Feline Heart Disease

"Feline heart disease is either inherited or due to the onset of disease. Symptoms include labored breathing and lethargy. Treatment options range from monitoring the problem to using medications such as ACE inhibitors, beta blockers, aspirin, taurine and diuretics."

Feline heart disease is due to inherited (congenital) and acquired ailments. It is very difficult to diagnose the specific cause of the problem with treatment based on observation of the clinical signs and which of the 4 stages (A, B, C, D) the disease is in.

Feline Heart Failure

Feline heart failure occurs when the heart can no longer pump enough blood for the body. It occurs on either the left or right side of the heart.

Left Heart Failure - When the left side of the heart fails, blood pressure builds up in the pulmonary system causing a disease called pulmonary edema. The pulmonary edema is brought on by exercise with symptoms such as a shortness of breath, rapid breathing, fatigue and the coughing up of reddish fluid. The heart may assume an irregular beat (arrhythmia) and your cat may be straining its neck to try and take in air.

Right Heart Failure - When the right side or ventricle fails it is called congestive heart failure. Symptoms include fluid buildup in the abdomen and limb swelling (called dropsy).

Stages of Feline Heart Disease

Stage A

Stage A feline heart issues exist where your cat is showing no symptoms, but is either part of a mix breed or pure breed where heart problems are common. Breeds that are watched closely include Ragdoll, Persian, British and American Shorthairs and Maine coon. The most common problem is hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM).

Stage B

Stage B heart disease means that heart disease is present, but there are no symptoms. There is little scientific research to support treatment options. Some human medications are prescribed such as beta-blockers or diltiazem.

Stage C Feline Heart Problems

In this stage symptoms exist which suggest feline congestive heart failure such as difficulty breathing. Your veterinarian will recommend tests such as a ultra-rapid echocardiograph. Your vet will look for:

- atrial enlargement (enlargement in the upper chambers of the heart)

- Low output failure - where your cats body demands a normal flow of blood, but your cat's heart cannot provide the blood needed.

Medications exist to help with both conditions such as dobutamine.

Signs of feline heart murmur will also be treated.

Stage D Heart Problems in Cats

This stage is associated with moderate congestive failure that requires some type of long term maintenance therapy. The goal of therapy or medication is to help with any fluid retention, changes in the heart due to the body compensating for heart problems (called modulate neurohormonal activation) and the prevention of inflammation of the veins (thromboembolism).

Medications such as furosemide are usually prescribed. Other human treatments such as atenolol worsened heart conditions where ACE inhibitors showed no positive or negative effect.

If your cat has a fast heart rate diltiazem is usually prescribed. Atenolol should only be used with caution as indicated it may cause a worsening of the heart condition. More severe heart problems (called refractory congestive failure) can be treated with the medication furosemide, spironolactone and thiazides.

Congenital Cat Heart Problems

Congenital feline heart disease usually causes heart failure by 10 months of age. The most common congenital heart problems effect the heart valves and the septum (the area that separates the two sides of the heart. Common congenital heart defects are:

Mitral Valve Malformation

Tricuspid Valve Malformation

Ventricular Septal Defects

If these conditions are detected early sometimes surgery can correct the condition. Click here to read more about feline heart problems.

Acquired Cat Heart Problems

The word cardiomyopothy is used generally to refer to feline heart conditions and feline heart disease. Differences in heart disease depends on how the heart walls are affected.

Hypertrophic Cardiomyopothy (HCM) - this is the most common heart condition in cats and happens during adulthood. It is seen in both mixed and pure breed cats (Ragdoll, Persian, British and American Shorthairs, Maine coon cat).

Feline Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM) - Although rare, have your veterinarian check the Taurine levels in the blood. The condition should subside whatn taurine supplements are provided as part of your cat's diet.

Arrhythmogenic Right Ventricular Dysplasia (ARVC) - this disease involves failure of the right side of the heart. The medication Sotalol is used to treat this condition as well as ventricular arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat).

Hyperthyroidism - When there is heart disease due to irregular functioning of the thyroid, then duretics, beta blockers and ACE inhibitors are used.

Systemic Atrial Thromboembolism (STE) - This is a common condition in cats. The vast majority of these cats with this condition have left atrial enlargement when examined using echocardiography testing. The condition exists when a blood clot of cells forms in the left atria of the heart (called a thrombus) and then breaks loose. Renal failure is a symptom (failure to urinate) of this disease.

Natural Treatment for Feline Heart Disease

Natural medicines such as Hawthorne have clinical support for its ability to support the circulatory system and the heart. One brand to research that is made specifically for this purpose is PetAlive Heart & Circulation Tonic. It contains several ingredients that promote the natural treatment and prevention of heart disease and improve circulation in cats. While it is made to be safely used with prescription products as with anything you give your cat, be sure to discuss this and other approaches with your veterinarian.


Inherited Heart Disease: Diagnosis and Screening
Kathryn M. Meurs, DVM, PhD, DACVIM
College of Veterinary Medicine
The Ohio State University

Mark D. Kittleson, D.V.M., Ph.D.


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