Heart failure in Maine Coon cats

6 August 2022

Acute heart failure in cats is a clinical syndrome characterized by a malfunction of the heart, a sharp decrease in cardiac output, and a drop in blood pressure. Most often leads to pulmonary edema, rapid deterioration of the patient’s condition. In the absence of treatment, the animal dies.

Often owners confuse this syndrome with human diseases and call it a heart attack or a heart attack. However, the difference in the physiology of humans and cats is very significant, so heart failure in cats is most often the result of other causes than in humans. In humane medicine, a heart attack is understood as a wide range of pathological conditions arising from various diseases of the heart and blood vessels. However, this is most often referred to as angina pectoris – a painful sensation in the chest, manifested in acute circulatory disorders in the myocardium.

It is important to understand that myocardial infarction (acute coronary circulatory disorder and subsequent necrosis of the heart muscle), angina pectoris, as a result of the manifestation of a heart attack are all concepts taken from human practice. Infarcts are described in animals, but they are not an independent disease (they are always secondary to the main pathology), they are most often diagnosed during a pathoanatomic autopsy and do not lead to persistent pain syndrome. They are also not the cause of decompensation of cardiac activity, the development of congestive heart failure.

heart attack in a cat
Thus, it is better to replace the phrase “heart attack” in a cat with “acute heart failure”.

Sudden lightning death of a cat is also possible.


Typical symptoms:

  • shortness of breath;
  • shortness of breath, suffocation;
  • wheezing;
  • weakness, lethargy;
  • weak pulse;
  • pale mucous membranes;
  • the appearance of pink foam from the mouth.

For cats, unlike dogs, breathing with an open mouth is not typical, even in the heat or during physical exertion, it is important to remember. Cats are sprinters, they are adapted to high, but very short-term loads, unlike dogs, adapted to long endurance loads. If the cat breathes with its mouth open even after minor loads, this is an excuse to take it to a cardiologist for a full examination. If this is accompanied by other symptoms – weakness, lethargy, discoloration of the mucous membranes (turn pale, turn blue, turn purple), it is necessary to urgently take her to the clinic in the intensive care unit.


Acute heart failure in cats can cause:

  • cardiomyopathy (hypertrophic, restrictive, dilated);
  • congenital/acquired heart disease;
  • heart tumor;
  • tamponade of the heart;
  • dirofilariasis (extremely rare);
  • various systemic disorders (trauma, poisoning, generalized infection, etc.).

Approximately 85-90% of cats with acute heart failure are diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy of cats. There is a breed predisposition to this pathology – in Britons, Scots, Meinkuns, sphinxes, Norwegian forest and their mestizos, however, it occurs in cats of all breeds and mongrel pets. Therefore, it is recommended for any cat to be examined by a cardiologist before anesthesia.

Differential diagnoses

Similar symptoms can cause:

  • pneumonia;
  • pneumothorax;
  • pulmonary embolism;
  • noncardiogenic pleural effusion (e.g. idiopathic chylothorax);
  • diaphragmatic hernia;
  • chest tumor;
  • coagulopathy (DIC syndrome).


At the reception, the doctor assesses the patient’s condition (pulse quality, heart rate, the presence of wheezing in the lungs, the color of the mucous membranes). To clarify the diagnosis, an X-ray of the chest is taken. Next, the animal is placed in the intensive care unit, where a complex of resuscitation measures is carried out.

Mandatory laboratory diagnostics includes general clinical and biochemical blood tests.

A complete cardiological examination is carried out only after the patient is stabilized, and necessarily includes an echocardiography of the heart.


Therapy is aimed at resolving pulmonary edema, restoring cardiac output, heart rhythm, and stabilizing all vital signs. Oxygen therapy is widely used, if necessary, artificial ventilation of the lungs. If a cat is diagnosed with pleural effusion, thoracocentesis, removal of fluid from the chest, is performed.

Medical support includes diuretics, drugs that improve the contractile function of the heart, vasodilators.

The prognosis depends on the degree of pathology of the heart and how timely treatment was started.

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