Does Your Cat Have Heart Disease?
Studies have shown that 1 in 6 cats have heart disease, even though most of these look perfectly healthy.1 Some cats have heart disease for years before showing any clinical signs, and that is why, until recently, heart disease in cats has been difficult to diagnose.
Which Cats Get Heart Disease?
This disease affects all types of cats; however, pure breeds such as the American shorthair, Maine coon, Persian, Siamese, Sphinx and the Rag doll are especially prone to heart disease. The age of diagnosis may range anywhere from 3 months to 19 years. Younger cats tend to develop a more aggressive form of the disease than adult or geriatric cats.
What is the most common form of heart disease?
The most commonly diagnosed type of heart disease is called Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy or HCM. HCM causes the heart’s muscle to thicken, making it difficult for the heart to pump blood through the cat’s body. This thickening of the heart muscle can also be a natural response to other diseases, such as hyperthyroidism, kidney disease and hypertension. It’s always important to work closely with your veterinarian to rule out these other diseases.
What Are The Symptoms and Signs?
Heart disease is often labeled as a “silent” disease in cats. This is due to the fact that cats may not show any signs of the disease until too late. Watch for any of the following signs in your cat, and call your veterinarian if your cat demonstrates any of them.
• Doesn’t want to exercise or play
• Seems overly tired or lethargic
• Is breathless or has difficulty breathing
• Collapses or faints
Other signs of heart disease can be detected only by your veterinarian during a complete, thorough examination, including:
• Audible sounds between heartbeats (murmur)
• Gallop rhythm
• Irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia)
How Can my Veterinarian Diagnose Heart Disease?
Your veterinarian will perform a complete physical examination with a stethoscope. This will provide clues as to whether or not your cat has any heart-related problems and, if so, he/she will help guide you with the next steps for your cat.
How Do I Protect My Cat’s Heart?
Although there is no cure for heart disease, early detection can make a significant difference in your cat’s quality of life. So, what can you do?
• Watch for any changes in your cat’s activity level or appetite.
• Maintain your cat’s proper body weight. (Different than humans, fat cats are not necessarily pre-disposed to heart disease; in fact, thinner cats may be more prone.)
• Know your cat’s breed.
• If your veterinarian hears a murmur, ask about heart disease.
Heart Disease is Different for Every Cat
Your veterinarian will prescribe further testing, such as x-rays or ultrasound, if he/she feels it is necessary. Depending on your cat’s individual needs, he/she may prescribe medications as appropriate.
The good news is that with early detection and intervention, many cats can be helped to live long and comfortable lives.
Cheryl Waterman is the Hospital Administrator at the Cat Clinic of Johnson County and a long-time cat lover. She has been with the Clinic for the past 13 years, and in 2007 received Certification in Veterinary Practice Management (CVPM) designation. She is a member of the Veterinary Hospital Managers Association and the American Animal Hospital Association. You can contact her at the Cat Clinic of Johnson County, 913.541.0478.
1. Paige CF, Abbott JA, Elvinger F., Pyle RL Prevalance of cardiomyopathy in apparently healthy cats. JAVMA, 2009; 234(11): 1398-1403)