Cat Heart Problems

Cat heart problems do not cause symptoms early on, allowing heart disease to develop unnoticed by owners. In fact, cats may seem to be in good health, though they expire suddenly from a silent heart condition. Consequently, owners should become informed about various types of feline heart problems, and take their cat to the vet for regular check-ups. Heart problems should be treated as early as possible to prolong a cat’s life.

Causes of Feline Heart Disease

Cats of any breed may die at any age of congestive heart failure if the heart cannot pump normally and fluid accumulates in the chest cavity. Abnormalities in the structure and functioning the heart may be congenital, degenerative or due to disease.  

Common Forms of Feline Heart Disease

Dilative cardiomyopathy. With this condition, the heart enlarges and progressively weakens because it can no longer perform a normal workload, causing fluid to build up in the chest, lungs and other parts of the body. Eventually, heart valves may leak, causing a heart murmur or pulmonary failure.

Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. With this condition, the walls of the heart stiffen, blocking blood flow. Stressed heart valves may leak, causing a heart murmur or pulmonary failure.

Restrictive cardiomyopathy. Also with this condition, the walls of the heart stiffen due to scar tissue, blocking blood flow. This condition may be genetic.

Heartworms. Damage to the heart due to heartworm infestation is a chain reaction: Mosquitoes bite cats, injecting larvae of heartworm parasites through the skin. Heartworm larvae then grow into adults within the body, eventually blocking blood flow to and from the heart.  

Tests for Feline Heart Disease

If the vet detects irregularities, such as a heart murmur, during a routine exam, he may order further testing, including the following:

  • Chest X-rays, which may detect an enlarged heart and fluid accumulation in the chest cavity
  • EKGs, or electrocardiograms, which detect irregularities in the heart’s electrical activity, like spikes in heart rate
  • Echocardiogram, which employs ultrasound technology to provide a visual picture of the functioning of the heart to detect fluid accumulation, blood clots and defects
  • Blood pressure monitoring
  • Blood tests to determine if heart problems have damaged other organs, like the kidneys

Treatment for Congestive Heart Failure

As feline heart disease progresses to congestive heart failure, your cat may suffer respiratory difficulties, like asthma and pneumonia. At this point, your vet may prescribe the following treatments:

  • Diuretics
  • Thoracocentesis, in which the vet drains fluid from the chest though needle aspiration
  • Abdominal paracentesis, in which the vet drains fluid from the chest though needle aspiration
  • Nitroglycerine, spread topically
  • Enzyme inhibitors, which prevent circulation of hormones and retention of salt
  • Low-sodium diet
  • Various medications

Nutritional Supplement Aids Prevention

The amino acid taurine may help prevent heart disease in cats. Cats receive this important nutrient in their food. Check food labels to see if taurine is listed, and talk to your vet about your cat’s daily requirement of taurine, as well as whether taurine supplements are necessary.