Diet & Heart Failure in Cats

It is commonly accepted knowledge that there is a connection between diet and heart failure in humans. Eating too much food causes obesity. Obesity causes a range of illnesses, many of which put pressure on the heart. Pressure on the heart leads to heart disease, and heart disease leads to heart failure. For that exact reason, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anybody to hear that there’s also a connection between diet and heart failure in cats.

Obesity isn’t the only reason for heart failure in cats, but it by far and away the most likely cause. Specifically, the most common heart disease cats suffer from is hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, and the role of diet in causing and aggravating the condition has been the subject of scientific study. Because of studies such as the one we’ve linked to here, we now know what foods are most likely to bring about heart disease in our pets, and which ones can help. That’s the advice we’ll be relaying to you in this article. As well as your cat’s health, there’s also a legal responsibility placed upon you when you take ownership of an animal. Pet owners in the UK have been successfully prosecuted for allowing their pets to become obese. Quite rightly so, if you ask us! However, you’re a responsible pet owner, and you want your furry friend to be with you for as long as possible. We’re here to help you with that aim.

What Sort Of Diets Cause Heart Failure In Cats?

heart failure in cats

They may look cute, but obese cats are especially prone to heart problems. Image courtesy of Wikipedia

There’s an element of common sense to be used here – you probably know what food is more likely to make you put weight on. You also know that too much food in general causes you to put weight on. Overfeeding your cat will cause obesity no matter what the content of the food is, and obesity is the primary cause of feline heart disease. Maintaining good portion control will assist with avoiding that risk. There are specialist cat feeders that can help you with that. Nevertheless, there are other dietary factors that can cause heart failure in cats, and it’s important that you’re aware of them. Here are the headlines.

  • Lack of taurine is a known factor. Taurine is an amino acid, and cats will get most of theirs from milk or meat. It stabilises cell membranes, and acts as a neurotransmitter. Without enough of it, the heart can dilate, and develop dilated cardiomyopathy. Cats who eat only dry food are more likely to miss out on taurine than cats who regularly eat wet food.
  • Grain free foods certainly do not help. These have become more popular in recent years. Marketing – especially on the internet – has claimed that there are connections between grain in pet foods, and almost every animal illness you could name. In fact, the reverse is true. Grains do not contribute to any known illness in pets. In fact, the grain content of cat foods can contain vital proteins, minerals and vitamins. A deficiency of these ingredients can strain the heart.
  • Homemade and vegetarian diets are more likely to contribute to heart failure than feeding your cat professionally prepared cat foods. The manufacturers of quality cat foods use recipes based on scientific research and years of experience. They know precisely what balances of vitamins, minerals and proteins cats require in order to live a healthy life. Unless you’re a veterinary scientist, you do not possess this knowledge, even if you believe you have your cat’s best interests at heart. Also, cats are not vegetarians. Whilst you are free to make such a choice for yourself, you should never force it upon a cat. That is not to say that cats shouldn’t be fed vegetables at all. Many cats enjoy eating fresh vegetables, and so long as they’re fresh, there’s no issue with feeding them to your cat. Just don’t make it the only thing they eat.

Is Heart Failure In Cats More Likely In Different Breeds?

Yes, it is. Different breeds of cats have different physical characteristics. Some breeds are more muscle dense, for example. Some are genetically more prone to gaining weight. If your cat is a specific breed, as opposed to the common moggie, you should know what to look out for when preparing diets for them. Check out or guide to breed specific cat food, which should help.

What if My Cat Already Suffers From Heart Problems?

Sometimes, it’s impossible to avoid your cat developing health problems, no matter how careful you (and they) are. A cat born to parents with heart issues will likely experience them itself. Sometimes, heart failure in cats occurs simply because of age. Depending upon where you are in the world, heartworms are also a threat to your pet’s cardiac health. So what can you do to help them if heart disease is already present? A good vet will be able to point you in the right direction. In fact, a number of vets have pre-prepared diet advice to combat heart failure in cats that they’ll happily hand out to you if requested. We’ve some that even go so far as recommending specific brands. There is some broad and general advice we’re happy to pass on to you, all the same.

  • Lowering sodium ingestion is good advice. As with many issues related to feline health, the impact of salt on the feline cardiovascular system has been assessed and understood, and too much salt is bad for cats. It’s also bad for humans. You can cut down on it together! Check the label when buying food, and avoid anything with high sodium content.
  • Increasing protein intake helps, too. Cats are very highly dependant on protein. We mentioned earlier that heart failure in cats is more regularly seen in cats who eat dry food-only diets than cats who eat wet food, and there’s good reason for that. There is significantly higher protein content in wet food than there is in dry food. Unless there’s a medical reason for you to withhold wet food from your cat, we strongly recommend including it within their diet. As a guideline, the ideal amount of protein as a percentage of a cat’s diet is 40%.
  • There are a number of supplements that can help. There are now almost as many vitamin and mineral packages around for cats as there are for people. We’ve even done a special feature on it. We’ve already covered the pitfalls of too little taurine in a cat’s diet, and taurine is available in several cat supplements. Other supplements to look out for are those that contain plenty of Omega-3. It’s a fatty acid that’s been shown to effectively combat cardiac cachexia. There’s also cartinine, which supports energy production within the heart muscle, as well as boosting the metabolism.
  • Be aware of the effects of other medications your pet may be on. It’s common for vets to prescribe water pills as a diuretic when heart problems have occurred. However excess water can cause electrolyte deficiencies. When that happens, nutrients aren’t absorbed by your cat in the same manner or volume as they should be. Vitamin B supplements can be used to redress this balance, as can magnesium.

Can Too Many Treats Cause Heart Failure In Cats?

heart failure in cats

You can still give a cat with heart disease the occasion treat. You just have to be a little more selective. Image courtesy of Flickr

There are some schools of thought that say there is no such thing as a healthy amount of treats to give your cat. We’ve also seen it said that a cat with health problems shouldn’t be given treats from the table, or scraps of food when you open the fridge. If your cat is used to getting treats on these occasions, then this can be upsetting for both pet and owner. There isn’t actually any good reason to put yourself or your cat through this. Although some treats are best cut out, there are still plenty of options that are fine to give to a good boy or girl. We’ve broken them down into a helpful list of do’s and don’ts.

Fine to use:

(NB: In all cases, these foods are only fine to use so long as you haven’t added salt to them!)

  • Honey
  • Maple syrup
  • Pasta
  • Plain rice (NOT brown or flavoured)
  • Home cooked meats (chicken, fish, beef, turkey), so long as they’re lean.
  • Cooked eggs (yes, some cats really do eat them)
  • Low-sodium cheese (check the label)

Foods to avoid:

  • All fatty foods. This includes (but is not limited to) milk, cream, ice cream, any other dairy product apart from low sodium cheese, and meat trimmings.
  • Food that has been pickled.
  • Bread (all types).
  • Pizza.
  • Most cat treats on the market. They’re likely to contain ingredients that can aggravate a feline heart condition. That’s why it’s so important you stick to the list above.
  • Processed foods.
  • Condiments – never feed your cat anything that’s been coated in a sauce intended for humans.
  • Bacon
  • Hot dogs
  • Sandwich/deli meats (including corned beef, ham and salami).

Quite a lot has to disappear off the treats menu for a cat with heart disease, but not everything. Give the a little bit of lean chicken when they deserve it, and they probably won’t even notice the difference!

Is There Anything Else To Bear In Mind?

heart failure in cats

Your cat may not love their vet as much as they love you, but the vet always has their best interests at heart! Image courtesy of the US Air Force

Yes! We don’t know how old you are, so this may or may not be news to you. The diet that was good for you when you were 20 is not the same as the diet that’s good for you when you’re 40. Your metabolism slows as you get older. You can eat exactly the same foods, in the exact same quantities, as you did in your younger years, and find yourself gaining weight. That gives you two choices; carry on eating the same amount and do more exercise, or reduce portion sizes. Option one may work for a while, but as we get even older, exercise becomes more and more difficult. Eventually, those portion sizes have to come down!

The exact same has been proven to be true for cats. Research has shown that cats between the ages of 5 and 10 are more at risk of becoming obese than any other age group. This is because their energy requirements decrease, but their owners don’t adjust their portion sizes or help them make lifestyle changes to accommodate this. There are items that you can have around the home, such as cat gyms, which will definitely assist with helping your cat to expel energy and stay in shape. However if you notice your beloved pet is a little ‘heavier around the middle’ than they used to be, it’s definitely time to cut back a little when serving dinner.

In Conclusion…

Ultimately, you should always have your cat weighed during a visit to the vet. Your vet will be able to track changes in your cats weight – you may not notice so much yourself when you see them every day – and will tell you if they believe your cat’s health is at risk. Always follow a vet’s advice.

Not every form of heart disease will automatically lead on to heart failure in cats. We understand that it’s terrifying when to find out that your cat has a heart problem, and it’s understandable that most people automatically think the worst. However the effects of the various types of the illness on the various types of cat can vary dramatically. With early detection, some forms of feline cardiomyopathy are completely non clinical. That means no lifestyle changes for your cat at all! You know your cat better than anyone else does. You know when something’s wrong. Always consult a vet when you’re concerned, and always follow your vet’s advice.

Thank you for stopping by and reading this article on diet and heart failure in cats. We hope you found the information useful. If you did, please feel free to share it among your cat loving friends!

Hi! My name is Jamie Fallon. I run Catmart.net, an online cat health and cat behavior resource. If I’m not sat in front of my PC—and I usually am—then I’m either spending time with my cats or my other half… Whoever jumps on me or asks me for food first!