Heart Arrhythmia in Cats

Heart arrhythmia in cats occurs when the heart beat is too fast, too slow or simply irregular. The condition can be mild and often isn't life threatening, though sometimes it's the symptom of another, more serious condition.

Causes of Heart Beat Arrhythmia in Cats

Arrhythmia happens when abnormal electrical activity inside your cat's body causes his heart beat to slow down, speed up or become irregular.

Some cats may develop an occasional mild arrhythmia due to fear, nervousness or stress. Often this type of arrhythmia expresses itself as a fast heart beat or a rhythm that occasionally skips a beat. Some cats may be misdiagnosed with heart arrhythmia due to this phenomenon.

Nutritional deficiencies, especially a taurine deficiency, can cause more serious cases of chronic feline heart arrhythmia. Commercially prepared cat foods contain all the taurine and other nutrients your cat needs, but if you're preparing your cat's food at home, you should be careful to include all the right nutrients.

Heart arrhythmia can be a symptom of chronic health problems, including kidney and heart disease and hyperthyroidism. Inherited heart defects, poisoning, infections and injuries can all cause arrhythmia.

Symptoms of Feline Heart Arrhythmia

Heart arrhythmia occurs in cats of all ages and all breeds. Often the symptoms are so mild that they're discovered during a routine examination, when your vet listens to your cat's heart beat with a stethoscope. Mild cases of arrhymia may have no effect on your cat's quality or length of life. Moderate cases may cause panting or lack of energy.

Severe cases of heart arrhythmia can cause the following symptoms:

  • Coughing
  • Rapid breathing
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Fainting spells
  • Lack of interest in play or other activities
  • Death

Symptoms of heart arrhythmia may appear and disappear suddenly, sometimes for months on end. Sometimes the symptoms of feline heart arrhythmia can be similar to those of other disorders. If your vet suspects arrhythmia, he'll order a cardiac workup, including an EKG, blood work and chest X-rays. He may also conduct additional tests to determine if there is an underlying illness at fault for your cat's heart arrhythmia.

Treating Feline Arrhythmia

Treatment of feline heart arrhythmia varies due to the cause. If your cat's heart arrhthymia is the result of an underlying condition, like hyperthyroidism or kidney disease, then treating the underlying condition should clear up the symptoms of arrythmia. Some conditions, like infections and injuries, can be definitively treated, but chronic conditions like kidney or heart disease will need lifelong treatment.

Your cat's arrhythmia may be the result of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a condition in which the walls of your cat's heart muscle gradually thicken, impairing heart function. While there is no cure for this deadly condition, medication can ease your cat's symptoms and lengthen his life. Two commonly used medications in the treatment of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy are atenolol and diltiazem. These medications work to ease your cat's symptoms by relaxing the heart muscle to slow the heart rate and smooth out irregular heart beats.