Your cat's heart is an important organ that plays a vital role in his or her well-being. The cardiovascular system is composed not only of the heart, but also the animal's blood vessels. The heart pumps blood and provides oxygen and nutrients to the tissue while eliminating waste products such as carbon dioxide.
Like humans, cats are susceptible to a number of heart conditions that can often be difficult to detect. The most common type of heart disease affecting cats is cardiomyopathy, or the degeneration and failure of the heart muscle. The cause of cardiomyopathy is unknown, but some vets believe it could be related to stress, a genetic defect, a weakened immune system, or a bacterial or viral infection. There are three different forms of cardiomyopathy, including:
Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM) - Swelling of the heart chamber and weakening of the heart muscle that prevents the heart from pumping blood.
Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy (HCM) - A condition that develops when the heart muscle thickens, often to the point where the chambers of the heart diminish and are no longer able to pump blood through the body. HCM is the most common heart disorder in cats and can occur in pets as young as three months and as old as 17 years. Treatment is focused on improving heart function and reducing blood clots.
Restrictive Cardiomyopathy - Hardening of one or both ventricles without thickening of the heart muscle, thus restricting blood flow.
A heart murmur is not an illness or disease but is a vibration caused by turbulent blood flow into, through, or out of the heart. Not all heart murmurs are serious; however, they can be indicative of an underlying heart disease.
Cats with mild heart disease often exhibit no symptoms, but as the disease progresses, symptoms of heart failure may develop rapidly. These include:
- shortness of breath and wheezing
- panting with very little exertion
- potbelly or swollen limbs
- decreased appetite and weight loss
- sudden paralysis of one or both hind legs
- bluish gray gums, lips or tongue
Heart disease is a frightening diagnosis, but with early identification and appropriate treatment you can help your cat live more comfortably. A diet low in sodium and high in potassium is usually recommended for cats with heart disease. An annual vet check is always recommended. Consult your vet for precise dietary and treatment advice and remember never to diagnose your pet or administer any product without your vet's recommendation.