Heart Problems in Older Cats

Heart disease is more common in older cats.
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Mr. Fluffles may be in his golden years, but his old age brings increased risk of heart problems. Cardiomyopathy is the most common heart disease in senior cats. Early detection of heart problems and prompt treatment of their underlying conditions may slow your cat’s progression of heart disease.


Cardiomyopathy is disease of the heart muscle. It is most often seen in cats 5 to 7 years old, according to the petMD website. Mr. Fluffles may experience loss of appetite, abnormal heart sounds, labored breathing, weak pulse, lethargy and other symptoms. Cardiomyopathy has three basic types: dilated, hypertrophic and restrictive. Dilated cardiomyopathy causes the walls of the heart to balloon out, resulting in a larger, rounder and thin-walled heart. Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy occurs when the walls of the heart thicken, making it harder for the heart to pump blood. Restrictive cardiomyopathy is caused from scarring of the heart, making it difficult for the heart to presume normal pumping. If Mr. Fluffles is diagnosed with cardiomyopathy, he may need medication to control his condition.

Thromboembolic Disease

Feline arterial thromboembolic disease is caused by a formation of a blood clot in the heart. As the clot moves through the heart, it can become lodged in an artery, preventing oxygen from reaching the tissues below it. Arterial thromboembolic disease is often the first sign of cardiac disease in cats. With this illness, Mr. Fluffles may experience acute pain and loss of use of his hind limbs, or lack of circulation in the rear legs. According to Dr. Donna Mensching, DVM of PetSide.com, approximately two-thirds of all cases of arterial thromboembolic disease occur in male cats, due to the higher occurrence of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy in males. Thromboembolic disease is almost always caused by an underlying condition, meaning that your vet will need to determine the cause of your cat’s blood clots and treat accordingly.

Congestive Heart Failure

Congestive heart failure is caused by the heart’s inability to pump blood throughout the body. Mr. Fluffles' congestive heart failure may be right- or left-sided. Right-sided congestive heart failure occurs when the valve between the heart chambers have weakened, causing blood to flow back into the atrium. When this happens, the heart becomes congested and the fluid backs up into the veins that lead to the heart. Common signs of right-sided failure include swelling of the legs, weight gain due to fluid retention, enlargement of the abdomen or chest, and distension of the veins. Left-sided congestive heart failure occurs when blood fails to pump into the systemic circulation and begins to build up in the lungs. This condition is often associated with shallow, rapid breathing, restlessness, shortness of breath and coughing.

Underlying Diseases

Heart problems in cats are often caused by an underlying condition. In older cats, hypertension, or high blood pressure, is a common culprit. Hypertension can cause damage to the body’s blood vessels, especially those in the retina of the eye. Hypertensive damage can lead to widely dilated pupils, disorientation and sometimes even sudden blindness. Elevated blood pressure can also cause the walls of the heart to thicken, making the heart work harder to pump and causing small blood vessels to rupture. Some cats are more prone to heart disease than others. Main Coon cats, American and British short-haired breeds, Persian cats and Siamese cats are all susceptible to various conditions of the heart.

Other Heart Problems

Cats can be born with heart disease, a condition called congenital heart disease, or heart disease can occur later on in life. In older cats, the cause of heart illness is typically due to damage to the heart structure or from hereditary conditions that progress as the cat ages. While hypertrophic cardiomyopathy is the most commonly acquired heart disease in cats, secondary heart diseases can develop over time, such as heartworm disease, myocardial disease and hypertensive myocardial disease. Heart disease in cats is often accompanied by a heart murmur that your vet might be able to hear during a routine examination.

Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.

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