Heart disease in cats

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

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. 

The team at Goodbye Good Boy offers individualised support to help you and your family navigate this progressive disease by providing quality-of-life checks, in-home euthanasia, cremation and aftercare services, and personalised memorialisation options. Our services can even be pre-paid to help ease the financial burden at the time of your pet’s passing. 

To learn more about our pet end-of-life services, give us a call on 1800 953 619 or visit our website goodbyegoodboy.com.au.

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