CVMA | Documents | Heart Disease is Difficult to Detect in Cats

Heart Disease is Difficult to Detect in Cats

October 24, 2012

Heart disease has often been described as a silent killer and this is especially true in cats. Unlike in human or dogs, feline heart disease is a poorly understood, poorly-defined problem about which little is known.

Early signs of heart disease in the cat are very easy to miss. This is because early symptoms are either non-existent or so subtle and non-specific as to be rarely noticed by owners. To further complicate matters, cats seem to know their own capabilities and limitations and tend to restrict their level of activity, which can further mask clinical signs. Therefore, it is easy to miss the early signs of feline heart disease

Heart disease in cats often presents a confusing clinical picture to both owners and veterinarians. Usually, a cat with heart disease is presented to the veterinarian because of a sudden onset of breathing difficulty.

There can also be a variety of other signs:

  • Swollen abdomen
  • Unsteadiness in the hind legs
  • Lethargy
  • Poor appetite
  • Collapse.

Coughing is rarely a complaint, even though it is commonly seen in other animals and humans.

Feline heart disease can be easily confused with other diseases, such as cancer, a hernia, air or fluid in the chest, asthma, pneumonia, and many others. It is only through laboratory tests, ECG, chest x-rays, ultrasounds, and other tests that these other diseases can be ruled out.

Treatment of heart disease involves giving drugs that can make the heart work more efficiently, clear fluid from the lungs, and/or modulate blood pressure. Rest and confinement is also required, along with a salt-restricted diet. If you suspect that your cat may have heart disease, your veterinarian should be consulted immediately.