Heart Disease

Cats rarely have typical ‘heart attacks’ that we humans are so familiar with. However, cats can have what are called cardiomyopathies or diseases of the heart muscle. Such diseases include:

  • Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (the most common feline heart problem) – when areas of the heart muscle (most often the left ventricle) enlarge and thicken.
  • Congestive heart failure – when the heart can not pump blood efficiently enough for the body to function.
  • Cardiac arrhythmias or abnormal timing of the heart’s beating – when the heart ‘skips’ a beat every once in a while.
  • Thromboembolic disease – when a thrombus (blood clot formations) becomes dislodged and travels through the bloodstream.

Heart disease usually takes several weeks to months to progress to the serious stage. For the first few weeks your cat will look and act completely normal. Eventually you will start noticing your cat being lethargic and having a poor appetite. Near the end, your cat will start to have trouble breathing and will be at risk for blood clots that can lodge themselves in blood vessels throughout the body. The most common place for clots to lodge is where the aorta splits before going to the back legs. Your cat may seem paralyzed or as if he/she has a broken leg, but the reality is that there is no blood or oxygen going to the leg. If your cat has a blood clot the affected area will have no pulse in it and will begin to turn cold and blue.

No one is really sure why cats get diseases of the heart. Some think it may have a genetic precursor and be caused by a genetic defect that is inherited. In the past cardiomyopathies were seen quite often due to taurine (an essential amino acid) deficiencies. However, all commercially available cat foods today are enriched with taurine to avoid this problem.

Symptoms to look for:

  • Lethargy
  • Poor appetite
  • Trouble breathing
  • Increased heart rate
  • Inactivity
  • Leg paralysis (due to blood clots)


Congestive heart failure is a chronic disorder and thus if you catch it early and treat it early your pet can live a long and happy life. Most cats will be positively diagnosed by one or more of the following: X-rays, echocardiograms, electrocardiograms, sonograms, or blood tests. If your cat is suspected of having a heart problem other tests will most likely be performed to rule out other causes for heart disease such as kidney disease, hyperthyroidism or liver disease.

If your cat does have heart disease one or more of the following treatments (treatments vary widely based on the individual cat’s symptoms) may be used: 1) heart medication to improve heart performance (beta blockers or calcium channel blockers) 2) diuretics for cats with congestive heart failure 3) blood clot reducing medications. And, believe it or not, cats can even have pacemakers.

If you think your cat may have a heart problem consult your vet as soon as possible. There are many options for cats with cardiomyopathies today, but you need to catch the disease early and treat it as soon as possible.

Precautionary measures:

Make sure your cat eats healthy and exercises often. A kitty in good shape is less likely to develop heart problems, or exhibit heart failure even if they have a weak heart to begin with. Cardiomyopathy used to be fairly common in cats due to taurine (essential amino acid) deficiencies. Most cat foods now-a-days are taurine enriched; however, if you make your own cat food or purchase a lower quality food make sure you check for this element.