Conscious Cat

July 5, 2010 43 Comments

Feline Heart Disease

Posted by Ingrid

Buckley was diagnosed with heart disease in February of 2007 and succumbed to the disease in November of 2008, so this is a topic close to my heart.   A check up prior to dental surgery revealed a heart murmur, and a subsequent cardiac ultrasound showed that she had restrictive cardiomyopathy.  As a result, I’ve experienced the challenges of caring for a cat with heart disease firsthand. 

Feline heart disease is far more common than most cat owners realize, and it can strike any breed of cat at any age.  What makes feline heart disease very challenging is the fact that cats rarely show the warning signs that are typical for heart disease, such as shortness of breath, exercise intolerance, coughing or weakness) until the disease is quite advanced.  

Diagnosis

For many cat owners, the first time they even learn that their cat has heart disease is during a regular check up, when their veterinarian may discover a heart murmur.  Not every murmur is an indicator of heart disease, but it definitely requires further diagnostics, such as an ECG, or electrocardiogram, chest x-rays, and a cardiac ultrasound.  These tests will show changes to the size and shape of the heart, whether there is fluid present in the chest, and abnormalities of the heart valves.  A cardiac ultrasound can actually determine the degree of heart disease, not just the presence of it.

There are three types of feline heart disease.

Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) is the most common form of feline heart disease.   The walls of the heart are thickened, reducing the amount of blood pumped out with each beat. As a result, the heart has to work harder.  These changes in the heart can lead to leakage at the valves and development of a murmur. As the disease progresses, the heart can become so thickened that it cannot pump blood adequately.  This usually results in fluid accumulation in the lungs.  Typically, the age of onset is young adulthood, although it has been diagnosed in cats as young as six months old.  It is most common in middle-aged male cats, but can be seen in either gender.  There appears to be a genetic component as some breeds, especially Maine Coons, Ragdolls, Persians and American Shorthairs, seem to be predisposed to this condition.  HCM is the most treatable form of heart disease.

Dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) presents with an enlarged heart chamber and thinned heart walls, which means that the weakened heart cannot pump efficiently.  This can cause fluid accumulation in the lungs and/or chest (similar to congestive heart failure in humans).  This form of heart disease has become less common, because research a few years ago showed that a deficiency of taurine in feline diets was one of the main causes.  Since then, most commercially manufactured diets for cats have been formulated with taurine.

Restrictive cardiomyopathy (RCM) is a less common type of heart disease in cats. It is more difficult to detect, as many cats will have near normal echocardiograms, but their heart walls seem hardened and sometimes even form scar tissue.  As a result, the heart becomes less efficient at pumping blood.  This form of heart disease has a very poor prognosis.

Treatment

Treatment of feline heart disease depends on the type of disease diagnosed and the severity of the condition.  Therapy is geared toward supporting the strength of heart contraction and reducing fluid build up.  Many of the medications used to treat feline heart disease, such as betablockers, diuretics, calcium channel blockers and vasodilators are the same medications used in the management of human heart disease.  Dietary management may be part of the treatment.

Blood Clots

Blood clots are a potentially deadly complication of heart disease. These clots can form when changes in the shape of the heart walls cause blood to move through the heart in an abnormal flow pattern, leaving stagnant spots were coagulation can occur. The vast majority of these clots lodge at the very end of the aorta, the biggest artery in the body, where it branches off to supply the rear legs and tail. When this happens, the affected cat will be literally fine one second and paralyzed the next. The pain is excruciating. This is a life-threatening crisis with a very poor prognosis for survival. It is a frightening scenario for any cat owner to contemplate.  Medications such as aspirin or Plavix can help thin the blood to prevent clotting, but are not without side effects.

The outlook for a cat suffering from heart disease depends on many factors:  age, form and severity of the disease, other health issues, and more.  As with most diseases, early detection and intervention can be key.

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43 comments to “Feline Heart Disease”

  1. Marg says:

    Great post. Kind of scary because I need to pay more attention to the heart murmurs. I certainly will talk to the vets about the ones here that have the heart murmurs. I also didn’t know there were that many different forms of heart disease in cats. This really was great information. Thanks so much for writing about it.

  2. Debbi Docherty says:

    My Domino had the restrictive form of cardiomyopathy and was only 6-7 years old when he died. The only symptom he ever displayed was lameness in his hind legs. His passing was sudden and unexpected. Threw a clot to the heart. Good for him, terrible for me.

    Good informational post!

  3. Good post! My first Siamese Ms. Mergatroyd succumbed to heart disease at age 16. She was on meds her last year but meds can only prolong the inevitable.

  4. Ingrid says:

    Marg, I’m glad the post was helpful – thank you for the suggestion of covering this topic!

    Debbi, everytime I hear your story about Domino, my heart just goes out to you. Like you said – good for him, but devastating for you.

    Layla, you’re absolutely right – medications won’t cure the disease, they can only help manage it.

  5. […] don’t know they have the disease, or that it’s developed to a dangerous level. Feline Heart Disease | The Conscious Cat consciouscat.net Buckley was diagnosed with heart disease in February of 2007 and succumbed to the […]

  6. Karen Lucas says:

    Hello Ingrid: My dear cat Whiskers died suddenly a year ago after he threw a clot – he had thyroid disease but had no signs of heart disease. He was fine when I left him at noon that day and when I came home he was on the bedroom floor and could not get up and was crying. I raced to the vet with him and he died shortly after we got there. I think what was the most awful part of the experience was seeing the pain he was in and his terror of what was happening to him. I will always miss him but I wish he could have had a peaceful death. Thank you for writing about heart disease – it is an important thing for cat owners to be aware of.

  7. Ingrid says:

    I’m so sorry about Whiskers, Karen – what an awful memory for you to have to carry with you. I hope that knowing that he’s at peace now helps, even though I know it doesn’t make you miss him any less.

  8. Jami says:

    We lost our 7 year old male Muffy, to a clot. This was a very tramatic event for Muffy and me. I felt I could of helped him sooner that day. In my case Muffy cried horribly and would not let me pick him up, he clawed at me and I was worried I would only cause him more pain if I picked him up, I had no idea what was happening to Muffy. I sat and comforted him as much as he would allow, talking to him and petting his head, crying everytime he cried. By the time I could finally pick him up a few hours had pasted and he was more calm. I gently picked him up and took him to the vet…the Doctor tell’s me his prognosis was not good by this time and he should be euthanized so he won’t suffer anymore…very sad decision and I’m still crying for Muffy everyday. I just need to know what starts to happens once a clot clogs this artery and the cat can no longer use his hind legs? If I would of been able to get Muffy to the vet as soon as this happened could he of been saved?…can someone please explain? My heart hurts for Muffy everyday, he is much loved and missed.

  9. Ingrid says:

    I’m so sorry about your loss, Jami. I know how much it hurts to lose a beloved cat, and when it happens as suddenly and traumatically as it did with Muffy, it makes it even harder.

    Most likely, it wouldn’t have mattered if you could have gotten Muffy to the vet sooner. Once a cat throws a clot, the prognosis is usually very poor, and euthanasia is the kind thing to do. As you know from your experience with Muffy, these clots are very painful.

    These clots form when changes in the shape of the heart walls cause blood to move through the heart in an abnormal flow pattern, leaving stagnant spots where coagulation can occur. The vast majority of these clots lodge at the very end of the aorta, the biggest artery in the body, where it branches off to supply the rear legs and tail. When this happens, the affected cat will literally be fine one second and paralyzed the next. The pain can be excruciating. Treatment during the first 48 hours focuses on pain control, keeping the cat on IV fluids, possibly on oxygen, and sadly, most cats don’t survive treatment. In the rare times that a cat survives initial treatments drugs to attempt to dissolve the clot are given. These drugs are not without risk.

    It’s natural that you’re second-guessing yourself about Muffy, but given the severity of what happened, you were most likely doing the loving thing by agreeing to the euthanasia. And you were with him when it happened, and even tough he was in too much pain to allow you to touch him, I have to believe that just having you there with him gave him comfort. He knew you were trying to help him.

    I hope this helps a little. Try to be gentle with yourself as you mourn his loss. It’s such a hard time. You’re in my thoughts and prayers.

  10. […] he was losing his seven-month battle with lymphoma, with Buckley in November of 2008, when her heart disease was complicated by multiple other issues, and much too soon again with Amber in May of 2010 , […]

  11. Vanessa says:

    Hi everyone.. I just lost my baby on Friday the 30th and it happened when I was on vacation.. A week before my vacation, he was having trouble breathing and I took him to the vet and they told me he had heart disease, they said it was possible for him to live up to 6mnths to 2 years with the medication they provided for him but he died a few days later and the sad part about it was that I wasnt there to comfort him in his last moments.. My sister and mom told me they tried rushing him to the vet and he was screaming really loud and was throwing up and was in a lot of pain.. that is what is killing me the most and it devestates me to know that he probably needed me there in his last moments.. I cant stop crying.. he wasnt just my cat, he was my baby and I had him for 9 years and I really, really miss him… His name was Furball

    • Ingrid says:

      I’m so sorry about Furball, Vanessa. What an awful way to lose him. My heart goes out to you. I hope that in time, memories of your nine years together will replace the shock and pain of losing him, and of not having been able to be with him when he died. I wish there was something I could say to make you feel better.

      I would encourage you to look around the Pet Loss section on this site, maybe something you read there will help even just a little bit to ease your pain. If nothing else, you’ll know you’re not alone in feeling what you’re feeling.

      Be gentle with yourself during this hard time.

  12. Kate Whitacre says:

    Hello. The posts here are both heartbreaking and heartwarming. I am so glad I found your site. It’s so helpful to hear about other people’s experiences. I am wondering if it is possible for a cat to throw a minor clot to a back leg and appear completely normal afterwards? My 12 year old, 16 lb, love of my life, a male Maine Coon, had an incident with a back leg after getting to the top of the stairs. He suddenly began struggling and seemed to be collapsing, holding the back leg up and unable to put weight on it. I was terrified, but then he went and had a drink of water, stretched out for belly rubs, took a bath which included lifting and grooming that leg, and jumped up on his window perch and later ate breakfast. I was still very scared because I’d heard of back leg clots, and so later called my vet. They asked if the leg was cold or if he was dragging it, which was not the case, but I took him in to see the vet anyway. They confirmed that he was walking fine, his reflexes in the leg were fine, and there was no problem with the leg, but unfortunately they found a heart murmur so we’ve scheduled an EKG and echocardiogram. They are a smaller hospital and can’t do the tests for 5 more days, and I am terrified that he really did throw a clot and that I should find a bigger veterinary hospital that can run the tests sooner. I don’t mean to be second guessing my vets, but I am scared. He is behaving normally still, eating and drinking, and right now he’s napping on my lap. :) Thank you for any thoughts or info you might be able to offer!

    • Ingrid says:

      I’m sorry your kitty was diagnosed with a heart murmur, Kate. I’ve never heard of a cat throwing a clot and being fine immediately afterwards, so the incident you’re describing sure doesn’t sound like it was a clot, but I’d be worried, too. I would make sure that the EKG and ECG are performed by a veterinary cardiologist. Do you have access to a specialty practice in your area?

  13. Jennifer says:

    My baby, Monty, has heart disease. We have been lucky in that we’ve been treating it for 15 months now. My big worry is that I am on vacation for 12 days and she doesn’t like the vet tech who is pilling her. (She used to like her but now growls, bites and gets so scared she pees.) The vet suggested medical boarding, but when she went in initially, she was boarded there for 3 days and refused to eat unless I came in daily and fed her (which I did). I’m afraid she won’t survive the stress of 12 days in the hospital. My housesitter has coaxed her into taking 2 of her pills. I’m hoping maybe she can coax her into taking pills daily. But I’m second guessing myself. Wondering if I should head home (can’t really afford to – this trip cost a lot and my husband would kill me). But feeling like it is better to let her be less stressed and get some of the pills at home than not eating, totally miserable but pilled at the vet. I don’t know. I don’t want to feel responsible for choosing wrong but I really empathize with the woman above who was gone when her beloved kitty had to be euthanized. Any suggestions?

    • Ingrid says:

      My heart goes out to you for your dilemma, Jennifer. I think 12 days of boarding in a stressful environment and not eating would be far more stressful for Monty than being at home and maybe missing a dose or two of her medication, but I’m not a vet, and I don’t know the severity of her heart condition – I’m only telling you what my gut feeling is. You mentioned that a vet tech comes in to pill her (or at least, attempts to pill her). I’m assuming that this vet tech would be able to detect any health changes and would be able to determine if Monty needs medical attention? Have you tried pill pockets? Maybe that would be a way for your house sitter or vet tech to get Monty to take her medication without the stress? Also, if your housesitter is able to give her one or two pills, you may want to have her get some gel caps and put all her medications into one capsule. Gel caps tend to slide down easily and it would mean only giving one gel cap with all the medications inside, rather than multiple ones.

      • Jennifer says:

        Thanks Ingrid. We use the pill pockets, which she likes. She eats them from me about 50 percent of the time, the rest I pill her with them. As for her health, right now she is doing pretty well. Her muscle tone is good (an indicator) and her heart disease, while progressing, isn’t progressing as fast as they anticipated. (I don’t think originally they expected her to last longer than 6 months because she presented initially with lots of fluid in the lungs and in real respitory distress.) But last check of her lungs was better than anticipated. I’m grateful for every day we have with her. The vet tech can’t get near her because she freaks out but the housesitter managed to get 2 pills down this morning and is trying again tonight. I will have the vet tech check in regularly and let the housesitter know warning signs.

        I just want to make sure her quality of life is excellent. I know she is on borrowed time and I want every day to be her best. I fear the choice I’m making with not boarding her may impact her quantity of life but is best for her quality. As my husband is a cancer survivor, I know how important quality of life is. I am second-guessing myself like crazy, but I hope (given that she lets the housesitter pet her and hand feed her) that this is the best choice. I was very sorry to hear about your baby by the way. It breaks my heart, but I do understand. Thanks again for the quick response. Can I email you again at the end of the trip and let you know how things go?

        Jen

        • Ingrid says:

          Thank you for your kind words, Jennifer.

          You put it in a nutshell: quality of life is more important than quantity. Please do e-mail me to let me know how things went when you return, and feel free to e-mail me if you have any questions while you’re gone.

          • Jennifer Little says:

            Hi Ingrid,

            Happy to say that Monty came through our trip with flying colors. Unfortunately, we lost our other kitty to kidney disease just this morning. So, while we are continuing to cherish every day with Monty, we are mourning the loss of our comfort kitty, Lillian. Thanks for all of your help and support.

            Jen

          • Ingrid says:

            I’m so sorry for your loss, Jennifer. All my best to you and Monty – you’re in my thoughts and prayers.

  14. Debbie says:

    My 14 year old cat Emily got sick in April and was diagnosed with heart disease,I started giving her Furosemide and Enalapril and every third day some baby asprin,the vet said she may have a year left,she did fine for 4 months on the meds,then this Thursday(08-23-12) I woke to get up for work and she was fine then the next second she is crying and panting so hard and having throuble with her back legs,I rushed her to the vet.She had thrown a clot,the vet said there was treatments but that they could be painful and even with treatment she would probabaly throw another clot down the road,he said if it was his cat he would not put her through that.
    I did not want her to suffer so I let her go,I am so thankful though that it happened before I left for work so she did not have to suffer for hours and even though she was scared and in pain I was with her and I hope she knew that,My heart is broken,she meant the world to me and I miss her so so much but I know I did the right thing for her and am glad that I got 4 more months with her.

    • Ingrid says:

      I am so very sorry for your loss, Debbie. This is a very traumatic way to lose a beloved cat, but I’m glad you were there when it happened. There is no doubt in my mind that she knew you were with her at the end. My heart goes out to you.

      • Debbie says:

        Thank you Ingrid,it seems so empty here without her,Yesterday morning when I woke I automatically reached out my hand to give her her morning petting before I remembered.
        I hate that her last moments here she had to be in pain and scared but I know she is in a place now where she is not sick anymore.I miss my sweet girl so much.I think I am all cried out and then I go on another crying jag.
        I knew this could and would probably happen but no matter how much you prepare yourself its still so heartbreaking.

  15. Jennifer Little says:

    Dear Debbie,

    I’m so sorry for your loss. I am trying to treasure everyday because we know the end it coming but you’re right, no matter how hard you try to prepare, you never can. Take care of yourself for Emily…she would want you to.

    Jennifer

    • Debbie says:

      Thank you Jennifer,Emily was already spoiled but after she became sick she got so many hugs and snuggles and nose kisses from me everyday,I did treasure every second with her,I am sure she sometimes got tired of me hovering making sure her breathing was good.
      My thought are with you and Monty.

  16. Betty Ernst says:

    Thank-you, everyone for your comments. One of my kitties, 13 year-old Mozart aka Mr. Mo, was recently diagnosed with heart disease. The first symptoms presented suddenly about 3 weekends ago when he laid down beside me and started crying loudly and persistently. After a few minutes he stood up, walked across the room and dragged his right hind leg. I was beside myself but got him into his travel box and rushed him to the emergency vet. After he was diagnosed and the impact of throwing a clot was explained to me, I left him there for the evening fully expecting that I would soon be making a terrible decision to put him down. However, in the morning when I called to check on him, the vet was clearly pleasantly surprised and told me that he was much better. They had been able to remove the fluid from his lungs and started him on lasix. By the time I took him home had regained use of his leg.

    We’ve been taking it a day at a time since then. We’ve had a vew visits with our regular, long-time vet and a consultation with a cardiologist. Some more meds were added. His prognosis is grim but right now he’s doing okay. In fact, since starting medication he has been eating more and playing with his toys (and my handbag straps!) a lot more than he had before. Right now he is busily grooming the area on his leg where the fur is growing back in after being shaved for treatment purposes. What’s tough for me is that I know his quality of life is good right now but I realize this could change in an instant. I’m trying to be grateful for every extra day I have with him.

    My condolences and sympathy to all of you who have been through this with you beloved cat. Even though things have somewhat settled down for us at the moment, I have not lost sight of the truth of the situation and appreciate that others are willing to share their experiences.

    • Ingrid says:

      I’m sorry about everything you went through with Mr. Mo, Betty. From my own experience living with a cat with heart disease, for the human, treasuring every single moment is the most important aspect of coping with this disease. Cats already live their lives in the moment, so they have an easier time with that!

  17. Jennifer Little says:

    Dear Betty,

    I’m sorry to hear about Mr. Mo. I know how scary that initial diagnosis period is. Monty was diagnosed 16 months ago. Enjoy the time. I am treasuring every day, every playful moment. You are giving Mr Mo a wonderful gift of more quality life with his favorite human. Our thoughts are with you.

    Jen (and Monty too)

  18. Betty Ernst says:

    Thank-you, Ingrid, Jen and Monty for your kind comments. I appreciate being able to communicate with others who have first hand knowledge of this disease. Ingrid, you have a great point about cats living in the moment. Mr. Mo is doing well today so I am happy in this moment.

  19. Betty Ernst says:

    I’d like to thank everyone here again for your kindness and let you know that, sadly, Mr. Mo lost his battle with heart disease late Sunday night. After doing really well for six weeks and giving us lots of joy and hope, he apparently threw at least two clots and lost his ability to stand on his front legs. His breathing quickly became very labored… my daughter, Carrie, who grew up with him, came to my house and we took him to the emergency clinic. After discussing his current situation and prognosis in detail with the vet, Carrie and I decided that the kindest thing to do would be to let him go. I can’t tell you how heartbroken we are but I know I don’t have to because you are kitty lovers too and you know this disease, no matter where in its course your baby happens to be.

    I’m grateful that Carrie and I could both be with him at the end but, even though I know it was right, this was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever made. The illness had already taken him – it was just a matter of ending the suffering. My house is not the same without him and my other two cats seem as sad as I am. Wherever he is now, I hope he knows how very much we love him.

    • Ingrid says:

      I’m so sorry, Betty. Having to make the decision to let a beloved cat go is the hardest thing any of us ever have to do. I’m glad you and your daughter were with him at the end. My heart goes out to you.

  20. Debbie says:

    Betty I am so sorry about Mr. Mo.Its so hard to make that decision to let our furry friends go but it is the kindest thibg we can do for them.I know it hurts so bad.Its just been over a month since I lost my sweet Emily and I miss her more than words can say,there is a big void in my home and heart without her.

  21. Jennifer Little says:

    Betty,

    I am so sorry for your loss. Making that decisioni is so difficult. But I know Mr Mo valued his time with you and all the love you shared.

    Our thoughts are with you

    Jen

  22. Betty Ernst says:

    Thank-you, Ingrid, Debbie and Jennifer. The kindness of the people around me (and, here, on the Internet) has really been the one thing that has helped. We brought Mr. Mo’s ashes home last night and spent a little time with them in his favorite place in the living room. Now his remains are on the top shelf of the Barrister’s Bookcase where I keep remains and momentoes of kitties who have passed. It still seems unreal.

    Debbie, my condolences about Emily. I’ve always thought Emily was a beautiful name and I’m sure she was even more lovely than her name.

  23. Ana says:

    I noticed my youngest cat, Wulfie, aged 8, having some breathing trouble a couple of weeks ago. It was two days before I was to leave town for work. I took him to the vet before the trip, and they called as I was getting on the airplane to say it was either cancer, FIP, or heart disease. The vet told me that she hoped it was the heart because he had a better prognosis than the other two. It was his heart. He has DCM. (I cried the entire plane ride, not knowing if he’d be alive when I got home, but knowing if I stayed, I’d be bugging the vet the whole time, stalking her from the waiting room.)

    He’s responding well. They have him on vetmedin and lasix. He’s always been a happy, very loving, affectionate cat. He’s almost more than a cat, really–loves to ride in the car, loves to have people visit, sleeps right next to me every night. He’s taught me, with this illness, that I can’t cling to him too much, to stop worrying and give him a chance to miss me, because he lives in the now. (I love how you folks say that.) I just took him back on Friday, and the vet was very surprised and pleased with how well he’s responded to the treatment. I’m cautiously optimistic, just treasuring every moment.

    Betty, you have my deepest sympathy. It’s so, so hard. They give us so much, and we want the best for them. Everyone here is in my thoughts.

    Best,
    Ana

    • Ingrid says:

      I’m so sorry about Wulfie’s diagnosis, Ana. I can’t even imagine how hard it must have been to get on a plane after you got that phone call from your vet! I’m glad he’s responding well to his medications. Best wishes for many more years for Wulfie!

  24. Jennifer Little says:

    Ana,
    I know how scary it is. Monty was diagnosed a year and a half ago and is doing really well. I hope Wulfie does as well. Every day is a gift and Wulfie is lucky to have you!

    Best wishes to you both

    Jen and Monty

  25. My cat has had CRF for 7 years and just started coughing a few days ago. I am set to get xrays for her to see if it is her heart. She seems normal other than the coughing spells here and there which vary in intensity. I have also thought it could be asthma too. I am friends with Marg and have read your second book. I am a Reiki Master and use it on my cats.

    • Ingrid says:

      It’s always nice to “meet” another Reiki Master! I used Reiki on Buckley during her illness, and I do believe that it contributed to her outliving her poor diagnosis by quite some time.

  26. Jessalyn says:

    Thank you so much for posting this!

    My vet just discovered a significant heart murmur in my 2 year old cat Sophie when I had her in for a possible broken tail (It wasn’t thank goodness) But the discovery has me terrified. I lost my last cat to a heart disease clot several years ago never knowing she had it. I never expected to have this with my next cat. Unfortunately, money is pitifully tight right now and I can’t afford an ultrasound just yet, is there anything I could do for her in the mean time just in case it is heart disease? She shows absolutely no symptoms but I can’t bear to lose her if I can do something until I can come up with the money…

    • Ingrid says:

      I’m sorry about Sophie’s diagnosis, Jessalyn. Talk to you vet. He/she may be able to start your kitty on heart medication based on his findings pneding an ultrasound.

  27. Stephanie says:

    My cat just died 2 hours ago from what they think was a blood clot. Thankfully though he was a rare case, almost instant death. He died right in front of me, I thought it was a seizure and we rushed him to the hospital but he was gone. He had HCM and had been on medicine for 1 and 1/2 years. Just took him to the heart doctor and he was getting better. Very traumatizing. I have 2 cats left. Not sure if I will get any more after they are gone. Too painful to lose them.

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