The heart is a unique organ, different from any other in the cat’s body. It consists of 4 chambers, all of which contain blood and are responsible for sending blood that is low in oxygen to the lungs to receive more oxygen, then sending this oxygen-rich blood throughout the body to all the tissues in need. A series of valves in the heart separate these 4 chambers, preventing blood from flowing where it shouldn’t.
In both cats and dogs, heart disease is mainly seen as a problem with the valves of the heart, or in the heart muscle itself.
Unlike dogs, however, cats rarely develop disease only in their heart valves. With felines, heart disease usually involves Cardiomyopathy, the name given to disease of the heart muscle. It is usually divided into two categories: thinning of the heart muscle (congestive cardiomyopathy); and thickening of the heart muscle (hypertrophic cardiomyopathy). In both cases, the heart fails to pump blood adequately throughout the body.
Symptoms of heart disease are usually only seen when the cat’s heart begins to fail.
Weakness, loss of appetite, weight loss, and difficulty breathing are the most common signs of heart failure in the cat.
How is heart disease diagnosed?
Diagnosis is made by physical examination, X-rays, electrocardiogram, and ultrasound of the heart. Most patients will have a heart murmur which can be readily heard by the veterinarian.
Treatment for heart disease is most commonly by medications which assist in increasing the amount of blood pumped by the heart per beat, decreasing fluid buildup in the lungs and chest, and controlling any heart rhythm abnormalities.
Nutrient supplements added to the treatment plan may also help correct the underlying heart problem. Taurine is an essential amino acid required by cats, and has been found to be deficient in some cases of cardiomyopathy. Replacement of taurine can be quite valuable in treatment of these cases.