If your cat is suffering from heart disease it means that their heart is not functioning as it should which can lead to other more serious heart-related issues. Here, our Orange pet cardiologists discuss heart disease in cats as well as the signs, causes and treatment options available through veterinary cardiology.
Heart Disease in Cats: What is it?
Heart disease is the term used to cover any and all conditions which affect the overall function of the heart. Along with generally suffering from heart disease, cats can also suffer from one or more types of heart disease simultaneously.
There are four chambers in the heart. The upper chambers are the left atrium and right atrium, and the lower chambers are the right ventricle and left ventricle. Oxygenated blood makes its way from the lungs to the left side of the heart, which pumps it through the body to be delivered to tissues and cells.
When your cat is affected by heart disease, they will experience the effect of abnormal blood flow throughout their body. While valvular heart diseases can cause the blood to flow in the wrong direction, heart disease of the muscles can keep the muscles from contracting as required.
The Different Types of Heart Disease
Adult-onset cardiomyopathy is caused by the enlargement or thickening of the heart, and it is the most common type of heart disease in cats.
This type of heart disease can be either congenital or acquired.
- Congenital heart disease is present at birth and can be inherited.
- Acquired heart disease is also known as adult-onset heart disease and happens to middle-aged or older cats due to wear and tear on the heart. It can also occur as a result of infection or injury.
In some cases, cats develop adult-onset heart disease as a secondary problem, with the primary issue originating in another area of the body such as the thyroid gland.
Common Signs of Heart Disease in Cats
Early onset of heart disease can be difficult to identify in cats. Most cats do not display any clinical symptoms until the disease has progressed, at which point you may notice your cat become lethargic and withdrawn.
Not every cat will develop all of these symptoms, and many cats will display more than one.
- Sudden paralysis in hind legs
- Poor appetite
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- Weight loss
- Increased respiratory rate and effort
- Inactivity or lethargy
- Regularly elevated heart rate
- Difficulty with or discontinuing exercise
Diagnosing Heart Disease in Cats
While arrhythmias and heart murmurs can point to an issue with your cat's heart, they do not tell us exactly what the problem is.
If you have noticed any of the symptoms listed above in your pet, get in touch with our team at Vet4HealthyPet to book an appointment for an exam. Primary vets can refer you and your pet (whether cat or dog) to our board-certified veterinary cardiologist, who specializes in diagnosing and treating cardiovascular disease in small animals.
To determine the specific type of heart disease and plan treatment options, we may run several tests, including:
- Chest radiographs
- Blood pressure
- Blood chemistries and Complete Blood Count (CBC)
An echocardiogram (heart ultrasound) will help us obtain a definitive diagnosis.
Treatment Options For Heart Disease in Cats
Unfortunately, there is no cure for hypertrophic cardiomyopathy in cats, and damage caused to the structure of the heart muscle is irreversible. However, in some cases where heart disease is secondary to a treatable condition, such as hyperthyroidism, the symptoms can be alleviated once the primary condition is addressed.
Your pet cardiologist may prescribe different types of medication to help reduce the risk of congestive heart failure in cats. These medications can help to relax the heart muscle, slow down the heart rate and decrease the workload of the heart. Diuretics are usually prescribed to reduce fluid overload.
In addition to medication, other types of treatment may be recommended by your vet, including a low-sodium diet, oxygen therapy, taurine supplementation, or surgical procedures to remove excess fluid buildup from the chest cavity or abdomen.
Prognosis For Cats With Heart Disease
Cats with structural heart disease will likely develop recurrent signs of congestive heart failure over time and require lifelong medication. In general, the average survival time after a cat has been diagnosed with congestive heart failure is 6 to 12 months.
Cats that have been diagnosed with congestive heart failure will need frequent veterinary follow-up visits and additional tests may be performed to monitor the cat's heart health.
Potential Complications of Cat Heart Disease
While some cats with mild heart disease are able to live a stable, normal life, others can develop complications as a result of moderate or severe disease of the heart. It is challenging and sometimes impossible to predict which cats will develop complications and which will not. The most common complications include:
Congestive Heart Failure
When the heart is unable to properly pump blood through the veins they may fill up which can lead to a life-threatening condition referred to as congestive heart failure (CHF). Fluid will leak from the veins into other areas of the body. In cats, this excess fluid is often discovered in the lungs or chest cavity.
Radiographs can be used to diagnose CHF and treatment will involve medications to reduce the amount of fluid in the body. Fluid is sometimes drawn from the chest with a needle and syringe. Your cat should see our veterinary cardiologist as soon as possible if CHF is suspected.
Occasionally the heart can suffer from disease which can result in a decrease of blood flow and an increase in clots. These clots can become lodged in essential arteries, such as those that reach the legs, lungs, intestines or kidneys, or the heart itself.
A clot can also become lodged at the end of the aorta (the main blood vessel extending from the heart), which will cause an obstruction of blood flow to the rear legs. This can lead to paralysis, a severely painful condition and a veterinary emergency that requires immediate attention.
While a thrombus is difficult to treat, some cats can recover. That said, other clots are then likely to develop. Cats with more severe heart disease are more susceptible to developing clots, though all forms of cardiomyopathy can cause these. An echocardiogram can help to determine whether your cat's heart disease is severe enough to lead to clots.
Blood pressure is measured in cats using a pediatric blood pressure cuff and a Doppler monitor. Also known as high blood pressure, hypertension in cats can lead to neurological damage, kidney damage, blindness and/or worsening heart disease if left untreated. Hypertension is most often seen with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM).
Veterinary Cardiology at Vet4HealthyPet
While your family veterinarian can diagnose and treat many problems well, heart disease and other conditions require specialized care and diagnostics to optimize the outcome for your pet.
The vet cardiologists at our progressive dog and cat cardiology department believe heart disease is treatable. We offer advanced medical, interventional and surgical care for cats and dogs with this disease, and are trained to diagnose and treat cardiovascular disease in pets.
Our vet cardiologists are here to help create a customized plan for your pet and ensure they get the care they need so they can live a long, happy life.
Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.