Heart Disease in Cats

As cats get older, problems with their heart, kidneys and other organs can occur. The most common diseases affecting aging cats are cancer, renal or kidney disease, diabetes, hyperthyroidism (disease of the thyroid gland), dental disease and heart disease. Cats age seven times faster than humans and examinations done by your veterinarian twice a year can help detect diseases earlier when they can still be treated. Diagnostic tests such as blood work, ECG, ultrasound and blood pressure monitoring can help detect problems earlier.

The most common heart disease that occurs in cats is hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM). HCM occur more frequently in cats, and is considered rare in dogs. HCM is an acquired heart disease that affects the walls of the heart causing them to become abnormally thick. As the disease progresses the pumping capabilities of the heart reduces. The ventricular heart muscle eventually gets thicker and stiffer and decreasing the ability to contract to push the blood out as it should. The narrow heart chamber holds a smaller volume of blood, so less blood is pumped out of the heart with each beat of the heart., This results in the amount of blood that once filled the heart is less than it should be and the heart muscle can’t contract as well to move the blood out of the heart into the body. The heart now has to pump faster and harder than normal to keep the blood flowing throughout the body. The resulting pressure begins to back up the blood into the lungs causing edema and congestion and eventually leads to congestive heart failure.

Sometimes, the faulty heart will have changes in the conduction system that tells the heart when to contract. This some times causes arrhythmias and can result in sudden death similar to those found in some of our young athletes that collapse during practice.

Cardiomyopathy can also cause feline aortic thromboembolism or FATE. Occasionally, blood clots can dislodge and clog the arteries going to the rear legs. The thrombus (blood clot) causes a loss of blood flow to the rear legs resulting in sever pain, paralysis and possibly death,. This condition is commonly called a saddle thrombus. About 40% of the cats can recover from a saddle thrombus with expensive and intensive therapy and may regain use of their legs over time. However, these cats still risk developing another episode and still suffer from the primary heart condition.

Cats are very good as masking underlying physical problems so early detection is key to helping these cats live a full life. A fat and lazy cat may be hiding a heart condition. Of course not all fat and lazy cats a have heart disease, and exams by your veterinarian can help detect disease if it is present. Laboratory tests, such as, EKG, blood pressure monitoring and ultrasound can help the veterinarian diagnose heart disease. The thickened walls of the heart can be seen with ultrasound and is a screening tool for cats as well as our young athletes.

Medications can help cats with their heart function, reduce the edema in their lungs and may help reduce the blood clot formations. The prognosis for a cat that has already developed the congestive heart failure is guarded, and even with medication, survival rates are 12-18 months after diagnosis and sudden death can occur at any time.

Develop a wellness plan with your veterinarian for early detection and diagnostics. By detecting diseases earlier, small changes in diet or medications can help your cat live longer.

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