
In many cases, treatment of congestive heart failure involves treating the underlying condition causing it. Surgery is sometimes an option for animals with a congenital heart defect. Your vet will most likely also recommend changes to your cat’s diet aimed at preventing fluid buildup—in fact there are some cat foods designed exactly for this purpose.
Congestive Heart Failure Treatment
Medications can also help eliminate or slow the buildup of fluid in your cat’s body. Pimobendan for cats is used to combat congestive heart failure by helping their heart work more efficiently. It does this by widening the blood vessels leading to and from the organ, making it easier for it to pump blood throughout the body.
Although considered “off label” for its use with cats, pimobendan is thought to be safe and effective when used under the direction of a veterinarian. With that said, your cat may experience some mild side effects like decreased appetite, diarrhea, difficulty breathing, and lethargy.
If any of these persist or become severe, contact your vet as soon as possible and they will inform you what to do next. If your cat is diagnosed with congestive heart failure and the vet prescribes pimobendan to treat it, remember that you can fulfill all your cat’s medication needs conveniently online at Express Vet Pharmacy. Express Vet Pharmacy offers pimobendan in compounded options so you can choose from dozens of flavors and suspensions to give your pet. Giving them a pill can be hard so having an oral pimobendan liquid provides an easy way to get your cat healthy again, without the struggle.