February is American Heart Month – a time set aside to raise awareness of heart disease and how people can prevent it. But did you know that people aren’t the only ones affected by heart conditions? Our feline friends are also at risk and, without the proper diagnosis and treatment, their lives can be drastically shortened by this silent killer. How do we promote healthy feline hearts?
Feline heart health is an issue that’s near to my heart. My beloved cat, Tank, was diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (enlarging of the muscle in the left ventricle) when he was about 9 years old. Despite excellent care and treatment with his veterinary cardiologist, we lost Tank in 2010, when he was 10 years old.
One thing that I’ve learned in my years as a cat parent is the importance of catching health problems early, and heart disease is no exception! Knowing the possible symptoms of heart disease in your cat and beginning treatment early can keep your cat feeling better longer and can give you the most possible time together.
Common Feline Heart Conditions
- Congenital Defects. These are heart problems that kittens are born with. They are relatively rare, affecting only about one or two percent of kittens.
- Cardiomyopathy. This is the most common form of heart disease in cats and is caused by an abnormality in the muscle surrounding one or both ventricles (the lower chambers of the heart). Although it can occur at any age, most cases are diagnosed in cats between 5 and 7 years old, and it affects more males than females. Although any breed can develop cardiomyopathy, some breeds (like Maine Coons, Persians, and American Shorthairs) appear to have a higher risk.
- Other Disorders. These include feline myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle) and myocardial infarction (heart attack).
Tips For Healthy Feline Hearts
Visit the Vet
Our feline friends can be masters at hiding illness or injury, so it’s important to keep an eye out for symptoms of heart disease. One of the most important things you can do for your cat’s heart health is to take him for regular check-ups at the vet. Your vet will check your cat’s heart, monitor his blood pressure, and be on the lookout for any other issues that could contribute to heart disease.
Know the Signs of Heart Disease
There are also signs that you may pick up on between vet visits. If you notice any of the following symptoms in your cat, it’s best to follow up with a vet.
- Difficulty breathing. If your kitty’s breathing is labored, or if he is short of breath (especially if he hasn’t been exercising or playing) it could be a sign of heart disease.
- Changes in appetite. It’s common for a cat with heart disease to have a poor appetite. You may also notice weight loss, weight gain, or vomiting.
- Behavior changes. If your cat appears depressed or withdrawn, or if he becomes unusually restless or lethargic, talk to your vet.
- Physical signs. Physical signs of heart disease include a swollen abdomen, bluish footpads or nail beds (caused by lack of oxygen), or weakness or pain in the hind legs (resulting from a blood clot).
- Fainting or collapsing.
Even with regular checkups and a healthy lifestyle, feline heart disease isn’t always avoidable. The best ways to take care of your kitty’s heart are to make sure he visits the vet regularly and to be aware of the symptoms of heart disease. Thankfully, when it’s caught early, it’s often very treatable. Many kitties continue to live happy lives with their families for years after their treatment begins.
Guest post by Kristen Levine Pet Living, the place for stories, science & advice for living happier and healthier with pets.