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Cat Heart Disease: Symptoms and Treatment of Heart Failure

Heart disease in a cat

Heart disease in cats are not uncommon and it is worth familiarizing yourself with their most common symptoms.

This study is about that.

It describes the most common cardiac symptoms that may appear in cats, and provides a general classification of heart diseases.

I also outline briefly what you will have to face, Dear Reader, when a heart disease is diagnosed in your ward.

As with all other conditions - the sooner it is detected, the greater the chance of your pet's life longer.

  • Why a cat's heart?
  • Why is heart disease so hard to diagnose?
  • Heart insubordination, which is what happens when your heart refuses to obey?
    • Circulatory failure
    • Heart failure in a cat
    • Vascular failure (peripheral)
  • Why does the cat's heart get sick?
  • What diseases most often hit a cat's heart?
  • Racial more vulnerable? Predisposition to heart disease
  • Heart disease symptoms in a cat
  • What tests should be done to confirm a cat's heart disease?
  • A visit to the office - what the doctor will ask about?
  • My cat is a cardiac patient - what does that mean?

Why a cat's heart?

The heart - called the heart muscle by medics, is an organ located in the chest.

It is assigned a number of important functions that are of paramount importance in supporting the vital functions of all animals, including cats.

From an anatomical point of view, the heart is a muscular pump whose job is to constantly pump blood from large to small bloodstream and vice versa.

For what?

Well, so that through this ingeniously designed system of connected vessels, blood (driven by the heart) could reach every, even the smallest cell of the body.

There, it returns the transported reserves of oxygen, nutrients, minerals, vitamins and many other biologically active particles, and then takes away "garbage " in the form of by-products of metabolism and combustion.

The amazing thing is that it works all your life, constantly contracting and relaxing. Regardless of the state of consciousness, this organ works non-stop.

How is it possible that despite the anatomical complexity of the circulatory system and two basically opposite directions of blood flow, a healthy heart does not "get it wrong " and synchronizes the contractions and relaxation of the muscles of individual cavities with perfect precision?

It is possible because it has its own automatism - a kind of electrical installation, the impulses of which regularly stimulate the cells of the heart muscle to work synchronously and productively.

The heart must make such a titanic effort throughout life.

Sometimes, however, there are abnormalities - whether in the construction of the suction and suction machine itself (the heart muscle and the valve apparatus), or in its installation (the heart's conductive system) - as a result of which heart disease develops.

Why is heart disease so hard to diagnose?

Why is it so hard to diagnose heart disease?

Domestic cats also suffer from heart disease, unfortunately not infrequently.

However, compared to dogs (and also humans), the symptoms are much more subtle, cats can "hide" the disease for a very long time, adapting to the symptoms that occur.

They do not flaunt their malaise, they do not complain about stinging on the sternum.

They will rather avoid human contact, hide in secluded places, sleep more, possibly become aggressive or lose weight.

The most common and noticeable respiratory failure is not immediately associated with the heart and often shortness of breath or breathing problems are blamed on other disease entities.

The mysterious and secretive personality of the furry animals, frequent lonely visits to the court, as well as the fact that the animal's organism activates numerous compensatory mechanisms mean that the cardiac problem is often recognized quite late.

The matter is additionally complicated by the kitten's lack of cooperation during the visit to the clinic.

And even when the cat is at the doctor's office and is standing on the table, it is very difficult during a checkup or visit related to e.g. carefully examine the cat for cardiovascular disease.

Our furry patients purr and break away while listening to the heart, and the more the cat is held, the more determined the cat is to run away.

However, when you happily manage to reach the area of ​​the cat's heart with the stethoscope head, it turns out that it beats very quickly and you really need to strain your hearing to listen to irregularities in the form of murmurs or arrhythmias.

All these factors mean that cat heart disease is diagnosed relatively late, usually when the patient already presents a whole range of clinical symptoms that cannot be linked to other, more treatable diseases.

Myocardial insubordination, which is what happens when your heart refuses to obey?

It happens that the heart stops working properly for various reasons.

As a result of the reduced efficiency of the heart muscle in pumping blood around the body, various clinical syndromes occur, manifesting themselves in more or less expressed symptoms.

In order to understand the mechanisms involved in the formation of any heart disease, it is worth familiarizing yourself with the most commonly used terms.

In all kinds of discussions of cardiovascular disease, the term circulatory failure or heart failure is often used.

These are very convenient concepts that tell us that the problem is located somewhere in the circulatory system, but unfortunately they do not explain the essence of the problem.

Therefore, they do not constitute a diagnosis, they only signal a certain functional "weakness " of the circulatory system.

Circulatory failure

We are talking about it when, due to disturbed blood flow to tissues and organs, their needs for oxygen and nutrients and the complete removal of metabolites are not sufficiently covered.

Such a situation may arise as a result impaired function of the heart muscle or because of sagging and vasodilation, which entails a decrease in the amount of circulating blood. At this stage, we do not know exactly where this dysfunction comes from, we only know vaguely that somewhere in the circulatory system.

Therefore, the diagnosis should be clarified, and this is achieved by the further division of circulatory failure.

Thus, we are approaching two main causes of cardiovascular impairment: it may be the failure of the heart muscle itself and / or vascular failure.

Heart failure in a cat

Down heart failure occurs when the heart is no longer sufficiently effective in "pumping out" blood around the body.

What happens then?

Tissue perfusion is severely impaired.

Under normal circumstances, the heart throws an appropriate amount of blood into the periphery during one of its contractions - this is called. systolic projection of the heart.

When the disease develops in any of the anatomical parts of this organ, it occurs decrease in his systolic output.

This is the case, for example,.in. in the course of:

  • pericarditis,
  • cardiomyopathy,
  • endocarditis,
  • may accompany valvular insufficiency and arrhythmias.

The heart tries to cope by activating certain physiological compensatory mechanisms to provide the body with adequate tissue perfusion and oxygen supply.

This is wisely called the heart's functional reserve.

However, it does not only happen in the course of heart failure decrease in systolic projection and decrease in minute capacity, but i depletion of the heart reserve

Heart failure is chronic and progressive in the vast majority of cases.

As a result, it comes to permanent hypoxia with the development of more and more noticeable symptoms venous stasis and arising swelling in different parts of the body.

Vascular failure (peripheral)

In its course, there is a significant, uncompensated disproportion between the capacity of the vascular bed and the volume of circulating blood.

It sounds extremely wise, but if you try - Dear Reader, drink a drink using not a straw, but a PVC pipe with a diameter similar to a vacuum cleaner pipe - you will understand what I mean.

The comparison is a bit exaggerated, but the essence is very similar.

This type of failure occurs as a result of rapid and excessive fluid loss (e.g. with haemorrhage, diarrhea) or excessive dilation of blood vessels as a result of e.g.:

  • bacterial toxins,
  • drugs,
  • injuries,
  • in the course of anaphylactic shock.

Why does the cat's heart get sick?

Why does the cat's heart get sick?

We already know that the very definition of heart failure is very broad and you should always try to define the cause of this condition as precisely as possible.

If vascular failure it usually happens an emergency, however, after a quick elimination of the cause causing it and symptomatic action, it is usually possible to stabilize the patient's condition heart failure is usually caused by diseases of a nature progressive and chronic.

So when the systolic output of the heart is reduced and its failure develops?

  1. When there is a decrease in contractility of the heart muscle. This usually happens in the course of any myocardial diseases (cardiomyopathies, inflammation) and at electrolyte disturbances (decrease in the amount of calcium, magnesium, potassium).
  2. When there are significant fluctuations preload. What is preload? Nothing more than the force exerted by the venous blood on the muscles of the heart chambers at the beginning of their contraction. Preload is significantly increased when the veins become excessively narrowed and appear hypertension. The opposite situation, i.e. too low preload, occurs when:
    • endocardial diseases,
    • hypertrophic cardiomyopathy,
    • in case of shock,
    • in overdose with diuretics.
  3. When increased is heart afterload. This is the force that the heart muscle must overcome to eject blood from the ventricles onto the body circumference. As blood is pushed into the aorta and pulmonary artery, any narrowing of the mouths of these vessels, as well as high and low blood pressure, will result in increased afterload.
  4. When they occur valvular defects. With all kinds of defects of the valve apparatus, a back wave is formed and a decrease in blood flow in the right direction. This results in a volume overload of individual chambers of the heart and, consequently, a reduction in stroke volume.
  5. When there are disturbances in the rate and rhythm of the heartbeat. In the course of arrhythmia, the chambers fill with blood less and therefore less of it travels to the body circumference.

These causes play a key role in all heart diseases.

When they appear, it comes to:

  • hypoxia,
  • drop in blood pressure,
  • tissue perfusion.

Especially the reduction of blood flow through such vital organs as kidneys, brain if heart triggers an alarm situation.

The body cannot afford this type of failure - it immediately activates compensation mechanisms whose task will be to maintain the correct volume of circulating blood, pressure and blood supply to tissues.

Initially, this action is beneficial, but long-term persistence of these mechanisms has an adverse effect on the heart, even aggravating the causes of the decreased cardiac output.

As a result, the kitten's clinical condition may deteriorate and further symptoms of failure may develop.

What diseases most often hit a cat's heart?

Cardiovascular diseases in cats include:

  • congenital malformations of the heart,
  • acquired heart disease,
  • vascular disorders,
  • arrhythmias.

The main causes of heart failure in cats are idiopathic or primary diseases of the heart muscle, i.e. the so-called. cardiomyopathies.

And this is how you can distinguish:

  • Primary cardiomyopathies:
    • Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM - the most commonly diagnosed heart disease in cats).
    • Dilated cardiomiopathy (DCM).
    • Restrictive cardiomiopathy (RCM).
    • Unclassified cardiomiopathy (UCM)
    • Arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy.
  • Specific / secondary cardiomyopathies:
    • Nutritional (due to taurine deficiency; nowadays less and less).
    • Metabolic (against the background of hyperthyroidism, acromegaly).
    • Infiltrative (due to cancer, amyloidosis).
    • Inflammatory (the effect of toxins, infectious agents, immune reactions).
    • Genetic (HCM, DCM).
    • Toxic (intoxication with doxorubicin, heavy metals).

Racial more vulnerable? Predisposition to heart disease

Which cats are most at risk of cardiovascular failure?

Heart disease in cats can appear even in kittens, but they are most often diagnosed in middle-aged and elderly patients.

Some breeds of cats are strongly predisposed until the onset of heart disease, especially hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.

These are cats of breeds:

  • maine coon,
  • ragdoll,
  • american shorthair cats,
  • Persian cats,
  • British shorthair cats,
  • Norwegian forest cats,
  • Turkish van,
  • scottish fold fold.

Cardiological examination should also be:

  • sphinxes,
  • Russian blue cats,
  • Devonian rex,
  • Burmese cats,
  • bengal cats,
  • Siberian cats.

However, this does not mean that non-purebred cats are not free from cardiac problems.

Heart disease symptoms in a cat

What are the symptoms of cat heart disease?

Cats don't show for a long time that they have anything wrong.

They carefully hide their condition, becoming a bit more at the beginning listless, withdrawn.

Loss of appetite it is often unnoticeable to owners, especially if the kitten is outside.

And the animal slowly is losing weight, getting sleeps more, has less fun.

Later, a strange situation occurs and it is most often the main reason for consultation at a veterinary office:

Well, the "healthy" cat so far begins to tire quickly.

During even short-term effort, play or in a stressful situation, the cat suddenly starts very much breathe quickly with an open mouth, and the movements of the chest are very noticeable.

After a while, everything may be back to normal.

In young kittens, it is observed poor growth and less weight compared to siblings.

In more advanced states, it can happen enlargement of the outline of the abdominal integuments due to the accumulation of fluid in the abdomen.

In the video below you can see a cat with heart disease and a healthy kitten next to it

WARNING: VERY SAD! Chewbacca 's Last Day. Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy (Enlarged Heart) Maine Coon Cat
Watch this video on YouTube

The cat can too refuse to eat, vomit.

Other symptoms of heart failure in your cat include:

  • dyspnoea,
  • mucous membranes that are pale or blue,
  • fluid accumulation in the chest cavity,
  • fainting.

It is significant that cats rarely cough, therefore, not coughing does not necessarily mean your heart is healthy.

An important symptom in a cat, which is usually not associated with a cardiac problem by the caregiver, is acute limb paresis connected with her severe pain.

The paw skin is pale and visibly cooler.

This is the result of the uprising thrombotic embolism in one of the arteries:

  • bilateral paralysis of the pelvic limbs indicates embolism in the aorta (in the place where it bifurcates into the iliac arteries) - this is called. congestion rider,
  • forelimb paralysis means embolism in the brachial artery;
  • tetraplegia or seizures may indicate cerebral embolism;
  • a sudden attack of breathlessness may be a harbinger pulmonary embolism.

In cats with cardiomyopathy, it can appear hemorrhagic enteritis as a result of thrombosis of the gastric artery or mesenteric.

Regardless of the disease causing heart failure, the condition may worsen and develop at any stage pulmonary edema.

Appears strong moist cough or dyspnoea.

The cat adopts a position that is to facilitate its breathing - it sits or stands on widely spaced limbs, elbows outwards, neck stretched forward and mouth open.

He breathes very quickly, the movements of his chest and abdomen are clearly marked, and the tongue and gums take a pale-blue color.

In many cases, there is also loss of consciousness. This is a critical situation, requiring an immediate visit to the doctor and intensive care.

It also happens that the pet dies without any prior symptoms.

This is known as sudden cardiac death.

What tests should be done to confirm a cat's heart disease?

Diagnosis of cat heart disease

Unfortunately, most of these symptoms are very non-specific and may appear in the course of many cardiovascular diseases.

That is why it is necessary to perform a complete diagnosis.

Diagnosis of cat heart disease includes

  1. Accurate interview medicinally and complete clinical trial, including viewing, palpation, tapping and - perhaps the most valuable in cardiology - auscultation of the chest.
  2. Research chest X-ray in 2 projections allows to recognize enlargement of the heart figure, blood stasis in the pulmonary circulation, accumulation of fluid in the pericardial sac and / or pleural cavity. This test is of diagnostic value only when it is analyzed in conjunction with the symptoms present and the results of a physical examination. In other words, the X-ray abnormalities only suggest the presence of heart failure, however, they should not be decisive.
  3. Electrocardiographic examination. It should be performed in any patient with suspected heart failure. Its purpose is to determine the heart rate and the type of arrhythmia, if any.
  4. Blood pressure measurement - blood pressure should be approx. 120/80. In office conditions, the value of systolic blood pressure may increase significantly, but it should not be higher than 170.
  5. Echocardiographic examination - it is a test necessary in the diagnosis of heart failure, widely available, minimally invasive and safe. It provides a lot of information about the structure and functioning of the heart.
  6. Laboratory tests - full assessment of blood counts, electrolytes, creatinine, glucose, liver parameters and urine tests, and - depending on the indications - additional tests. These tests should be performed both throughout the diagnostic process and afterwards - during the kitten's treatment.
  7. Determination of the level of biological markers of heart failure (natriuretic peptides) and neurohormonal markers (renin, aldosterone, endothelin, vasopressin, norepinephrine) - these tests have (unfortunately) still narrow application, limited to larger cardiology and diagnostic centers.
  8. Other imaging methods like magnetic resonance imaging, computed tomography or radioisotope research - rarely performed due to the cost, availability of apparatuses, difficulties in conducting the test and poor tolerance on the part of animals.
  9. Holter study - record EKG lasting 24 hours.

In the first stage, it is necessary to determine whether we are actually dealing with heart failure and - if so - to indicate its degree of severity.

For this purpose, a 4-point scale developed by the American Association for. Heart Diseases.

Classification of heart failure according to the New York Heart Association (NYHA scale)

Degree of failure Physical activity RTGEKG
ANDNo symptoms at rest or during normal exerciseNormal image, sometimes left atrium enlargementECG recording unchanged
IINo symptoms at rest. Symptoms (coughing, shortness of breath, fatigue) appear after considerable exertionLeft ventricular and slightly left atrial enlargementTypically unchanged. Sometimes features of an overload of the left atrium.
IIIMinimal symptoms at rest. Clear symptoms with every little effort: fatigue, shortness of breath, cough. Possible faintingEnlargement of both ventricles and left atrium. Congestive pulmonary congestion, sometimes pulmonary edema.Features of enlargement of both ventricles and the left atrium. Arrhythmias of various origins.
IVSymptoms appear at rest, as well as with any, even the slightest exertion: dyspnea at rest, leakage into the body cavities, congestive edemaVery marked enlargement of the heart shape, pleural effusion, pulmonary edema.Changes as in grade III, with a higher frequency of arrhythmias.
Classification of heart failure

The next step in cardiological diagnostics is to identify a specific disease entity responsible for the occurrence of heart failure, and then to develop a treatment method.

A visit to the office - what the doctor will ask about?

Medical interview in the veterinary office

Heart problems in cats are found in the vast majority of cases by the owners.

It is them who notice that something is wrong with the pet and they are the mine of knowledge when it comes to the symptoms noticed in the patient.

A cat in an office under stress often masks some symptoms important for the doctor, so it is extremely important that the caregiver shares information about any noticed abnormalities.

It is very good to register situations that are disturbing and show the recording to the doctor.

It is worth having with you medical history and previous research results.

A properly conducted interview should contain the following information:

  • What is the reason for the visit?
  • What symptoms were observed? Their beginning and duration?
    • What degree of activity is the norm for a cat? Has his level of activity changed recently??
    • Whether there is fatigue with or immediately after exercise?
    • Is there fatigue during unusual situations, stress, emotional arousal??
    • Whether you have difficulty breathing at rest?
    • Whether the cat is lethargic, apathetic?
    • Have you experienced fainting or sudden weakness?
    • Was there any coughing, sneezing or heavy breathing? If yes then when? Under what circumstances?
    • Whether there were other symptoms? Diarrhea? Vomiting? No appetite? Seizures or blackouts? Lameness? Paresis?
  • How the disease progresses?
  • Are there hereditary predispositions?? The cat's parents and siblings? (important when a congenital disease is suspected)
  • Is there any prevention of infectious diseases??
  • What diet is given to the patient?
  • Are there any other diseases (diabetes, hyperthyroidism, joint diseases, chronic kidney diseases, respiratory diseases)? What is the effect of the treatment?
  • What are the results of previous tests (if any)?
  • Have there been any similar problems before? Known arrhythmias? Valve defects?
  • Were the procedures performed under general anesthesia?? What was the effect of this?
  • Have any cardiac medications been used before?? What? What effect?
  • What is the reproductive status? Castration / sterilization? pregnancy?
  • Whether there are problems urinating? Increased thirst? Polyuria? Oliguria? Blood in the urine?

The more data the doctor obtains and the more accurate they are, the faster and more efficiently he will conduct further diagnostics.

My cat is a cardiac patient - what does that mean?

It is very important to realize that heart failure is caused by diseases that are mostly incurable.

They are chronic, progressive and irreversible.

This means that all our activities, both as owners and doctors, are mainly focused on slowing down the disease as much as possible and minimizing or inhibiting further deterioration of changes in the myocardium.

So what do you need to keep in mind as a cat guardian with heart disease?

  1. Your client is now a patient, requiring constant supervision and frequent checks by a veterinarian. And it will most likely be so for the rest of his life.
  2. The course of heart failure cannot be predicted. It depends on many factors, both external and internal, so you must be prepared for the possibility of sudden "twists ". Sometimes the disease is linear and mild, but sometimes complications arise.
  3. In order that the aforementioned complications do not occur, avoid other diseases that may affect the course of heart failure. Some diseases worsen the course of circulatory dysfunction and make treatment difficult:
    • bronchial diseases,
    • kidney disease,
    • metabolic disorders,
    • diabetes,
    • obesity.
  4. Additional irregularities may develop at any time, such as.:
    • valvular defects,
    • arrhythmias.
  5. You will likely be giving your kitten medication for the rest of your kitten's life. Do not be surprised if they will be changed during the course of your therapy.
  6. You need to adjust the kitten's activity to its abilities. The cat does not know what is happening. He wants to play, he wants to run, and then suddenly finds himself lying down exhausted, breathing quickly. Reduction of tissue perfusion and oxygenation in the course of heart failure entails the need to limit traffic. You have to make the cat to "save " oxygen, and in a situation of increased exercise, the body has a much greater demand for this gas.
  7. Take care of your mentee's diet. For overweight cats, this should be this slimming diet. In other cases - strengthening diet. There are specials on the market food for cardiac patients.

Further management is strictly dependent on the degree of heart failure and the underlying disease.

Very generally, however, it can be said that:

  1. With heart failure 1st degree usually no treatment is required and a follow-up examination should be performed after 6-12 months. Remember to carefully monitor your kitten and react immediately in the event of any disturbing symptoms.
  2. In case of failure II and III degree it is necessary pharmacological treatment and more frequent visits to the doctor - in case of 2nd degree NS check-up after 3-4 months, by 3rd degree NS behind 1-2 weeks.
  3. In the course of failure 4th degree - hospitalization and intensive care, maximum restriction of traffic. In such a situation, it is often necessary oxygen therapy, and the ECG is even carried out several times a day.
Cat during oxygen therapy in an oxygen cage


In my earlier studies (especially those on cancer), I used to place particular emphasis on the role of the owner in recognizing abnormalities and reacting quickly to their appearance.

And indeed - in the case of most diseases, the caregiver is responsible for the entire burden of observation, quick response, appropriate management and further monitoring of the disease development.

To repeat for Antoine de Saint Exupery: You become forever responsible for what you have tamed.

I was tempted here - in the summary of the article on heart disease in cats - also to emphasize the need to activate "rapid reaction forces " in the face of a threat, but

I'd be contradicting myself.

After all, heart diseases can be hidden for a long time, and go unnoticed for a long time.

So how do you see this threat?

Cats are true masters of mystification. Sometimes it's just impossible to notice the disease in time (despite the really diligent care and deep care on the part of the owner).

Therefore, I only appeal not to underestimate anything.

It is you - as the guardian of your pet - you know him best.

You know when he is sad, when he is hungry, and when he just wants you to leave him alone.

So if you ever notice anything in your cat that just doesn't suit him - don't wait.

Call the doctor, ask for a consultation.

It is better to test your pet twice as much than this once too little.

I hope that after reading this article you already know that heart disease should not be underestimated and it is worth paying attention to the "strange " behavior of the kitten.

If you have questions about cardiovascular diseases, post them now under the article, I will write back as soon as possible.

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