Treating Heart Murmurs in Cats: What You Need to Know

Heart Murmurs in Cats

Heart Murmurs in Cats: A heart murmur is an abnormal heart sound caused by turbulent blood flow through the heart. Murmurs are common in cats and can be congenital (present at birth) or acquired later in life. Congenital heart murmurs are often harmless, while acquired murmurs can indicate an underlying heart condition that may require treatment.

Heart Murmurs in Cats

Diagnosing Heart Murmurs in Cats

When a heart murmur is detected in a cat during a routine checkup, the first step is to determine the cause and severity. Your vet will perform several tests to evaluate your cat’s heart health.

1. Physical Exam

The vet will do a thorough physical exam of your cat, listening closely to the heart with a stethoscope to determine where the murmur is loudest and if it changes in intensity. They will check your cat’s pulse, evaluate the heart rhythm, and palpate the abdomen to check for any enlargement of the heart or liver.

2. Chest X-Rays

Chest radiographs provide a view of the heart and surrounding structures. The vet will check the size and shape of the heart and the blood vessels entering and leaving the heart. Enlarged chambers or abnormalities in the blood vessels can indicate a heart condition.

3. Echocardiogram

An echocardiogram uses ultrasound to create images of the heart valves and chambers. It allows the vet to see how well the heart muscle and valves are working and check for any defects. An echocardiogram is one of the best tools for determining the cause of a heart murmur and developing a treatment plan.

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4. Blood Tests

A blood test can check for any underlying conditions that may have caused or contributed to the heart murmur. It measures levels of blood proteins that can signal heart disease and checks kidney and liver function which can impact heart health.

5. Electrocardiogram (ECG)

An ECG records the electrical activity of the heart over a few seconds. By measuring the heart rate and rhythm, it can detect any abnormalities that may require treatment.

Diagnosing the cause of a heart murmur is essential to developing an appropriate treatment plan for your cat. With a variety of non-invasive tests, your vet can determine the severity of the condition and cause of the murmur to recommend the best way to manage it and keep your feline friend happy and healthy.

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Treatment Options for Heart Murmurs in Cats

Now that your vet has diagnosed your cat with a heart murmur, you want to explore the treatment options available to manage the condition and improve your cat’s quality of life. The specific treatment will depend on the severity and cause of the heart murmur.

1. Medications

For some cats, medication may be recommended to help improve heart function or manage secondary conditions like high blood pressure. Diuretics are commonly used to reduce fluid buildup in the lungs. ACE inhibitors or beta blockers can help dilate blood vessels, making it easier for the heart to pump blood. Your vet may start with one medication and add or change others as needed to get your cat’s condition stabilized. Medications often need to be given daily, so be prepared to commit to a regular medication schedule for your cat.

2. Dietary Changes

Switching to a diet formulated for heart health can help support your cat’s condition. These diets are lower in sodium, which can help reduce fluid buildup. They also contain supplements like taurine, carnitine, and omega-3 fatty acids that may improve heart function. Your vet may recommend a gradual transition to a new diet.

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3. Oxygen Therapy

If your cat is having trouble getting enough oxygen due to the heart murmur, your vet may recommend at-home oxygen therapy. An oxygen cage or mask delivers oxygen to help your cat breathe more easily. Oxygen therapy is often used temporarily until other treatments like medication or diet changes become effective.

4. Surgery

In some cases, such as abnormal heart valves or openings in the heart, surgery may be recommended to repair the structural abnormality. Heart valve replacement or closure of abnormal openings can help restore normal blood flow and improve heart function. Surgery carries risks, so your vet will determine if your cat is a good candidate based on their overall health and prognosis.

With treatment and close monitoring, many cats with heart murmurs can live comfortably for several years. Be sure to schedule regular vet checkups so your vet can evaluate your cat’s condition and make changes to the treatment plan as needed. Early diagnosis and intervention offer the best chance of successful management of heart murmurs in cats.

FAQs

How serious is a heart murmur in cats?

A heart murmur in cats can range from mild to severe. In some cases, a murmur may not cause any problems or require treatment. However, in other cases a murmur can indicate an underlying heart condition that will need diagnosis and treatment. The grade or intensity of the murmur can give your vet an idea of the severity, but further testing like chest x-rays, EKGs, or echocardiograms are often needed to determine the cause and appropriate treatment.

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What causes heart murmurs in cats?

Heart murmurs are caused by abnormal blood flow through the heart. Common causes in cats include congenital heart defects like ventricular septal defects, acquired valvular disease, hypertension, anemia, and hyperthyroidism. Congenital heart defects are present at birth, while acquired heart disease develops over time. Valvular disease, specifically mitral valve disease, is a frequent cause of heart murmurs and heart failure in older cats.

How are heart murmurs in cats diagnosed?

If your vet detects a heart murmur during a routine exam, they will likely run some tests to determine the severity and underlying cause. These may include:

  • Chest x-rays: To check the size and shape of the heart and look for fluid buildup.
  • Echocardiogram: An ultrasound of the heart that allows vets to visualize the heart valves and chambers. This helps diagnose congenital defects, valvular disease, and other abnormalities.
  • EKG: Checks the heart’s electrical activity and rhythm. Can detect abnormal heart rhythms that may contribute to or result from heart disease.
  • Blood tests: Test for other conditions like hyperthyroidism or anemia that could be causing or exacerbating the heart murmur.

How are heart murmurs and related heart disease treated in cats?

Treatment will depend on the severity and underlying cause of the heart murmur. Options may include:

  • Medications: To help improve heart function, open up blood vessels, remove fluid buildup, correct abnormal rhythms, etc. Common meds for cats include diuretics, ACE inhibitors, beta blockers, and anti-clotting drugs.
  • Surgery: May be an option for some congenital heart defects and valvular disease if caught early enough. Can help repair or replace damaged valves or close holes in the heart.
  • Lifestyle changes: Dietary changes, limiting activity, and weight loss can help support a cat’s heart health and may slow the progression of some forms of heart disease.
  • Follow up monitoring: Repeat exams, blood tests, x-rays, and echocardiograms to monitor your cat’s condition and the effectiveness of treatment. Adjustments