Heart Disease in Cats: Types, Symptoms and Treatments

Heart Disease in Cats: Types, Symptoms and Treatments

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 Plains vets share the types, symptoms and treatments for heart disease in cats.

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? 

Early onset of the disease can be difficult to identify in cats. Most cats do not display any clinical signs until the disease is advanced, at which point cats tend to become more withdrawn and lethargic.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 are 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. 

Your veterinarian can prescribe different types of medication to help reduce the risk of congestive heart failure in cats. These medications can help to relax the heart muscle, slow down the heart rate and decrease the workload of the heart. Diuretics are usually prescribed to reduce fluid overload. 

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? 

Some cats with heart disease can develop a painful, paralyzing condition called saddle thrombus. This condition is caused when a blood clot develops in the heart and moves out of the aorta blocking blood flow to a cat's hind legs. If you notice sudden hind leg paralysis in your cat contact your vet or seek emergency care immediately. 

How long do cats live after being diagnosed with heart disease? 

Cats with structural heart disease will likely develop recurrent signs of congestive heart failure over time and require lifelong medication. In general, an average survival time after a cat has been diagnosed with congestive heart failure is 6 to 12 months. 

Cats that have been diagnosed with congestive heart failure will need frequent veterinary follow-up visit 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? 

The most important thing to know when it comes to monitoring heart health in cats is that veterinarians can often identify heart disease before symptoms occur. Taking your cat to the vet annually for a complete physical examination and blood tests are highly effective at screening your pet for other diseases that can affect her heart.

Contact Northeast Veterinary Referral Hospital in Plains, we offer 24/7 emergency services for cats and dogs across the Wilkes-Barre, Northeast Pennsylvania area and beyond. 

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