Heart Disease in Cats: Types, Symptoms and Treatments

Heart disease is a serious medical condition in cats that requires urgent care. If not promptly treated, feline heart conditions can cause congestive heart failure. Here, our veterinary cardiologists share the types, symptoms and some treatment available for heart disease in cats in Boulder, Denver and beyond. 

What are the types of heart disease in cats?

The most common kind of heart disease in cats is adult-onset hypertrophic cardiomyopathy which is generally caused by an 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. 
  • Often referred to as adult-onset heart disease, acquired heart disease occurs in middle-aged or older cats because of wear and tear on their heart. It can also result in 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 symptoms of heart disease in cats? 

Early symptoms 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 Most cats do not display any clinical signs until the disease is advanced, at which point cats tend to become more withdrawn and lethargic.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 isn't a cure for hypertrophic cardiomyopathy in cats. Damage caused to the structure of the heart muscle is irreversible. In some instances, where heart disease is secondary to another treatable condition like hyperthyroidism, the symptoms may 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 medications, other kinds of treatment may be recommended by your vet including a low-sodium diet or oxygen therapy, taurine supplements 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 may develop a painful and paralyzing condition called saddle thrombus. This condition is caused when a blood clot develops in the heart and moves out of the aorta and begins blocking blood flow to your cat's hind legs. If your notice a sudden onset of hind leg paralysis in your cat, contact your vet or seek emergency care immediately.

What is the life expectancy of cats 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, the 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 visits and additional tests may be performed in order to monitor your 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 the heart health of your cat is that vets can often identify heart disease before its symptoms arise. Bringing your cat in to your vet every year for a complete physical exam and blood testing is a highly effective screening for your pet's health issues that may lead to heart disease.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Our veterinary cardiologists at Rocky Mountain Veterinary Cardiology have extensive experience in the diagnosis and treatment of cats with heart conditions. Request a referral from your primary care vet today to have your cat seen by our specialist vets.