Heart disease in cats

Julia Dicconson
Content Manager
September 26, 2021

Heart disease refers to any condition that impairs the heart’s ability to circulate blood through the body. 

Heart disease includes thickened heart walls (hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, representing more than 80% of cases), increased heart muscle stiffness (restrictive cardiomyopathy), or heart enlargement (dilated cardiomyopathy). 

A serious consequence of heart disease in cats is the formation of blood clots (thromboembolism) that travel to the hind limbs. Congestive heart failure occurs when heart function becomes so compromised that fluid accumulates in the lungs and abdomen.  

What are common heart disease signs in cats?

In most cases, no signs are observed in the early stage of heart disease.

Intermediate or advanced signs include:

  • Abnormal heart sounds noticed by your veterinarian
  • Lethargy
  • Decreased appetite and weight loss
  • Difficulty breathing or getting comfortable
  • Abdominal distention
  • Hindlimb paralysis 
  • Collapse
  • Sudden death

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Lethargy is common in cats with heart disease.


How is heart disease managed in cats? 

Management is based on the disease type and sign severity. Treatment options include medications to relax the heart muscle, normalise the heart rate, reduce clot formation risk, delay disease progression and reduce fluid accumulation from congestive heart failure. 

Cats with congestive heart failure need consistent medical treatment and vigilant monitoring. Discussing a personalised management plan with your veterinarian and a veterinary cardiologist is important for the best outcome for your cat.


What is the prognosis for cats?

Cats with mild to moderate hypertrophic cardiomyopathy may have a good quality of life for a number of years. The prognosis for restrictive cardiomyopathy is less than one year. For dilated cardiomyopathy, this is less than two months. 

If thromboembolism occurs, up to 50% of cats can regain hind limb function, but the risk for recurrence is significant. If heart disease progresses to congestive heart failure, intensive medical management may provide a good quality of life for 12 to 18 months.

Management tips for a cat with heart disease

At-home needs include:

  • Easily accessible food, water, and litter box, and a comfortable location
  • Consistency with medications - do not stop without your veterinarian’s direction
  • Monitoring resting respiratory rate, vomiting, appetite, drinking and urination
  • Watching for signs of worsening disease

For end-of-life care:

In a crisis:

Immediately seek help from your veterinarian if your cat stops eating; has open-mouthed breathing, rapid respiratory rate, abnormal gum colour, or a distended abdomen; collapses; cannot walk, or vocalises in pain.

It is vital to begin end-of-life care discussions before your cat’s condition becomes unmanageable, or they begin losing their quality of life. 

Don’t wait until the very end. It’s important to consider your pet’s end-of-life journey early, so that you, your family and your pet are all supported through the process.

When the time comes, we’re here for you. Goodbye Good Boy provides a range of end-of-life services to make the difficult process of saying goodbye a little easier. 

We offer quality of life assessments from qualified vets, specialist grief counselling, at home euthanasia from dedicated end of life veterinarians, as well as cremation services and memorial options to help remember your pet for their unique character.

We are with you at every step of the journey.

To find out more, you can call our team of passionate pet lovers on 1800 953 619.


This article was reproduced with permission from Goodbye Good Boy advisor Dr Dani McVety, of Lap Of Love.