Heart Problems in Cats
It turns out that cats also suffer from heart disease, especially cardiomyopathies of unknown causes just like in humans.
They also get heartworm disease and outdoor and indoorcats should be on preventive medication in heartworm endemic areas.
Symptoms of heart disease include labored breathing, weight loss, rear end weakness (due to blood clots), loss of energy and respiratory congestion or wheezing.
Here's what to expect: when you go
to a vet with your cat
and heart disease is suspected:
Exam and History: We will be checking for a laboring heart, throbbing jugular veins, bulged eye vessels, and any hint of lower lung respiratory sounds in addition to our normal all over exam. Heart disease in cats is often subtle in the early stages, but if suspected, here are your options:
Lab and Radiographic Work up: (very important with heart disease to confirm the diagnosis; trial and error treatment is not appropriate with heart disease. Imagine your physician putting you on expensive and potentially dangerous heart medication based on a cough or exercise intolerance)
A. Heartworm Elisa Test: more and more cats are being positively diagnosed with heartworm disease causing a range of symptoms from minor to deadly.
B. CBC and Chemistry Blood Work: Heart disease is often associated with kidney and liver disease and is sometimes infectious; all things we can find out with blood work. Also a good idea prior to anesthesia which we will need to get decent radiographs.
Cats are prone to hyperthyroid disease which affects the heart, so we also recommend a thyroid test.
C. Radiographs. Usually diagnostic; in other words we can usually confirm the disease except in the early stages and see how bad the disease is on radiographs. This is because cardiomyopathy diseases cause enlargement of the heart as well as pulmonary edema and effusion (fluid in the lungs).
D. Urinalysis: This test is not likely to tell us anything specific about the heart, but it's included in the work up of pets suspected of serious disease. Why? Because most serious diseases also involve other organ systems and this fairly inexpensive test of urine gives us a good feel for the heatlh of the kidneys and bladder as well as hints about pancreatic, liver, and gall bladder health. It helps with our asscessment of tissue hydration too.
F. Echo, Ultra Sound, Angiocardiography, MRI's, Cat Scans, and other types of Imaging: All this is now available in veterinary medicine but expect to go to a specialist, more and more of whom are now available in most regions of the modern world. The only reason not to take advantage of specialists is expense. I mention this mainly to motivate you to consider pet health insurance. It sure is nice when you need it.
Treatment Options to Consider:
1. Consider referral to a specialist for heart disease. Don't expect most general practioners to be expert cardiac physicians!
2. If you can't afford to go to a specialist, here's what we will do in hopes of controlling the problem:
A. Diets that minimize the problem
B. Weight Loss if appropriate...Many heart disease
patients are way too fat.
C. Furosimide tablets as needed to control coughing and congestion. This is a diuretic and will make your cat urinate and drink more but often works well in relieving the fluid load in the lungs associated with heart disease.
D. Blood Pressure tablets (enalapril) to help reduce the fluid load the heart has to pump against.
E. Beta-adrenergic Blockers (atenolol) reduces the oxygen demand by the heart
F. Taurine ( an amino acid that is poorly synthesized by cats and a lack of can cause both blindness and heart disease. (Available in inexpensive multivitamins made especially for cats)
G. Omega Fatty Acids aid vascular health
H. A course of antibiotics is often needed to fight or control the associated respiratory disease.
I. Sometimes steroids are needed to make breathing easier.
J. Frequent rechecks. Both the disease and the medications used merit frequent rechecking and adjusting based on how well everything is working.
I've copied an article off the internet highlighting that heart disease is a serious problem in American women as well as men and that the symptoms are often LESS OBVIOUS in women.
The artilce is to your left
On This Page:
Feline Cardiomyopathies; this is a first draft so please be patient
A little about heart disease in human females
On Other Pages:
Heart Attack Symptoms in Human Females
I was aware that female heart attacks are different,
but this is the best description I've ever read.
Women and heart attacks (Myocardial infarction).
Did you know that women rarely have the same dramatic symptoms that men have when experiencing heart attack ...
you know, the sudden stabbing pain in the chest, the cold sweat, grabbing the chest & dropping to the floor
that we see in the movies.
Here is the story of one
woman's experience with a heart attack.
I had a heart attack at about 10 :30 PM with NO
prior exertion, NO prior emotional trauma that one
would suspect might've brought it on..
I was sitting all snugly & warm on a cold evening,
with my purring cat in my lap, reading an interesting
story my friend had sent me, and actually thinking,
'A-A-h, this is the life, all cozy and warm in my soft,
cushy Lazy Boy with my feet propped up.
A moment later, I felt that awful sensation of indigestion, when you've
been in a hurry and grabbed a bite of sandwich and washed
it down with a dash of water, and that hurried bite seems
to feel like you've swallowed a golf ball going down the
esophagus in slow motion and it is most uncomfortable.
You realize you shouldn't have gulped it down so fast
and needed to chew it more thoroughly and this time
drink a glass of water to hasten its progress down to
This was my initial sensation---the only trouble was
that I hadn't taken a bite of anything since about 5:00
p.m. After it seemed to subside, the next sensation
was like little squeezing motions that seemed to be
racing up my SPINE(hind-sight, it was probably my aorta spasming), gaining speed as they continued racing up and under my sternum (breast bone, where one pressesrhythmically when administering CPR).
This fascinating process continued on into my throat
and branched out into both jaws. '
AHA!! NOW I stopped
puzzling about what was happening -- we all have read
and/or heard about pain in the jaws being one of the
signals of an MI happening, haven't we? I said aloud to
myself and the cat, Dear God, I think I'm having a heart
I lowered the footrest dumping the cat from my lap,
started to take a step and fell on the floor instead. I
thought to myself, If this is a heart attack, I shouldn't
be walking into the next room where the phone is or
anywhere else ... but, on the other hand, if I don't, if
I wait any longer I may not be able to get up in a moment.
I pulled myself up with the arms of the chair, walked
slowly into the next room and dialed the Paramedics ...(911)
I told her I thought I was having a heart attack due to the pressure building under the sternum and radiating into my jaws. I didn't feel hysterical or afraid, just stating the facts.
She said she was sending the Paramedics over immediately, asked if the front door was near to me, and if so, to unbolt the door and then lie down on the floor where
they could see me when they came in.
I unlocked the door and then laid down on the floor as
instructed and lost consciousness, as I don't remember the medics coming in, their examination, lifting me onto a gurney or getting me into their ambulance, or hearing the call they made to St. Jude ER on the way, but I did briefly awaken when we arrived and saw that the Cardiologist was already there in his surgical blues and cap, helping the medics pull my stretcher out of the ambulance. He was bending
over me asking questions (probably something like 'Have you taken any medications?') but I couldn't make my mind interpret
what he was saying, or form an answer, and nodded off again, not waking up until the Cardiologist and partner had already threaded the teeny angiogram balloon up my femoral artery into the aorta and into my heart where they installed 2 side by side stents to hold open my right coronary artery.
'I know it sounds like all my thinking and actions at home
must have taken at least 20-30 minutes before calling the
Paramedics, but actually it took perhaps 4-5 minutes before the call, and both the fire station and St. Jude are only minutes away from my home, and my Cardiologist was already to go to the OR in his scrubs and get going on restarting my heart (which had stopped somewhere between my arrival and the
procedure) and installing the stents.
'Why have I written all of this to you with so much detail?
Because I want all of you who are so important in my life to
know what I learned first hand.'
1. Be aware that something very different is happening in
your body not the usual men's symptoms but inexplicable
things happening (until my sternum and jaws got into the
act). It is said that many more women than men die of their first (and last) MI because they didn't know they were having one and commonly mistake it as indigestion, take some Maalox or other anti-heartburn preparation and go to bed, hoping they'll feel better in the morning when they wake up .. which doesn't happen. My female friends, your symptoms might not be exactly like mine, so I advise you to call the Paramedics if ANYTHING is unpleasantly happening that you've not felt before. It is better to have a 'false alarm' visitation than to risk your life guessing what it might be!
2. Note that I said *'Call the Paramedics
And if you can take an asprin.
Ladies, TIME IS OF THE
ESSENCE! Do NOT try to drive yourself to the ER - you are a hazard to others on the road. Do NOT have your panicked husband who will be speeding and looking anxiously at what's
happening with you instead of the road. Do NOT call your
doctor -- he doesn't know where you live and if it's at
night you won't reach him anyway, and if it's daytime, his assistants (or answering service) will tell you to call the Paramedics. He doesn't carry the equipment in his car that you need to be saved! The Paramedics do, principally OXYGEN that you need ASAP. Your Dr. will be notified later.
3. Don't assume it couldn't be a heart attack because you have a normal cholesterol count. Research has discovered that a
cholesterol elevated reading is rarely the cause of an MI
(unless it's unbelievably high and/or accompanied by high
blood pressure).. MIs are usually caused by long-term stress and inflammation in the body, which dumps all sorts of deadly hormones into your system to sludge things up in there. Pain
in the jaw can wake you from a sound sleep. Let's be careful and be aware. The more we know, the better chance we could survive.