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Heart Disease and Your Cat: The Inherited Dangers

Cat StethoscopeHypertrophic Cardiomyopathy, or heart disease,  is more common in cats than it is dogs. It is often inherited though many non-purebred cats are susceptible. Much like in people, heart disease is more likely to strike in about mid life. Though it can come at anytime.

Cats with cardiomyopathies can appear healthy even though they may have moderate to severe structural and functional heart disease. However, heart disease can be hard to detect because it can be present with symptoms that actually mean something else is wrong, or the symptoms will not be present.

When diagnosing heart disease, all cats should have a thorough history and physical examination. Listening to the heart is the first step to identifying a audible heart murmur. However, a systolic heart murmur may be present with or without a gallop sound or arrhythmia. You can’t always hear a heart murmur with the human ear, even with a stethoscope. So you can actually have heart disease without hearing anything abnormal in the heart.

Not all cats with cardiomyopathy will have a murmur, and innocent murmurs in healthy older aged cats can be quite common.

Simply listening to the heart is not enough to  distinguish between an innocent murmur and one caused by heart disease. Both thoracic radiographs and electrocardiograms (EKG) have low sensitivity when screening seemingly healthy cats for heart disease. If a cat has a murmur, measuring their blood pressure is important to check if they are normo or hypertensive, which can be an underlying cause of a murmur. Hyperthyroidism and anemia are also causes of a heart murmur.

16-44% of healthy cats have a heart murmur and 20-30% of those will have heart disease.

The only way to correctly identify and diagnose an underlying cardiomyopathy in an apparently healthy cat is with an echocardiogram.

There is very little that can be done to treat heart disease in cats. Mostly treatment is about making them more comfortable and addressing any symptoms they may be having. Though in most cases prevention is the best medicine, since most heart disease is inherited there is little to do other than feed them a healthy diet and help keep their overall health good by keeping them up on their vaccinations, testing for heart worm and getting an annual physical exam.