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Heart Disease in Cats: Symptoms & Prognosis

Heart disease is a serious medical condition in cats where an abnormality of the heart is present and, if left untreated, can lead to congestive heart failure. Here, our Corpus Christi vets share what causes heart disease in cats, and the types, symptoms, and treatments for heart disease.

What are the types of heart disease in cats?

The most common type of heart disease in cats is adult onset hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, caused by the enlargement or thickening of the heart.

Heart disease in cats can be either congenital or acquired:

  • Congenital heart disease in cats is present at birth and can be inherited. 
  • Acquired heart disease, often referred to as adult-onset heart disease, occurs in middle-aged to older cats due to wear and tear on the heart.  It can also result from an injury or infection.

In some cases, adult-onset heart disease develops as a secondary problem, with the primary problem originating in some other area of the body such as the thyroid gland.

What are the signs of heart disease in cats? 

In cats, the early stages of the disease can be difficult to detect. Most cats do not show clinical indications until the disease has progressed to the point where they become reclusive and lethargic.

Not every cat will develop all the following symptoms and many cats will have more than one.

  • Poor appetite 
  • Weight loss 
  • Lethargy or inactivity
  • Difficulty with or discontinuing exercise
  • Regularly elevated heart rate
  • Increased respiratory rate and effort
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing 
  • Sudden hind leg paralysis 
  • Fainting/collapse

How is heart disease treated in cats?

Unfortunately, there is no cure for hypertrophic cardiomyopathy in cats, and damage caused to the structure of the heart muscle is irreversible. However, in some cases where heart disease is secondary to a treatable condition, such as hyperthyroidism, the symptoms can be alleviated once the primary condition is addressed. 

Different forms of medication can be prescribed by your veterinarian to help lower the risk of congestive heart failure in cats. These drugs can assist to relax the heart muscle, moderate the heart rate, and reduce the heart's workload. Diuretics are commonly used to treat fluid excess.

In addition to medication, other types of treatment may be recommended by your vet including a low-sodium diet, oxygen therapy, taurine supplementation, or surgical procedures to remove excess fluid buildup from the chest cavity or abdomen.

Is heart disease painful for cats? 

Saddle thrombus is a painful, paralyzing illness that can occur in cats with heart problems. When a blood clot forms in the heart and travels to the aorta, it blocks blood flow to the cat's hind legs, causing this disease. If your cat develops abrupt hind leg paralysis, contact your veterinarian or seek emergency care right away.

What is the life expectancy of cats with heart disease? 

Cats with structural heart disease are more prone to develop recurring indications of congestive heart failure over time and will need to be medicated for the rest of their lives. After a cat is diagnosed with congestive heart failure, the average survival time is 6 to 12 months.

Cats that have been diagnosed with congestive heart failure will need frequent veterinary follow-up visits and additional tests may be performed in order to monitor the cat's heart health. 

How can early onset symptoms of heart disease be identified? 

When it comes to monitoring heart health in cats, the most essential thing to remember is that veterinarians can often detect heart disease before symptoms appear. Taking your cat to the vet for a comprehensive physical examination and blood testing once a year is an excellent way to check her for different conditions that can harm her heart.

Correlation between blood pressure and heart disease in dogs and cats

Pet parents should understand the causes, symptoms, and treatment options for heart disease in dogs and cats in order to prevent or delay longer-term cardiac problems. More veterinary cardiologists, together with more informed pet owners, have resulted in a higher rate of heart disease diagnosis in pets. Hypertension, or high blood pressure in pets, is a common precursor to heart disease that can be treated with medication.

Contact Everhart Animal Hospital in Corpus Christi if you think your cat is at risk for heart disease. We can assess your furry friend and make recommendations on the next steps.

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Everhart Animal Hospital is accepting new patients! Our experienced vets are passionate about the health of Corpus Christi companion animals. Get in touch today to book your pet's first appointment.

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