Signs and Symptoms of Cat Heart Failure: What to Look Out For

It is important to realize that age is not a disease, however, as our pets age we must be more aware of potential diseases that can arise as our pets get older.  For instance, if you have an older cat, you may find yourself wondering whether heart failure could be a problem. The older a cat gets, the more likely a pet parent needs to worry about their cat developing heart failure, although cat heart disease can occur at any age with certain underlying health conditions.

Cat Heart Failure

Below, you’ll find information about some of the most common symptoms of heart disease and heart failure in cats. These symptoms may be associated with other feline illnesses too, but if you notice several of them at once in your cat, he may be at risk of heart disease. Read on to learn more.

Mild Symptoms of Cat Heart Failure

Symptoms of cat heart failure can fall into mild, moderate or severe categories. It’s important to know the severity of these symptoms so that you can fully understand what’s going on with your pet. If you notice any of the symptoms below, no matter how serious, you should take your cat to the veterinarian right away so that they can get the treatment they need as soon as possible.

Below are examples of mild symptoms of cat heart failure:

Appetite Loss

One of the earliest symptoms of heart disease and heart failure in cats is appetite loss. Cats may lose their appetite from many illnesses, however, so this symptom alone cannot pinpoint heart failure as the underlying cause.

Regardless, if your cat is dealing with appetite loss, this may mean the heart is no longer working the way it should, and your cat needs to see his or her regular vet for a full workup to find out for sure.

Lethargy and Weakness

A cat with a heart that is not working properly may be very weak and lethargic. He or she may not be able to get up and move around or be unwilling to do so because of getting so tired when making the effort. Either way, you likely have a sick cat.

Weight Loss

Weight loss can go along with appetite loss, or it may be a separate symptom. Cats may lose a lot of weight in a short amount of time if they are suffering from heart failure, as their bodies no longer function properly to keep themselves healthy.

Poor Growth in Younger Cats

Although congenital heart disease and heart failure in young cats is very uncommon, it isn’t impossible. If you have a young cat or kitten who has poor growth or stunted growth, there is a chance your cat is suffering from heart failure or has a congenital heart disease.

Moderate Symptoms of Heart Failure in Cats

These next symptoms fall in the moderate category, so they’re seen as more serious that the mild symptoms. That being said, similar to mild symptoms, if you notice these behaviors in your cat, especially if they’re coupled with other symptoms mentioned here, you should take them to get veterinary care.

3 moderate symptoms of cat heart failure are:

Difficulty Breathing

Difficulty breathing occurs when cats’ hearts are not pumping the right way anymore. The longer the cat goes on with heart failure, especially without a management solution from the vet, the more likely your cat will be to develop difficulty breathing as a symptom. Cats with trouble breathing may wheeze or may have visible movement of their sides when trying to breathe at rest.

Rapid Breathing and Elevated Heart Rate

Rapid breathing goes along with strained or difficulty breathing and has very similar root causes. Elevated heart rate is another symptom related to these two breathing issues, and it is caused by a diseased heart that cannot pump correctly.


Coughing is a common symptom associated with heart disease in cats, just like it is in dogs and even in humans. As a cat’s heart disease worsens and reaches the stages of heart failure, you may notice a chronic cough that seems to get worse with activity.

Severe Symptoms of Cat Heart Failure

Now that we’ve discussed the mild and moderate symptoms of heart failure in cats, it’s crucial to understand the severe symptoms of this condition. If any of these situations happen with your cat, you should take them to the emergency vet instead of waiting for a general veterinarian to open.

Severe symptoms of cat heart failure include:


A cat with severe heart disease may suffer from collapse at any point. A sudden collapse of a cat with heart failure usually means the cat does not have much longer to live; however, there is still a chance that the cat’s condition can be managed with a trip to the emergency vet.

If possible, tell the emergency vet as much as you know about the situation that led to the cat’s sudden collapse, as this information could make a difference in the way in which your cat is treated.

Saddle Thrombus

Saddle thrombus is a very serious acute condition that can occur in any cat at any time, but is much more common cats who have heart failure. This condition is caused by blood clots that travel to the lower portion of the cat’s body and cause sudden paralysis in the hind legs. The symptoms can mimic a stroke, but are caused by a blood clot lodged in the lower body instead of in the brain.

Cats who have this condition are in a lot of pain and are not likely to survive, but they should be taken to the emergency vet as soon as possible for the best chance at recovering.

Keep an Eye Out for Symptoms of Cat Heart Failure

As you can see, there are several symptoms that are commonly associated with heart failure in cats. By learning how to recognize these symptoms and notice when your cat is no longer quite as healthy as he once was, you have a better chance of catching heart disease before it worsens.

If your vet diagnoses your cat with heart disease or heart failure, you can work with the vet to determine the right management for your pet moving forward. Management options will depend on a variety of factors specific to your cat’s needs.

When it comes to cat heart failure, time is of the essence when seeking veterinary care. The sooner your cat gets diagnosed and receives the care they need, the more likely they are to recover as best as possible. Contact a veterinarian or emergency vet if you notice any of the signs mentioned here. For additional questions about your pet’s health, book an appointment at any one of our Heart + Paw locations today.

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Heart + Paw was founded in 2018 by Chief Veterinary Officer Dr. George Melillo, who currently serves the Mid-Atlantic area. Heart + Paw offers a combination of veterinary care, pet grooming, and dog daycare to help be a resource in your pet parenthood journey.

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