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Cat Cardiology - Diagnosing and Treating Heart Issues in Cats

How do heart issues impact the health and wellbeing of my cat?

The heart is a very critical organ in the body. If the heart is not functioning well, then the cat will not have a great quality of life.

Dr. Nichola Gaither
Animal Hospital of Statesville

What preventative measures do veterinarians recommend to help avoid feline heart disease?

One crucial recommendation is to have a physical exam at least yearly, if not twice yearly. We know that cats specifically can hide heart disease.

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

Cardiomyopathy is a big word, and basically, that's a disease of the heart muscle, which is one of the more common diseases in cat cardiology.

Do cats have problems with high blood pressure?

They can. And blood pressure is one thing that we recommend testing on our senior pets. Now we know that your cats can get excited and very nervous when they come to the clinic. So we also have to interpret those values in light of their anxiety.

How about heart murmurs? Dogs have heart murmurs; can cats?

They sure can. A murmur is an abnormal flow of the blood through a heart valve. But we know that only 50% of cats with heart disease have heart murmurs, so it's not as common as it is in dogs.

How does an irregular heartbeat affect a cat?

We would detect that by listening with a stethoscope on our physical exam. An irregular heartbeat means that the heart is not pumping effectively or out of rhythm. The cat may be lethargic and not have a lot of energy.

Why is it important to avoid diagnosing your cat with heart disease yourself?

That's a good question. For one, cats like to hide their disease, so you may not detect that they have a problem, or if you do, you want to know precisely what that problem is to understand how to treat it best.

How will you diagnose heart issues in my cat?

Of course, the physical exam, which I keep coming back to. We can listen to the heart to detect the abnormal rhythm, as you mentioned, or possibly a murmur. We also have a specialized blood test that can determine whether a cat has heart disease or whether the heart is healthy. And more specifically, we can use an echocardiogram, which is an ultrasound of the heart.

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

The treatments that we know for cats are giving them proper exercise, feeding them a well-balanced diet, and not letting them get overweight, which can go a long way in helping heart disease.

Are there any procedures that we would do on a cat with heart problems?

Yeah. The echocardiogram is a specialized ultrasound where we can measure the muscle of the heart. We can detect if it's too thick or if it's pumping effectively. I describe heart disease in cats like a bodybuilder. They're not very flexible, and so the heart is just a big pump. And so you can think about if it's not very flexible, it's not going to squeeze well. And so we can determine that with an ultrasound.

Why is early detection and diagnosis so important for your cat?

We here at the Animal Hospital of Statesville believe in preventative medicine. Any time we can catch a disease early in that process, it usually carries a better prognosis.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (704) 872-3625, you can email us, or you can reach out on Facebook. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as fast as we can.

Cat Cardiology - FAQs

Dr. Nichola Gaither
Animal Hospital of Statesville

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

Good question. Sometimes we do. Cats can be very confusing, and it can be hard to detect heart disease in them. So, we rely on our veterinary cardiologist, but general practitioners like myself can help with that.

What would I see in my cat to suspect that he or she has heart disease?

Your cat might be lethargic. They may sleep 24 out of the 24 hours instead of 23. Sometimes they don't show any symptoms at all, which is why a physical exam at least once a year is vital for your cat. But your cat may have shortness of breath or open-mouth breathing, which would be some symptoms you might notice.

How are heart murmurs in cats diagnosed?

Heart murmurs are diagnosed by listening to the heart by a stethoscope.

What does an echocardiogram show that an x-ray won't?

An x-ray is a two-dimensional view. It's a big picture, a still image of the chest, and the echocardiogram is a specialized ultrasound of the heart. And so that way, we can look at the inside of the heart to determine the underlying condition of the heart.

If a cat has heart disease, how long can the cat expect to live with that?

Good question. So murmurs in cats are not always clinical. Even though we hear a heart murmur in a cat, it doesn't necessarily mean that they have bad heart disease. So it depends on the type of heart disease they have, but many of them can live for many years and have a good quality of life.

What heart conditions are considered treatable and which are not?

Good question. One of the major diseases that cats get is cardiomyopathy or hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, which is enlarged muscles of the heart that don't flex very well. And that makes it hard for the heart to pump blood. And so when that happens, that can be life-threatening for some of our cats.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (704) 872-3625, you can email us, or you can reach out on Facebook. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as fast as we can.

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