Feline Heart Problems

"Feline heart problems are due to some form of cardiomyopathy (95%). Depending on the diagnosis, medications will be prescribed including taurine, diuretics, ACE inhibitors, beta blockers and aspirin."

The majority of cat heart problems are due to cardiomyopathy and show no symptoms. The definition of feline cardiomiopathy is an abnormal heart condition in which the heart is dilated (poor pumping power) and restrictive (impaired ability of the heart to fill).

The following conditions cause your cat to show symptoms of heart failure (change in blood pressure) and are due to diastolic heart failure (abnormally low blood pressure when the heart is expanded):

Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy - This is the most common heart disease in cats. It is a disease in which areas of the heart enlarge and thicken. The left ventricle is unable to fill with a normal amount of blood, so less blood gets pumped out to vital organs. Congestive heart failure can result.

Dilated Cardiomyopathy - The heart chambers are enlarged due to a weakening of the heart muscle. This form of heart disease was relatively common until recently, when taurine was added to most brands of cat food.

Restrictive Cardiomyopathy - This is mostly seen in older cats. The heart becomes less able to pump blood, leading to an accumulation of blood in the heart and an enlargement of the atrium.

Feline Heart Problems Symptoms

Feline heart problems symptoms include lack of appetite, panting, coughing after any exertion, an extended abdomen, and blue lips, tongue, and gums. Other symptoms include weakness and fainting. Symptoms may be very subtle at first but it is best if treatment is begun early, so if your cat has symptoms of heart problems she should see the vet right away.

As mentioned the majority of cat heart problems are asymptomatic or without symptoms.

Feline Heart Problems Diagnosis

Of course your vet will do a complete physical examination, which will include listening to your cat's heart. Your vet may hear a heart murmur, but that by itself does not mean your cat has heart disease. For instance, many kittens are born with a heart murmur which heals on its own by the time they reach about 12 weeks of age.

To learn more about your cat's heart, the vet may order x-rays or may perform an ultrasound. That way the vet can see your cat's heart. Your vet may also do an EKG, a test that measures the output from the heart. It shows how efficiently the heart is working.

Heart disease is sometimes a result of kidney or liver disease, so your vet may check for those conditions. That is usually done by blood tests.

Your veterinarian will take a history to determine if there is a family history of sudden death. Certain breeds such as Maine coon cats have a history of heart disease. Early intervention with calcium channel blockers or beta blockers may be used in this case.

Feline Heart Problems Treatment

With the exception of taurine-responsive dilated cardiomyopathy, heart disease in cats is not curable. It is controllable with medications, diet, and activity modification.

There are a number of medications that are prescribed for feline heart problems. Medications are available to regulate the heart rate and to influence the force and speed of heart muscle contraction. If fluid is building up in the lungs because the heart is not able to pump properly, a diuretic will be prescribed.

In the case of dilated cardiomyopathy, taurine is administered. If the disease responds to treatment and the cat survives several weeks of treatment, she can be weaned off her heart medications within a few months.

Cats that are severely affected need oxygen therapy. Stress can aggravate heart conditions so cats experiencing serious symptoms should be confine to a small space and prevented from participating in all forms of activity.

Several specific cat heart problems can improved with medications:

Feline Myocardial Infarction: also known as a heart attack or when the blood flow of the heart causes the heart to be starved for oxygen. If this condition is confirmed by a echocardiography test your veterinarian will prescribe ACE inhibitors and beta-blockers. While experimentation in cats is limited (but positive), evidence in humans is strong.

Feline Tachyarrhythmia - Sustained tachyarrhythmias (rapid heartbeat faster than normal) are usually associated with myocardial disease. Treatment for this problem is called antiarrhythmic therapy which is done with medications.

Feline Syncope - Recurrent syncope (loss of consciousness) is a risk factor for sudden death in cats. In cats, syncope can be associated with tachyarrhythmias (rapid heart beat) and infarction (area where there is tissue death due to a lack of oxygen reaching an area of the heart). Symptoms can often be managed successfully with beta-blockers which reduces blockages that may be restricting blood flow (called LV outflow tract obstruction).

Spontaneous Echo Contrast ("Smoke"): - is a swirling pattern of blood flow that resembles the look of smoke rising from a fire. The pooling of blood (blood stasis) is also seen with this condition. Antiplatelet drugs (aspirin) will be prescribed by your veterinarian for this condition and possibly other medications.

Myocardial Failure: In some cats the amount the heart contracts shortens due to a few of the aforementioned conditions. Therapy includes taurine supplementation, ACE inhibitors and beta-blockes.

Arrhythmic Right Ventricular Cardiomyopathy: Cats with advanced structural lesions may be at risk for heart failure. ACE inhibitors and antiarrhythmics (sotalol) should be considered.

Feline Heart Natural Remedies

There is a long history of herbs and other natural remedies and their role in supporting the health of the heart and circulatory system. Remedies such as Hawthorn (Crateagus oxycantha) have been clinically tested in studies (Pittler MH, Schmidt K, Ernst E. Hawthorn extract for treating chronic heart failure: meta-analysis of randomized trials. Am J Med 2003;114(8):665-674.).

If you are interested in this approach one product worth researching and discussing with your veterinarian is PetAlive Heart & Circulation Tonic. It is made specifically for the natural treatment and prevention of heart disease and to improve circulation in cats.

Sources for Feline Heart Problems:



Inherited Heart Disease: Diagnosis and Screening
Meurs, Kathryn M. DVM

Feline Heart Disease - New Perspectives
P.R. Fox
The Animal Medical Center
New York, NY


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