Nothing is worse than watching your kitty suffer -- he can’t tell you what’s wrong. Heart attacks can be sporadic or stem from a lifelong heart condition that may have been undetected. Because heart attacks can be fatal, you’ll need to get him to the veterinarian immediately if you suspect something is awry.
What is a Heart Attack?
Heart attacks in kitties are similar to what happens in humans. Blood flow to the heart gets blocked -- either partially or completely -- and the heart doesn’t get the oxygen or nutrients it needs to thrive. Parts of the heart muscle die and the heart as a whole becomes weak, leading to a sudden heart attack or complete heart failure.
Problems from Birth
Some kittens are simply born with congenital heart disease and have a higher risk of heart attacks later on in life. It isn’t common for felines to be born with heart problems though. Only about 1 to 2 percent of kittens are born with valve mutations or other issues, says Dr. John Bonagura, a veterinarian from Ohio State University Veterinary Hospital. Your veterinarian should be able to pick up on an abnormal heart rhythm during Max’s routine exams and let you know if congenital heart disease is a concern.
Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, or HCM, is the most common type of heart disease in felines, explains Dr. Kathryn Meurs, a Washington-based veterinarian. This condition causes part of the heart muscle -- often the left ventricle -- to thicken, leading to abnormally high blood pressure in the upper heart chambers. When this occurs, blood builds up in the lungs, causing breathing problems, and eventually your lovable pal may have a heart attack at some time in his adult life. Some breeds are more susceptible to developing this condition. Maine coons, devon rex cats, ragdolls, as well as American and British shorthair felines are all more likely to have hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. HCM is not always inherited, however. It can also sometimes happen in other breeds or even mixed breeds.
What You’ll See
Cats, by nature, don’t like to show weakness. Depending on the severity of the heart attack, Max may have had one without your knowledge. If you notice some peculiar behaviors, they could be warning signs that your purring pal has had a heart attack or is suffering from heart disease. Initially he’ll be very weak, not wanting to leave that cozy spot on your bed, even when it’s time for dinner. As his condition gets worse, he’ll vomit for no apparent reason, have difficulty breathing and might fall over while walking. You may also notice that his heartbeat seems faster than normal or seems to skip beats. Getting him to the emergency hospital quickly can prevent further damage from occurring and can save his life.
What to Expect at the Vet
If your furry buddy is one of those breeds that are more prone to heart problems, you may want to have his blood checked to see if he carries the genetic trait. Blood tests aren’t always reliable, since traits can vary from kitty to kitty. Your veterinarian might suggest a chest X-ray or even an electrocardiogram to see if Max has an irregular heartbeat or if he already has heart damage. If your little pal does show signs of an abnormality, you’ll need to take him back to the vet once or twice a year to repeat these tests.
Heart problems are just more common as kitties get older. You may not be able to prevent a sudden heart attack from occurring, but you can do your best to make your pet as healthy as possible throughout his life. Keep him active by playing with him and keep his weight in check by monitoring his food intake. This way he’ll be in your life for years to come.
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.
Melodie Anne Coffman specializes in overall wellness, with particular interests in women's health and personal defense. She holds a master's degree in food science and human nutrition and is a certified instructor through the NRA. Coffman is pursuing her personal trainer certification in 2015.