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Heart disease in cats


What is it?

The term ‘heart disease' is used to describe multiple different disorders that affect heart function. Some types of heart disease can reduce the effectiveness of the heart muscles, whilst other types can affect the valves between the heart chambers and affect blood flow.

Heart disease can be either congenital (develop before birth) or acquired (develop later in life). There are many different types of congenital heart disease, but they are rare in the cat. More commonly cats develop acquired heart disease, sometimes secondarily to other diseases such as obesity, hypertension (high blood pressure), kidney disease, and hyperthyroidism.


Most heart disease in cats is associated with problems with the muscle of the heart – these are known as cardiomyopathies:

  • Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy (HCM)
    • The most common form of heart disease in cats
    • Causes thickening of the heart walls – especially the left ventricle, causing difficulties with pumping blood throughout the body
    • Can cause the heart to beat too fast, preventing oxygen from reaching the cells
    • Often leads to congestive heart failure
  • Restrictive Cardiomyopathy (RCM)
    • Excessive scar tissue on the lining of the ventricle
    • Stops the heart from effectively contracting and expanding to pump blood
  • Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM)
    • The left ventricle enlarges and stretches the muscle, causing difficulty in contracting
    • Linked to insufficient taurine in the diet
    • Much more rare today as commercial cat foods have appropriate amounts of taurine in their formulae

Congestive Heart Failure (CHF)

  • An advanced form of heart disease – secondary to the many heart diseases
  • Blood cannot flow properly throughout the body
  • Needs aggressive treatment
  • Eventually fatal

Who is affected?

  • British Shorthair, Maine Coon, Persian, Ragdoll, Sphynx (HCM)
  • Middle-aged male cats, Burmese (RCM)
  • Middle-aged and senior cats (CHF)

What does it look like?

  • Often no symptoms until the disease is very advanced
  • Slow growth in kittens (congenital disease)
  • Exercise intolerance/weakness
  • Weight loss/decreased appetite
  • Laboured and/or rapid breathing
  • Wheezing and/or coughing, pale or blue gums
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Heart murmur
  • Acute weakness or paralysis in rear limbs (due to blood clot)
  • Distended abdomen
  • Collapse/ sudden death

How is it diagnosed?

  • History of symptoms, a physical examination by a vet may pick up a heart murmur or fast heartbeat
  • Blood pressure, general labwork (blood test and urine sample)
  • Chest Xrays
  • Definitive diagnosis is usually by a specialist cardiac ultrasound (echocardiogram)

Can it be treated?

  • Different medications can be used depending on the type of heart disease that is present
  • Most congenital diseases can be corrected with surgery
  • Acquired heart disease can be managed with medication
    • Diuretics – help reduce fluid buildup around lungs or abdomen
    • ACE inhibitors – relax blood vessels, allow the heart to pump with less effort, lower blood pressure
    • Pimobendan – dilates blood vessels, improves the force of heart contractions
    • Blood pressure medications
    • Medications to reduce blood clots (can be high risk in cats with heart disease)
  • Acquired heart disease cannot be cured, and will eventually progress to congestive heart failure and death. It can, however, be managed well for years

Can it be prevented?

  • Inherited disease cannot be prevented, so if your cat has a hereditary form of heart disease it is very important to desex your cat to prevent the risk of it being passed onto offspring
  • Acquired heart disease can be managed well if caught early – it is very important to bring your cats in for wellness exams with your vet every 6 months if your cat is over 7 years old, and yearly if your cat is younger. 


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Pets Health is a full service animal hospital with clinics located in Hilton and O’Halloran Hill. We are dedicated to helping you keep your best mate happy and healthy through each stage of their life with compassionate and reassuring veterinary care.

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O’Halloran Hill Vet Centre

123 Main South Road
O’Halloran Hill, SA 5158

Hilton Vet Centre

142 Sir Donald Bradman Drive
Hilton, SA 5033