What Are The Symptoms Of Heart Disease In Cats?

symptoms of heart disease in cats
A cat having a check-up at a small animal vet clinic

As a pet parent you may be asking about symptoms of heart disease in cats. It’s believed around one in ten felines develop heart problems, though many cases go undetected for years. In this post you’ll discover everything you need to know about heart disease in cats, including diagnosis and treatments. You’ll also find out what causes heart disease, and which breeds of cat are more prone to it.

What type of heart disease do cats get?

Cardiomyopathy is the most common type of heart disease found in cats. It’s very similar to that found in humans, though much less common. It develops when heart muscle becomes thicker, reducing the volume of blood inside the heart. In addition, the heart muscle is unable to relax as well as it should.

It’s worth noting, there are several types of cardiomyopathy that affect the heart muscle in different ways. Dilated causes the muscle to become thinner, with an enlarged heart. Whereas restrictive cardiomyopathy develops as a result of a build up of scar tissue on the ventricle wall. Diluted cardiomyopathy is much less common, and caused by a taurine deficiency.

Is heart disease inherited?

Heart disease in cats is often inherited, and more common in certain breeds. This is something to bear in mind when choosing which breed of cat to get. If you’ve got your heart set on a maine coon, or ragdoll, you should know that these beautiful large breeds are prone to cardiomyopathy.

Don’t let this put you off adopting one though, as there’s no absolute certainty your kitty would have the gene. Siamese are also prone to heart disease, as are other oriental breeds. If you’re getting a kitten from a breeder it’s always a good idea to ask if the parents have been tested for heart problems. The breeder should have a certificate confirming this.

Congenital heart disease is quite rare in cats, with only around 2% of felines diagnosed. Abnormalities in the heart usually develop in the womb, with the mother either lacking sufficient nutrition, or side effects from medication. Unfortunately, there’s nothing you can do, and symptoms of congenital heart disease in cats don’t show until around middle age.

Other causes of heart disease in cats

Apart from inheriting heart problems, there are many other causes, some of which are almost the same as humans. Elderly cat health problems can include heart disease, as well as diabetes and kidney failure. Similarly, as with humans, heart disease can often be avoided with a healthy lifestyle.

Heartworms are another cause of heart disease, but far less common in cats. Your cat will only get heartworms from mosquitoes, and countries most affected include America and Australia.

Watch your cat’s weight!

obesity can be a cause of heart disease in cats

Just as with people, obesity can cause heart disease in cats. In addition to which there are other life threatening diseases associated with it, such as liver failure. It’s vital you get your kitty weighed annually by a vet, and avoid over feeding. Just like people, cats may over eat due to boredom or out of habit!

Get your senior cat’s blood pressure checked

If you have cat who’s approaching her senior years, it’s a good idea to get her blood pressure checked. Just as in humans, hypertension is more common with age. If left untreated it may lead to kidney failure, heart disease, or other avoidable conditions. Younger cats are far less likely to suffer from high blood pressure though.

Taurine deficiency

Though taurine deficiency is rare in cats fed a nutritious diet, it’s something to be aware of. Lack of this essential amino acid can affect heart muscle, and lower your cat’s immune system. Most packaged cat food contains taurine unless it’s very low grade, but read the labels if you’re unsure. Dark poultry such as drumsticks and thighs contains higher levels of taurine, so treat your cat to the occasional home cooked chicken dinner! Even if you’re vegetarian, you can still buy chicken drumsticks for your feline friend. They freeze well and you only need to buy what you need.

what are the symptoms of heart disease in cats

There are many symptoms of heart disease in cats, and as I’ve mentioned many times, cats are clever at hiding illness. It often only becomes noticeable as things become more advanced. Weakness in the legs is a common sign, and your feline friend may find exercising has become harder. Whereas she once loved jumping up on high perches, she may now prefer to spend her time curled up on the sofa. Of course, this can also be a sign your kitty has arthritis.

If your cat shows signs of laboured breathing, this may be a symptom of heart disease. In addition, she may be coughing as well. Any respiratory problems need urgent treatment as they could prove fatal if left.

Another one of the symptoms of heart disease in cats is cold extremities. Though your kitty can’t complain about cold paws and ears, you may be able to feel them yourself. Pale gums may be another sign, though this could be a symptom of anemia as well.

How are symptoms of heart disease in cats diagnosed?

how symptoms of heart disease in cats are diagnosed
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Your vet will carry out several diagnostic tests to identify heart disease in your cat. Initially, this will start as a simple exam, checking heart rate with a stethoscope, as well as blood pressure and weight checks.

If a heart murmur is discovered there’s no cause to panic. This is because it’s often found in healthy cats, half of which never develop heart disease. In addition, those that do, often live long lives with no symptoms.

An echocardiogram is used to inspect the heart using soundwaves. It’s exactly the same method used on people and is completely safe and non-invasive. In addition, an EKG or electrocardiogram may be used to measure the heart’s electrical activity.

Your vet will also take x-rays to view the chest and lungs for any abnormalities. Plus, blood and urine analysis will determine your cat’s general health. Depending on the results, your vet will create a management plan which may include diet.

What is the prognosis of heart disease in cats?

As long as heart disease in cats is detected early, the prognosis is good. Delaying treatment reduces the chance your cat will get better. If left undetected until the disease has advanced, your cat may only have months left. This is why regular checkups are so important for your cat’s health. Even if your kitty seems fit and healthy there may be underlying problems you’re not yet aware of. As previously mentioned, many cats with heart disease may never show any symptoms.

How is heart disease in cats treated?

Though there’s no cure for cardiomyopathy in cats, medication can lower the risk of congestive heart failure. These may include beta-blockers which slow down the heart rate, reducing oxygen demand. Ace inhibitors such as ramipril are used to relax blood vessel walls, helping blood to flow more efficiently as well as lowering blood pressure. In addition, if the vet believes your cat is at risk of blood clots, an antiplatelet drug such as clopidogrel may be prescribed.

Supplements can be given to improve heart health such as fish oil. Antioxidants are also great for boosting the immune system and supporting heart health. Always ask your vet first though, especially if your cat is on medication.

Why diet is so important

If your cat has been diagnosed with heart disease, there’s no way of reversing it. Once damage has been done it’s final. However, giving your feline friend the right diet can make a difference. Heart disease causes enlargement of the heart, creating excess fluid. Low sodium food, helps reduce fluid build up, so ask your vet’s advice about nutrition.

Keeping your kitty active

Even if your cat is quite elderly, it’s important to encourage exercise. Feather wand toys are great for getting your kitty to stretch, and laser toys encourage hunt and chase. Be careful not to over exert your cat though. Keep an eye on your cat, and any sign of panting or rapid breathing, stop immediately. A few minutes exercise a day is enough for most cats with heart disease.

Prevention is better than cure

Though not all cases of heart disease in cats can be prevented, many can. As mentioned previously, it’s important to keep up with annual checks. Many symptoms of heart disease in cats go undetected for years. It’s only when it becomes advanced you start to see odd behaviour.

Encourage your cat to exercise daily. You won’t have to worry if she goes outside, as chances are she’ll be chasing prey, or climbing up trees. A good gallop round the garden will do your feline friend the world of good. However, if for some reason your cat doesn’t go outside you must get your cat to exercise indoors. Laser toys, balls, cat trees, and condos, all encourage chasing and jumping.

If you’ve found this article about symptoms of heart disease in cats, please share. Also, if you have any questions, or experiences you’d like to share, please leave your comments below.

Wishing you a purrfect day:)
Kathy

6 comments

  1. I know cats like to lay around a lot, how much exercise should they get every day to keep down heart problems. My older rescue cat likes to play at night and takes tours of the basement whenever I let her (she is 13). She has never been outside that I know of.
    Can a house cat get enough exercise without a things to climb on?
    John

    1. Hi John, it sounds like your older rescue cat gets plenty of exercise going into the basement and playing. Most cats seem to come alive at night! I know mine does, just as I’m going to bed lol! It doesn’t matter if your cats don’t go outside as long as they chase around for at least 10 minutes twice a day. You could always consider getting a cat tree, as they encourage exercise and play.

  2. I had never really thought about heart disease in cats. Thank you for bringing it to my attention as I now have a cat and it helps to be forewarned with information. Thank you for this very information-packed article.

    Cheers
    Jo

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