Cat Heart Disease
Veterinarian Reviewed on April 1, 2014 by Dr. Janice Huntingford
Cat Heart Disease (Feline Heart Disease)
Signs and Symptoms
Cat heart disease can affect felines of any age and is a condition that can potentially have deadly results. Often, a cat will develop heart disease over an extended period of time, but signs and symptoms of the disease may not become apparent until the condition has progressed into its later stages. This is partly due to the fact that heart disease tends to cause slow changes in the body, as well as the fact that cats are typically stoic creatures and are very good at hiding the fact that they are ill. Since heart disease is a serious condition and may not become noticeable for quite some time, it’s important to be able to recognize the warning signs of this disease so that examination by a veterinarian and proper treatment can be carried out as soon as possible.
When a cat is suffering from heart disease, some of the common symptoms it may exhibit include weight loss and loss of appetite. Weakness, listlessness, and lack of interest in or intolerance of exercise are also quite typical. Other warning signs that often accompany this disease are shortness of breath and difficulty breathing. Sometimes a cat afflicted with this condition also develops a cough, one that is generally low-pitched and uncontrollable. Heart disease tends to cause fluid buildup in both the lungs and abdomen. As the result, some cats with this condition also have a distended belly. While these warning signs are common in a case of heart disease, they can also be caused by other illnesses and conditions. A veterinarian will be able to determine whether or not feline heart disease is at the root of your pet’s suffering.
Generally, once a cat begins to show signs of heart disease, the condition has already been present for quite some time. Thus, if you observe your cat displaying any of the above signs or symptoms, it’s vital to contact your veterinarian immediately. The sooner the condition is identified and treated, the better the prognosis will be for your beloved pet.
Diagnosis of cat heart disease begins with a thorough physical examination of the feline patient. At this point, the veterinarian will want to know about the symptoms and behaviors that you have observed at home. The practitioner will also look for clinical signs on their own, checking for any of the typical symptoms. In addition, the veterinarian will listen to the cat’s heart, monitoring for any abnormalities such as a heart murmur.
After the physical exam, there are several different diagnostic tools and methods that can be employed in order to check for the presence of heart disease. For instance, x-rays are commonly used under such circumstances. Radiographs of the patient’s chest allow a veterinarian to look at the heart’s physical structure. This may reveal structural abnormalities or the presence of fluid around the lungs. If fluid is present, it may need to be removed and more x-rays taken in order to provide a clearer picture for the veterinary doctor to evaluate.
Another diagnostic tool that may be employed in a case of suspected heart disease is the echocardiogram or sonogram. This test involves the use of sound waves, which pass harmlessly through the cat and allow for the study of the heart and blood vessels. Echocardiograms can provide information on the strength of heart beats and can reveal irregularities and congenital defects that may be present. Ultrasound can also be very useful when checking for heart disease. As with x-rays, ultrasound allows a veterinarian to look at the structure of the heart. However, ultrasound also provides information about heart function, which x-rays do not. Furthermore, ultrasound can be used to measure the thickness of the heart muscle, which is helpful with respect to determining the type of heart disease that is affecting a particular feline patient.
In addition to the above tools and methods, electrocardiograms may also be used. These are useful with respect to measuring a cat’s heart beat and will alert a veterinarian to the presence of an irregular heart beat, known as arrhythmia. Finally, in certain circumstances, blood tests may be conducted. For example, some forms of feline heart disease can be caused by an overactive thyroid. Testing for levels of thyroid hormone in the blood will reveal whether or not this is the case for an individual patient.
It’s clear that there are many different methods and tests that can be used to diagnose feline heart disease. Sometimes, tests will need to be repeated and monitoring continued in order to keep track of the effectiveness of treatment and the progress of the patient.
A cat’s heart is obviously a vital organ, and when something goes wrong with it there can be a variety of serious consequences. The heart is a muscular pump that consists of four chambers — two atriums and two ventricles. It is also comprised of several valves which link the chambers with each other and with arteries. Blood from the body enters the heart and is pumped into the lungs. Here, the blood is reoxygenated before returning to the heart. Once the blood has been replenished with oxygen, the heart then pumps it throughout the body so it can reach all organs and extremities. Many forms of heart disease involve changes in the heart’s structure which affect its ability to pump blood effectively. This can cause inadequate blood supply to the body’s organs and can result in the accumulation of fluid in the lungs and abdomen.
While heart disease in dogs typically involves problems with the heart valves, heart disease in cats is generally related to changes in the actual heart muscle. As result, feline heart disease is often referred to as cardiomyopathy. Possible changes that may result in heart disease can involve thickening of the heart muscle, as is the case with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, or thinning and stretching of the heart muscle, which is what happens in a case of dilated cardiomyopathy. In addition, the heart muscle can become constricted and stiff, causing restrictive cardiomyopathy. In all of these types of heart disease, whether the muscle becomes thick, thin, or stiff, the heart’s ability to pump blood properly becomes seriously hindered.
Feline heart disease can be caused by many different factors and conditions. Dilated cardiomyopathy can be caused by a deficiency of an essential amino acid called taurine. Since this deficiency was identified as a potential cause of feline cardiomyopathy, commercial brands of cat food now contain taurine supplements sufficient to prevent heart disease from developing for this reason. However, cats that are fed dog food or a homemade diet may still suffer from a taurine deficiency that could potentially give rise to dilated cardiomyopathy.
In addition, heart disease in cats can be triggered by an underlying condition such as hyperthyroidism or an infestation of Cat Heartworms. Tumors and trauma have also been known to give rise to feline cardiomyopathy. Other causes include defects and hereditary conditions. For example, a birth defect may compromise the proper structure and function of the heart, resulting in heart disease. Also, certain breeds of cats are more predisposed to developing certain types of cardiomyopathy than are other breeds. Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy is particularly prevalent among breeds such as Maine Coon cats, Persians, American Shorthairs, and Ragdoll cats. It is known that this form of heart disease is an inherited disorder in the case of Maine Coon cats, and it is strongly suspected that this is also the case for the other breeds listed.
Different forms of treatment will be required for different forms of heart disease, and will also be tailored to the individual patient’s needs and circumstances. However, most treatments strive to increase blood flow and the amount of blood pumped during each heart beat, decrease fluid buildup around the lungs and in the abdomen, and control any heartbeat irregularities. Dietary adjustments and nutrition support are also frequently employed in such situations.
Some medications that are used to treat feline cardiomyopathy include diuretics, cardiac glycosides, and vasodilators. Diuretics increase the excretion of fluid, thereby reducing the accumulation of fluid that often occurs when a cat is suffering from heart disease. Cardiac glycosides affect the actual heart muscle, slowing and strengthening its contractions and improving its efficiency. Vasodilators, on the other hand, improve circulation and blood flow, reducing the strain on the heart, allowing it to function more easily. Dietary adjustments may include restricting sodium intake or increasing the amount of taurine in a cat’s diet.
In addition to conventional medications, homeopathic remedies can be very beneficial with respect to improving heart function, reducing troublesome symptoms, and providing nutritional support. Homeopathic products contain natural ingredients with properties that target a number of different symptoms and irregularities. For example, substances such as balm of gilead and lobelia improve blood flow and circulation. Other ingredients such as mistletoe and hawthorn berries control tachycardia and heart rate and also relax spasms and reduce stress on the heart. Homeopathic remedies often contain a combination of such ingredients, in order to provide the most beneficial effect possible. If you are interested in using natural remedies to treat your cat’s heart condition, consult with your veterinarian in order to ensure the selection of the most suitable form of treatment for your individual pet.
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Janice Huntingford, DVM, has been in veterinary practice for over 30 years and has founded two veterinary clinics since receiving her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine at the Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph. She has studied extensively in both conventional and holistic modalities. Ask Dr. Jan