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Dr. Geri Katz

Heart disease: The silent killer of cats

Have you ever heard a story where a well-trained athlete dies suddenly?  Much of the time what is discovered on an autopsy is underlying heart disease that went undiagnosed.   Well, this is something that can and does happen to cats of any age or breed, though males are more predisposed, as are Maine Coon and Ragdoll breeds, specifically.   It is all too common that a seemingly healthy cat dies suddenly while conducting its normal activities.  Most of the time, this too is explained by an underlying cardiomyopathy, or heart disease.  It is true that cats that with heart murmurs or irregular heart rhythms sometimes have significant heart disease, and veterinarians usually offer cardiac workups in these cats, but the real mystery is why some cats that have no murmurs or arrhythmias, and even have normal size hearts on x-ray, can have such significant disease, enough to kill them without warning.  In fact, sometimes the only diagnostic symptom of heart disease in cats is sudden death.  What can we do to prevent this?  The only way to screen a cat for heart disease short of an expensive and complete cardiac workup including x-rays, an electrocardiogram, and an echocardiogram (an ultrasound of the heart), is a blood test which looks for a marker of heart disease.  It quantifies the amount of a certain protein that is present when there is diseased heart muscle.  The blood test is simple and is offered by many veterinarians on an outpatient basis.  This test can be a lifesaver and alert you to a ticking time bomb inside your cat.  If your cat has an abnormal result than a full cardiac workup is recommended to confirm and determine the severity of the disease.  From there a cardiologist will prescribe medications as appropriate to minimize progression of disease.

If you haven’t already done so, I would recommend you get your cat’s baseline screening done.  It could save their life.

This article is dedicated to Freido and Leonard, two of the most amazing cats the world has ever known….

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