Cardiac Arrest in Cats

Alex German
Apr 15, 2010
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Cardiopulmonary Arrest in Cats

Also known as circulatory arrest or cardiopulmonary arrest, cardiac arrest is the cessation of normal blood circulation ceases due to the heart's inability to contract (heart failure). Like many other body systems, the respiratory and cardiovascular systems work in a coordinated fashion. Therefore, if a cat fails to breathe for more than six minutes, it can lead to heart failure and cardiac arrest -- both of which can be fatal. Cardiac arrest can occur in cats of any age, sex, or breed.

Symptoms and Types

Blood circulation may remain intact if the animal resumes breathing within four minutes of the initial problem. However, if it lasts longer than six minutes it can lead to cardiac arrest. Common symptoms associated with this emergency include:

  • Dilated pupils
  • Spontaneous loss of consciousness (syncope)
  • Bluish discoloration of the skin and mucous membranes (cyanosis); a sign that oxygen in the blood is dangerously diminished
  • Heavy breathing (dyspnea) and gasping
  • Hypothermia
  • Lack of response to stimulation


  • Abnormally low levels of oxygen in arterial blood (hypoxemia)
  • Low oxygen supply; possible due to anemia
  • Heart disease (e.g., infections, inflammation, trauma, neoplasia of heart)
  • Metabolic diseases
  • Electrolyte imbalances (e.g., hyperkalemia, hypocalcemia, hypomagnesemia)
  • Abnormally low bodily fluid levels
  • Shock
  • Use of anesthetic drugs
  • Blood poisoning caused by bacterial toxic substances in the blood (toxemia)
  • Brain trauma
  • Electrical shock


Cardiac arrest is an emergency that will require immediate veterinary assistance to assess the animal's condition and the form of treatment. You will need to give a thorough history of your cat’s health to your veterinarian, including the onset and nature of the symptoms and possible incidents that might have precipitated the complications. He or she will then perform a complete physical examination, focusing on the cat's airways, breathing ability, and circulation. Your veterinarian will also constantly monitor your cat's blood pressure and pulse rate.

Routine diagnostic exams used to determine the underlying cause of the cardiac arrest include chest X-rays, complete blood count, biochemistry profile, and urinalysis. Blood samples are collected to determine the level of gases, including oxygen, in the blood. Cats suspected of having an underlying heart disease may undergo echocardiography to evaluate the extent of the problem.

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