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Is Your Seemingly Healthy Senior Cat Hiding Heart Disease?

Reviewed by Dr. Celeste Clements, DVM, DACVIM on Tuesday, August 18, 2015
Posted August 11, 2014 in Cat Diseases & Conditions A-Z

Maine Coon CatHeart disease is fairly common in cats, but some cats live many years with the disease before exhibiting signs while others never do. In senior cats, heart disease is typically acquired (as opposed to congenital or present at birth) and can be secondary to other illness like high blood pressure, heartworm infection, thyroid disorders or due to diseases of the heart valves (which are more common in dogs) or most commonly a primary cardiomyopathy (heart muscle disease).

Diagnosing feline heart disease
If so many cats can be asymptomatic for heart disease, how do you know if your seemingly perfectly healthy acting senior cat has it? Certainly you could always run every test on every cat. And you might actually do that if you owned a breed of cat that is especially prone to serious heart disease (like a Maine Coon or a Ragdoll cat for whom a genetic test exists specifically for hypertrophic cardiomyopathy), but that is not really practical for all cats. Instead, usually, the process begins with your cat’s routine physical examination when your veterinarian listens to your cat’s heart and lungs and feels her pulse.

An audible murmur can indicate the presence of heart disease — stressing the ‘can’ — because studies have shown that up to 50% of apparently healthy cats have audible murmurs, but most of those cats do not have heart disease. This is because especially in cats, murmurs can be functional or physiological (not pathological) occurring with other conditions like thinner blood from anemia, altered flow from hypertension, or with an increase in heart rate from fever or stress. To complicate matters further, cats without murmurs can also be found to actually have heart disease.

An abnormal/irregular rhythm can also be predictive for heart disease – as can any indication that your cat is developing congestion/fluid accumulation in her lungs. So remembering that not hearing any abnormality does

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Mike has more than 35 years of experience in companion animal veterinary practice and is a valued member of IDEXX’s Pet Health Network team since 2013.