What do I need to look for as the first sign of a heart issue in my cat?

Cats are particularly tricky in finding heart disease. They tend to hide it. We often find it as an incidental finding in our usual annual exams. One of the things that you might find is that they're starting to slow down, they're not running around as much, they're not playing as hard as they used to. We'll often find it as a sign of a cough, usually at night or when they're really quiet. Otherwise, we find it during a physical exam.

Dr. Ryan Sherwood
Brunswick Veterinary Hospital

Do I need a board-certified cardiologist to diagnose heart issues in my cat?

A board-certified cardiologist is recommended as your first line for diagnoses. They're going to have the best equipment, and the best ability to diagnose. However, not all heart problems require a cardiologist for diagnosis. Oftentimes by the time we notice a problem, it's obvious enough that a general practitioner can find problems in the lungs, a change in the size of the heart, usually on x-ray, and we can address those signs and symptoms as a general practice outpatient procedure.

How do I know if my cat has a heart issue?

Look for signs such as exercise intolerance, not running around playing. You may notice coughing. If we happen to notice that we're collapsing without good reason, or if we notice that our gums are turning blue at various times, those would all be really good reasons to get in to see your veterinarian.

How are heart murmurs in cats diagnosed?

We listen. A heart murmur is just a sound. Veterinarians talk about a grade of a heart murmur, it's usually one through six. That sound is just a volume. So grade one is fairly quiet, all the way up to grade six, which is a very loud, very obvious murmur.

What does an echocardiogram show that an x-ray does not?

X-rays are great for cardiac disease in dogs. In cats, their cardiac disease tends to hide within the normal shape of a heart. Not being able to see what's going on inside on X-ray makes it very difficult to diagnose with X-ray alone. An echocardiogram, an ultrasound of the heart itself, allows us to look inside and see how the valves are doing, and see if there's an increase in the thickness of the wall of the heart. These are all great measures for diagnosing a given heart disease.

What is the prognosis if my cat is diagnosed with a heart issue?

The prognosis varies wildly, but it depends on when we find the heart disease, how severe things have gone on, and what the underlying cause is. If it's a simple murmur, there may be a wonderful prognosis. We find a murmur at age three, let's say. It may not be life-limiting. But if we happen to notice that they're coughing a lot, they're struggling to breathe. Their heart murmur is fairly loud, then the prognosis can be poor to grave at times.

Which heart conditions are considered treatable in cats, and which ones are not?

Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy is treatable, but it's maintained, it's managed, it's never cured. Diseases that can be cured, if we happen to have an infectious endocarditis or something along those lines that are caused by a bacteria, we can treat with some antibiotics, get things under control that way. It really wildly depends on the diagnosis.

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