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What is Congestive Heart Failure?

Congestive heart failure in cats is a life-threatening condition that requires immediate medical treatment. Early detection may significantly increase the chance of survival. If a cat is displaying possible symptoms, a prompt veterinary consultation is warranted.

Congestive heart failure (CHF) is a condition that occurs when insufficient blood is circulated throughout the body, causing fluid to back up into the lungs. Failure can occur in either the right or left side of the heart, or in both sides. It is commonly caused by a thickening of the heart walls, also known as hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.

Congestive Heart Failure Average Cost

From 474 quotes ranging from $200 - $3,000

Average Cost

$1,800

Symptoms of Congestive Heart Failure in Cats

Symptoms may develop slowly, making them easy to miss unless owners are vigilant. Affected cats may display one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Rapid breathing
  • Weakness/lethargy
  • Increased heart rate
  • Decreased appetite
  • Hind limb paralysis
  • Unusual lung sounds
  • Pale or blue-tinted mucous membranes
  • Heart murmur
  • Enlarged liver
  • Abdominal distension 
  • Collapse
  • Sudden death
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Causes of Congestive Heart Failure in Cats

Congestive heart failure can affect cats of any age, breed, or gender. It occurs more often in cats that are middle-aged or older. There is also evidence that the Maine Coon breed may have a genetic predisposition. Common causes of CHF include:

  • Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy 
  • Thyroid disorder
  • High blood pressure
  • Pericardial effusion (fluid surrounding the heart)
  • Anemia
  • Abnormal heart rhythm
  • Heart defects
  • Narrowing of aortic artery
  • Heartworm disease
  • Tumors
  • Pregnancy
  • Birth defects 
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Diagnosis of Congestive Heart Failure in Cats

The treating veterinarian will review the cat's full medical history. Owners should be prepared to discuss details regarding the onset and severity of symptoms and share any theories regarding any other possible causes. Since the condition is sometimes hereditary, any information that can be provided regarding the cat’s family line will also be helpful. 

A physical exam will be performed and standard lab tests will be ordered. These include a complete blood count (CBC), thyroid test, electrolyte panel, biochemical panel, urinalysis and heartworm test. Cats may also be tested for feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) and feline leukemia (FeLV). Using a stethoscope, the vet will be able to note sounds of congestion which would indicate the presence of fluid in the lungs. Blood pressure will be measured and visual diagnosis may be made using chest X-rays, electrocardiogram (ECG) and/or echocardiogram.

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Treatment of Congestive Heart Failure in Cats

Congestive heart failure caused by hyperthyroidism may be reversed once the thyroid condition has been successfully treated. In other cases, the treatment plan will be based on the severity of symptoms and the underlying cause of the condition:

Hospitalization

If symptoms are severe, particularly if the cat is having difficulty breathing or has extremely low blood pressure, hospitalization may be required. Oxygen therapy may be administered when there is fluid surrounding the heart or lungs, and the fluid may need to be drained. This will help to ease pressure on the heart, makes breathing easier. When fluid build-up has been removed, the heart is able to pump blood more efficiently. If fluid is present in the chest or abdomen, it may be removed using a technique called tapping.

Surgical Treatment

Surgery may be recommended to treat cases of congestive heart failure that are caused by a birth defect or a congenital or acquired heart valve disease. This treatment option is often expensive and requires a surgical specialist. 

Symptom Management

In most cases, congestive heart failure it is not curable. Prescription medications can be used to control symptoms and improve the overall quality of life. Diuretics help to reduce fluid build-up, and vasodilators or ACE inhibitors ease the flow of blood through the body by dilating the blood vessels. Positive inotropes cause the heart to beat more forcefully, which increases the amount of blood that is pumped through the body. Prescription medications will likely need to be used for the remainder of the cat’s life.

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Recovery of Congestive Heart Failure in Cats

Cats that have been diagnosed with congestive heart failure will need frequent follow-up visits. During the appointments, it is likely that blood tests, radiographs, and echocardiograms will be performed in order to monitor the cat's heart health. It is important to attend all follow-up appointments as medication may need to be adjusted periodically.

A low-sodium diet that is balanced and highly nutritious will likely be recommended. There are many commercially-available cat foods that meet this requirement. Diet is very important to successful recovery, and no changes should be made without first checking with the veterinarian. 

In some cases, the vet will recommend a moderate exercise plan intended to strengthen the heart while keeping blood pressure at a controlled rate. If the vet has not specifically recommended exercise then the cat should be kept calm and activity should be limited. When cats are unwilling to comply, owners may need to take preventative measures. Periodic cage rest may be necessary and it may be helpful to set up barriers to limit space available for running and jumping.

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Congestive Heart Failure Average Cost

From 474 quotes ranging from $200 - $3,000

Average Cost

$1,800

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Congestive Heart Failure Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Need pet health advice? Ask a vet

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Ask a Vet

dog-name-icon

Kulio

dog-breed-icon

Cheetoh

dog-age-icon

8 Years

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Serious severity

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Chf, Not Eating

My cat was having trouble breathing and wasn’t moving much. I took him into the Vet and he was diagnosed with CHF and they removed 200 ml of pink fluid from his chest by tapping and gave him oxygen. He was sent home later that day, with several meds, including a diuretic and heart meds. The thing is he ate a little when he got home but since then he does not touch his food. He drinks water and urinates but no food and no poop. It’s been two days now and I’m worried about the no food. I just brought him to a new vet and they said either to take him to a 24-Hour facility and put him on IV fluids or to give him an appetite stimulant. We opted for the second one and are waiting to start with that. I read an article that sometimes it takes cats 2-5 days to eat post CHF and draining procedures. Is this accurate? Also it’s so hard to give him meds using this whole syringe thing. He struggles and strain so like crazy and also he hates hospitals. So am trying not to put him in if I don’t have to because he really doesn’t do well with all that. Please let me know any guidance or thoughts. Thank you.

Aug. 25, 2018

Kulio's Owner

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3320 Recommendations

Each cat is different, however some loss of appetite may occur and some cats do not regain their appetite at all and require force feeding; in these cases supportive care and management of the heart failure is needed to improve heart function and to remove fluid. There is nothing I can recommend without examining Kulio first. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

Aug. 26, 2018

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Rufus

dog-breed-icon

short hair

dog-age-icon

4 Months

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Serious severity

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Lethargy
Blue Gums And Tongue
Heavy Breathing With Open Mouth
Wide Open Eyes
High Grade Heart Murmur
Slooshing In Chest

My 4 month old kitten went into cardiac distress. I took him to emergency vereinary care, he said that the kitten likely wouldn’t have made it through the night so he didn’t feel like testing would be of any help. He suggested euthanization. I even said I was willing to surrender to surrender the kitten just so he could get the care that he needs...did I do the wrong thing by euthanizing him? Do you think he said all of this because he knew I was short on money? He wanted a $220 deposit before starting.

Aug. 17, 2018

Rufus' Owner


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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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1611 Recommendations

I don't think that the emergency veterinarian suggested euthanasia for Rufus because of funds - we don't recommend that option unless we think that the chance of recovery is very poor. From your description, Rufus was probably going into heart failure and would not have survived, and this option was kinder. I am sorry for your loss.

Aug. 17, 2018

Do you think it might have helped if I sought treatment sooner? The vet said that if they are born with it, it’s hard to gage a survival rate...I just want to know for peace of mind that I did the right thing and that there were no other options I could have taken sooner

Aug. 17, 2018

Rufus's Owner

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Spencer

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Tuxedo

dog-age-icon

11 Years

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Critical severity

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pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Critical severity

Has Symptoms

Paralysis
Paralysis Belly Distension

Hello...we fesperately love our cat spencer but we are also very poor so far this week my kind vet has only charged 400 ...but im afraid after two doctors 4 prescriptions and an xray we havent done all we could medication wise...the first doctor was way off thinking he had respiratory infection...he didnt improve ...after two more days his back legs went out...new (head ) vet diagnosed thrombosis from a clot and possible heart failure...but after xray he said his heart looked good and he found a fused disc in his lower spine...he gave me steroids in hopes that it was not thrombosis nut a slipped disc...first day he improved...could walk but with a severe swaying limp...but today hes obviously declining again...so i think its heart failure/clot after all...my big worry is that his belly is very distended...and he has diarreah...ihe vet did not run blood tests ... Am worried the vet should have given him diaretics to ease the pressure and given blood tests...i have follow up tuesday should i bring him in sooner...what other meds can be given for heart/thrombosis to make him more comfortable and aviod premature death? Thank you - jennifer

Aug. 13, 2018

Spencer's Owner

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3320 Recommendations

These cases are difficult because without certain tests (blood tests and possibly echocardiogram) it is difficult to make a specific diagnosis; treatment would depend on the underlying cause and if the abdomen is filling with fluid it may be an indicator of heart failure and diuretics may be indicated, but if it is heart failure other medication would also need to be prescribed to manage the condition. Without examining Spencer I cannot say what the specific cause is, but if you’re having financial difficulty you should try to reach out to a charity for assistance. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM www.dogingtonpost.com/need-help-with-vet-bills-or-pet-food-there-are-resources-available/

Aug. 13, 2018

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Bosco

dog-breed-icon

American Shorthair

dog-age-icon

16 Years

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Serious severity

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pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Noisy Breathing
Fluid In Abdomen
Weakness
Restless
Difficulty Passing Stool
Chf
Difficulty Drinking
Liposarcoma,
Difficulty Purring

My 16 yo cat has CHF following surgery for abdominal liposarcoma. The cancer came right back. She also has a mass in one lung, and has had surgery for breast cancer in the past. The lung mass has rapidly grown after a relatively long period of observation. The liposarcoma made it’s appearance quickly and she started having edema shortly thereafter. She is now on lasix twice a day. She can’t hardly take a few sips of water without getting strangled. She eats in very small amounts. Seems as if she may have lost some of her sense of smell. She goes to her litter box or to her water bowl and back to her cubby hole to hide. I’ve simplified it for her. Until the last two days she has not wanted anything to do with me. Ive raised her from a bottle. I attributed this to her hating the fact that I have been giving her her meds. Now she’s wanting to be held and rubbed, she’s accustomed to alot of attention from me, but if she starts to purr she can’t stop due to the fluid in her airway. So now, she leans in for a rub and by the second stroke when she starts to purr she pulls away, turns her back. We’re planning to euthanize today. And it’s killing me. And I can’t comfort her in the one way I know that we both need. Is there anything else I can do to make her more comfortable in these last hours? Positions that could make her more comfortable? Should I try elevating one end of her bed and see if she will try it, since she has such difficulty getting comfortable? Is there anything? Am I making the right choice? I know both cancers are aggressive and have chosen to not pursue chemo due to the distance of travel, and the fact she is a high anxiety cat, and the research on these two types of cancers. Not to mention the lung. Now with the fluid she has no quality of life.

July 27, 2018

Bosco's Owner

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3320 Recommendations

Based on your description, it sounds like you’re making the right decision; it is never easy saying goodbye to a loved one and it is made more difficult with the short snuggle time you have left. There is no specific position, it is just a case of letting Bosco find her own comfortable place; she has a lot going on and trying to position her or try one way over another would only add unnecessary stress for the both of you and I’m sure you don’t want your last 24 hours to be just a fight to position her for mild improvement in breathing. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

July 28, 2018

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Kuzya

dog-breed-icon

tabby

dog-age-icon

8 Years

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Serious severity

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pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Shallow Rapid Breathing
Weight Loss
Loss Of Appetite
Minimal Energy

Just yesterday, I had to euthanize my cat because he had CHF. It was a genetic cause for his disease sadly, and the veterinarian had said that at the stage of CHF, surgery couldn't fix it or help him. Only either euthanization or spending thousands of dollars on medications that would only partially lessen his symptoms, and lengthen his life for six months. After researching this disease, and finding out that surgery was an option, I was wondering if surgery could have actually cured his CHF. Also, with genetic CHF, are there certain things that could have triggered the disease in him? Perhaps sudden lack of excersize? Or something that could have really stressed him out?

July 26, 2018

Kuzya's Owner

answer-icon

Dr. Michele K. DVM

recommendation-ribbon

1611 Recommendations

I am very sorry about Kuyza, that is very difficult. There really aren't any surgical options for CHF. If he had a genetic condition that affected hi as a kitten, there may have been a surgery available at that time, before the damage to his heart was done, but once he was in heart failure, the only options for him would have been medications, multiple times a day, and that would have only prolonged his life for a while. You most likely made the best decision for him, as hard as it was.

July 26, 2018

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Smush

dog-breed-icon

tabby

dog-age-icon

2 Years

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Moderate severity

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Fluid In Lungs
Short Of Breath
Wheezing
Chf

My baby girl Smush got diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy and chf about two months ago. Since then we’ve had an emergency visit, at that time they prescribed her pimobendan which seems to be working very well for her. She still has wheezing every now and then and I guess what I’m wondering is if it’s normal to show symptoms even though the cat is improving and responding well to the medication.

dog-name-icon

Tabby

dog-breed-icon

tabby

dog-age-icon

22 Years

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Serious severity

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Lethargy
Loss Of Appetite
Fast Heart Rate
Fast Heart Beat
Fast Heart

We've been blessed to have our Tabby with us so long. A week ago we thought she was on her way out. She stopped eating and quit moving. Just slept all the time. We took her into the vet who diagnosed her with CHF and prescribed furosemide. She totally jumped back to her old self eating drinking and walking around. I'm wondering how long she can be on this medication with continued good results?

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Mouse

dog-breed-icon

Grey long haired

dog-age-icon

13 Years

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Serious severity

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Rapid Breathing And More Sleep

Started breathing rapid Wednesday night. Still eating and normal urinary and bowel body functions. Her sleeping has increased. Took her to em vet. Thursday night. Did X-ray, showed CHF. She is on oxygen and getting fluid out of lungs. Said she will be on heart med. Vet called this morning(Friday) , said she is alert but still has rapid respiratory rate. Keeping her on oxygen till breathing rate goes down. I’m sick to my stomach over this! Does it sound like everything is being done for her that can be done? Waiting for next report at 8p from vet.

dog-name-icon

Toby

dog-breed-icon

None

dog-age-icon

10 Years

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Critical severity

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Critical severity

Has Symptoms

Breathing Fast
Excess Thirst
Stomach Swollen

My cat has been drinking excessively for about two weeks. Eating very well and going to the toilet as normal. In the past 10 days or so breathing has been more rapid and stomach slightly distended. In the vet today they aspirated some fluid in the abdomen and he is on a drip to help expel the rest of the excess fluid. I am picking him up tomorrow. I have been told it is heart failure but nowhere can I find the correlation between that and the excessive drinking. I am so worried he won’t live long

dog-name-icon

Max

dog-breed-icon

Burmese

dog-age-icon

14 Years

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Moderate severity

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Decreased Appetite
Tachypnea
Decreased Activity
Dyspnea

My sweet Max (Burmese,13.5 y/o neutered male) has been diagnosed with restrictive cardiomyopathy and a leaky mitral valve. He's being treated by an amazing cardiologist at University of Pennsylvania Ryan Veterinary Hospital named Eva Larouche-Lebel. He was diagnosed in July 2019, following two ER visits and two hospitalizations. We started out at a non-teaching/academic hospital due to needing to be seen ASAP, but quickly transferred his care to Penn Vet. He has been doing well, but we had a minor set back a few days ago, which required an increase in his diuretics. Fortunately, we noticed his labored breathing before things got worse and were able to avoid another hospitalization. This as well as all other symptoms from before have resolved with his meds and a change to a "heart healthy" diet that is low in sodium. Max takes Furosemide, Pimobendan, Clopidogrel, Benazepril, and Spironolactone. If you are anywhere near Philadelphia, I HIGHLY recommend Dr. Larouche-Lebel and her team!

Congestive Heart Failure Average Cost

From 474 quotes ranging from $200 - $3,000

Average Cost

$1,800

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