Dr. Ryan Sherwood
Brunswick Veterinary Hospital- Contact Us

What are some heart problems that cats can encounter?

So cats frequently run into everything from heart murmurs to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, throw out some fancy words, to a leaky mitral valve that causes some increased backflow into the lungs. It all varies depending on severity and given diagnosis.

How do heart issues impact the health and well-being of my cat?

Most of the time, what we'll see with cats is it's limiting their ability to be themselves. Run around the house, chase toys. You'll notice that they're being a little bit more lazy even for a cat. You might even notice that they're having to stop doing what they're doing, start coughing, or sometimes even collapse.

What preventative measures do veterinarians recommend to help avoid feline cardiology issues?

Prevention is a little bit challenging because most of our cardiac issues are genetic. They're acquired over time so the biggest thing that we can do is make sure that for any cat under seven they're getting their annual physical exam. For any cats over seven we're starting to do those exams every six months just to make sure that we're catching anything as it's happening because cats tend to hide their cardiac disease incredibly well.

What are some signs and symptoms of cat heart issues and what problems can they cause?

Typically with cat heart issues we will see decreased running around playing and less interest in being active. We will see occasional collapse. We'll see some coughing. Usually, I see that coughing when they're calm, quiet, relaxed. Occasionally, when they get very excited. Oftentimes we will see that it looks almost like an asthma attack when that coughing happens.

Why is it important to avoid self-diagnosing heart problems in your cat?

Self-diagnosis is a challenge in most diseases. In cardiac disease there's a risk of any of these signs being infectious in nature due to neurologic issues. Sometimes just the cat being the cat. Sometimes due to musculoskeletal issues. There are so many reasons why this might happen. I would really recommend seeing a veterinarian if you're noticing any changes. Discussing your concerns about cardiac disease, but generally speaking leave it to the veterinarians.

How will a veterinarian diagnose heart issues in my cat?

In cats, it's a little bit tricky. We still recommend doing X-rays first just to make sure that our lungs are nice and clear. We don't have any increase in the size of our blood vessels that could kind of tip us off. Cat's hearts tend not to change size like we do see in dogs where they tend to get enlarged until very late in heart disease. So typically, a second round of diagnostics, usually an echocardiogram, which is an ultrasound of the heart, to look at where we might be finding that problem particularly if we happen to notice a murmur.

What is a veterinary cardiology workup?

Largely x-ray first off so we will take three views of the chest: front and both sides, and then we will usually recommend an echocardiogram ultrasound of the heart to see where that murmur is coming from. Usually, that's paired with an EKG, an electrocardiogram, which is a graph of the electrical energy of the heart giving us an idea where a problem may lie that's not purely structural. We take all of that together and we come up with your diagnosis.

What are some possible treatments or procedures for a cat with heart issues?

On the referral side of things, if you're seeing a board-certified cardiologist, they may, in fact, place a pacemaker if it's necessary otherwise, typically it's medication to limit the amount of fluid building up in the lungs if we're noticing that that's a diuretic called Lasix or a pro-contractility a drug that helps the heart beat a little bit more firmly called Pimobendin and oftentimes some blood pressure medications if we have noticed that our blood pressure is elevated.

Why is early detection and diagnosis so important for cat heart problems?

The earlier we find cardiac disease the more likely that the medications that we use actually manage the symptoms and signs we can actually increase their life significantly. If we get to a point where we're in congestive heart failure right now, the statistics are telling us that they'll usually have about six to nine months, on average, left once we reach congestive heart failure it can be years without getting to congestive heart failure so the sooner that we intervene the longer we can extend good quality life.

Frequently Asked Cat Cardiology Questions

Dr. Ryan Sherwood

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

Cats are particularly tricky in identifying heart disease. They tend to hide it. Often, we discover it as an incidental finding in our usual annual exams. One of the things that you might notice 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. Often, we'll identify it as a sign of a cough, usually at night or when they're really quiet. Otherwise, as I said, we find it during a physical exam.

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. Often, by the time we notice a problem, it's obvious enough that a general practitioner can find problems in the lungs and changes 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, and coughing. If we happen to notice that your cat is collapsing without good reason, or if we notice that our gums are turning blue at various times, those would all be 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. So you'll hear veterinarians talk about a grade of a heart murmur, it's usually one through six. That sound is just a volume. So grade one, 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. So, not being able to see what's going on inside on X-ray makes it very difficult to diagnose with an X-ray alone. An echocardiogram, an ultrasound of the heart itself, allows us to look inside and see how the valves are doing, see if there's an increase in the thickness of the wall of the heart. And those 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 can vary significantly, but it depends on when we find the heart disease, how severe things have progressed, 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, for example, 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. 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 bacteria, we can treat with some antibiotics and get things under control that way. It really significantly depends on the diagnosis.

If you have any other questions, please give us a call at (518) 279-0700. You can also email us at [email protected] and we will get back to you as soon as we are able. Don't forget to follow us on social media: Facebook and Instagram.