hypertrophic cardiomyopathy in cats

Heart Disease in Cats: What You Need To Know

Has your cat recently been diagnosed with a heart issue or are you worried your kitty might have a heart problem?

The facts are that cats can commonly get cardiomyopathy as they start to get older.  Sometimes heart disease in cats is seen during a physical exam at your vet without you noticing any signs. However, it’s also possible that your cat may start having mild or even severe signs of heart disease very suddenly, which would require you to take your cat to the vet right away. 

There are many things that you can do to help your cat with heart disease and a few things that you can do to prevent heart disease in cats.

What is Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy in Cats?

Heart disease in cats is medically called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM).

In this disease, the chambers in the heart become narrow due to the walls of the heart getting thicker.

This makes it harder for your cat to successfully pump blood through their body.  This can lead to the backflow of blood and lead to issues in other parts of your cat's body, such as lungs, kidneys, and liver.

What Breeds More Commonly Develop Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy in Cats?

While any cat can develop Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy ('HCM'), these breeds are more prone to this disease:

  • Maine Coons
  • Ragdolls
  • British Shorthair
  • Sphynx
  • Chartreux
  • Persians

If you have one of these breeds or plan on getting one of these breeds of cats, it’s best for you to check your cat for heart issues or check the parents for heart issues before purchasing a new kitten.

What Are the Signs of Heart Disease in Cats?

Many cats who have HCM do not seem sick at all and live perfectly normal and happy lives.

However, some cats will show signs of heart disease.  These include:

  • Rapid and labored breathing
  • Open-mouth breathing
  • Coughing
  • Lethargy
  • Exercise intolerance

Most of these signs occur because the Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy causes there to be some fluid that has developed around your cat's lungs, making it very difficult for them to breathe normally.

If you notice any of these signs, it’s best to take them to your vet right away.  These signs can be life-threatening and would need veterinary care and attention as soon as possible.

cat heart disease

How is Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy in Cats Diagnosed?

Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy in Cats can be diagnosed by your vet performing a physical examination.  Your vet will listen to your cat's heart. They can usually hear a heart murmur in these cats.

Once a murmur is heard, there are specialized tests that can be done to help determine the severity of your cat's heart condition.

Not all cat heart diseases cause your cat to have a heart murmur until very late in the disease process. So, your vet may want to run a test on your cat's heart even if they do not hear a murmur but suspect that your cat's signs are related to their heart. These tests that they may want to perform are:

Echocardiogram

An echocardiogram can be done to test for heart disease in cats and can be carried out by a general practice vet but is more commonly done by a veterinary cardiologist. This is an ultrasound of your cat's heart. The vet will be able to see the valves and size of these chambers of your cat's heart.  They can even take measurements of the walls of the heart to see if they are thicker than they should be.

Electrocardiogram (ECG):

When your cat's heart beats, their heart creates an electrical impulse. To test this electrical impulse in your cat's body, your vet will use an ECG.

Your vet will place an electrode on each one of your cat's legs, and they will get a wavelength on the screen that shows how the heart is beating.  This is a useful test for cats with arrhythmias or any type of heart issue.  These tests can easily be performed at your veterinary clinic.

Blood Pressure:

Your vet may also want to check your cat's blood pressure.

This will help determine if the heart issues are causing any issues with your cat regulating their blood pressure.  High blood pressure is a common symptom of heart disease in cats.

Chest Radiographs:

Your vet most likely will want to take chest x-rays to see the size of the heart. Cats with HCM have a unique heart structure on radiographs. Your vet can also take measurements of your cat's heart on the radiographs to see if they have any heart enlargement.

When looking at the radiographs, your vet will check for any other abnormalities with your cat's lungs or chest.

Pro BNP:

Pro BNP is a blood test that can help your vet determine if your cat has heart disease. B-type natriuretic peptide (BNP) is produced in the muscles of the heart when they are stretched or overworked, like is seen when a cat has heart disease

If these levels are high in your cat, your vet can determine if your cat has the beginnings of heart issues and if another diagnostic test is needed. 

All these tests will help your vet quickly and easily determine the cause of the signs that they are noticing in your cat.  Many times, heart disease and respiratory disease look the same on clinical presentations, and these few tests can quickly assess your cat so your vet can properly treat them for the correct issue.

How do You Treat Heart Disease in Cats?

While there is no cure for heart disease in cats, there are many things that can be done to help manage the signs that you are seeing.

Once your cat has started having heart issues, there is no one medication that can reverse the damage that has already been done to the heart. Your vet's goal is to control your cat's heart rate, decrease congestion in the lungs due to congestive heart failure, and prevent your cat from forming blood clots.  

Many of the suitable medications are oral tablets or liquids that you would have to give your cat every day. In an emergency situation, there are a few injectable medications, and even a topical medication called nitroglycerine that your vet can use.

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Your vet will treat your cat for heart disease using one or a combination of the following medications:

  • Angiotensin-Converting Enzymes (ACE) Inhibitors, such as Enalapril or Benazepril: These medications help dilate your cat's blood vessels. With larger blood vessels, there is less resistance to blood flow through the heart.
  • Diuretics: Furosemide or Lasix: This medication helps decrease the fluid around the lungs. This is needed if your cat has progressed to congestive heart failure.
  • Digoxin: This is a positive inotropic medication. This means that this medication helps your cat's heart with contracting.
  • Beta-Blockers such as Atenolol or Propranolol: These medications help your cat if they have any arrhythmias. They also are used to help decrease your cat's heart rate. 
  • Pimobendan or Vetmedin: This medication is used to help treat dogs and cats with heart disease. This is a newer medication that has shown great results at prolonging life in pets with heart issues. 
hypertrophic-cardiomyopathy-in-cats

What is the Prognosis of Heart Disease in Cats?

The prognosis for your cat with Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy in cats (HCM) depends on many different things. 

Some cats do not show any clinical signs, and they are able to survive for many years with only mildly compromised heart function.

Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy in cats is a progressive disease, and if their disease progresses rapidly, this carries a poor prognosis. There are also other issues that you can see in cats with HCM. These are:

  • Congestive heart failure: As your cat's heart disease progresses, it can lead to congestive heart failure. This is when the valves do not work properly, causing backflow of blood and fluid into the lungs and abdomen. While heart medications can help manage symptoms, this is usually a life-threatening issue.
  • Thromboembolism: Cat's with this heart issue can have a blood clot that comes from the heart and gets stuck at the end of the aorta. This is located in between your cat's legs and is where the major blood supply to your cat's legs comes from. If your cat has a saddle thrombus, they usually suddenly become paralyzed in their back legs and their feet are cold to the touch. While there are medical treatments that can be tried to restore blood flow, this is usually not successful and carries a grave prognosis.
  • Hypothermia: This is a low body temperature in your cat. If your cat has issues regulating their body temperature, they usually have very severe disease and do not have a good prognosis. However, in many cases, medical therapy can significantly improve your cat's quality of life.

What Other Heart Issues Can Cats Have?

While Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy in cats is the most common heart disease seen in cats, there are other issues that can affect your cat's hearts. These are other issues seen in cats:

Heartworm Disease

Heartworm disease does not just occur in dogs; cats can also get heartworms. The worms live in the vessels that go from the right side of the heart to the lungs. They can cause many of the same signs that are seen in cats with cardiomyopathy. Your cat gets heartworms from being bitten by an infected mosquito. 

The best way to keep your cat from getting heartworms is to keep them on a monthly flea, tick, and heartworm preventative.

Congenital Heart Disease in Cats

Most heart issues in cats show up as they get older, but there are a few heart issues that your cat may be born with. Only about 2% of kittens have heart disease.

These diseases are usually malformation of the heart valves or holes in the septa (the wall between the two sides of the heart). Usually, these kittens need heart surgery and usually have a very poor prognosis. Small holes or heart issues can allow your kitten to live a normal life.

Other Medical Conditions Leading to Heart Disease in Cats

There are some medical conditions that, if not treated, can lead to heart disease. These diseases are hyperthyroidism, high blood pressure, and anemia.

These heart diseases in cats can be easily tested at your veterinary office. If your cat does have one of these three diseases, there are medications and treatments that your cat can receive to help decrease the issues that these diseases caused to the heart. 

Final Thoughts about Heart Disease in Cats

If your beloved pet has recently been diagnosed with some type of heart disease in cats, there are many things that you can do to help keep them healthy and comfortable.

Most cats can live a long life after their diagnoses, while some cats do not live as long after their diagnoses.

As soon as you start to notice that your cat has any signs of heart disease, it is best for them to see your vet.

The sooner you start treatment, the better the result for your cat.  

Author Bio

Sara Ochoa, DVM is a small and exotic animal vet.  She also writes for http://petcomments.com/.  In her free time she enjoys cooking and quilting.

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