Heart Disease in Cats: Types, Symptoms and Treatments

Prompt treatment for feline heart disease is crucial to prevent congestive heart failure. Our veterinary cardiologists offer information and treatment options for heart disease in cats in Boulder, Denver, and nearby areas.

What are the types of heart disease in cats?

The most common type of heart disease in cats is called adult-onset hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. It happens when the heart becomes enlarged or thickened.

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, also known as adult-onset heart disease, usually occurs in middle-aged or older cats due to normal wear and tear on the heart. It can also be caused by injury or infection.

In some cases, adult-onset heart disease develops as a secondary problem, with the primary problem originating in other areas of the body, such as the thyroid gland.

What are the symptoms of heart disease in cats? 

It can be challenging to spot early signs of the disease in cats. Typically, cats don't show any symptoms until the disease has progressed. At this stage, they often become more withdrawn and less active.

Not every cat will develop all the following symptoms and many cats will have more than one.

  • Reduced appetite 
  • Weight loss 
  • Lethargy or lack of energy
  • Difficulty with or discontinuing exercise
  • Higher heat rate than usual 
  • Increased respiratory rate and effort
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing 
  • Sudden hind leg paralysis 
  • Fainting/collapse

How is heart disease treated in cats?

Regrettably, there is no cure for hypertrophic cardiomyopathy in cats, as the damage done to the heart muscle's structure is irreversible. However, addressing the primary condition may alleviate the symptoms in some cases where the heart disease is secondary to another treatable condition such as hyperthyroidism. 

To reduce the risk of congestive heart failure in cats, your veterinarian may prescribe various medications that can help to relax the heart muscle, slow down the heart rate, and decrease the heart's workload. Diuretics may also be prescribed to reduce fluid overload.  Along with medications, your vet may recommend other forms of treatment like a low-sodium diet, oxygen therapy, taurine supplements, or surgical procedures to remove excess fluid buildup from the chest cavity or abdomen.

Is heart disease painful for cats? 

If your cat suffers from heart disease, they may be at risk of a debilitating condition called saddle thrombus. Essentially, this occurs when a blood clot forms in the heart and travels to the aorta, obstructing blood flow to the hind legs. If your cat suddenly experiences paralysis in their hind legs, it's crucial to contact your vet or seek emergency care right away.

What is the life expectancy of cats with heart disease? 

If your cat has structural heart disease, it is probable that they will experience recurring signs of congestive heart failure and will need ongoing medication. Typically, cats diagnosed with congestive heart failure survive for an average of 6 to 12 months. To monitor your cat's heart health, scheduling frequent veterinary follow-up visits and possibly undergoing additional tests is crucial.

How can early-onset symptoms of heart disease be identified? 

When it comes to keeping your cat's heart healthy, it's vital to understand that vets can detect heart disease even before its symptoms become apparent. Taking your cat for a yearly check-up, including a thorough physical examination and blood tests, is an excellent way to screen for potential health issues that may contribute to heart disease. This routine screening can effectively maintain your pet's overall well-being.

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 can help diagnose and treat your cat's heart condition. Ask your primary care vet for a referral to our specialists today.