February is heart month, and we’re celebrating in two different ways. I’ve already ordered my cats’ Yeowww Catnip hearts for Valentine’s Day. And now I’m turning my thoughts to something more serious — those essential-for-life muscles that beat inside their chests. After all, healthy hearts are as important for cats as they are for humans.
Most of my cats are not young, and Sizzle has hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, so their heart health is especially important to me.
The problems with heart disease in cats are that there are often no symptoms until it’s almost too late, and heart disease in cats is not often preventable.
Experts say the best form of prevention is yearly checkups (please pass on the “annual shots!” Your cat probably doesn’t need them!). Your vet will listen for heart murmurs and other irregularities. And ask for a proBNP test, too. Although it often returns false positives, it’s a blood test that can detect early heart disease in cats.
Keeping Your Cat’s Heart Healthy
While heart disease in cats isn’t often preventable, there are things you can do to keep your cat’s heart healthy and lower the risks.
- Reduce stress. Stress triggers all kinds of health problems. Your cat will be healthier and happier if you provide a lifestyle that’s as stress-free as possible.
- Watch his weight. Obesity strains all the organs, including the heart. A high-quality all-wet-food diet is best, and it’s possible to free feed wet food the way you do dry. If your cat really needs his crunchies, give him just enough to keep him happy and no more. Stella and Chewy’s Freeze Dried Chicken Chunks and Pure Bites make great low-cal dry food alternatives.
- Make sure he exercises. Play with him with “wand” or “fishing pole” toys, and give him at least one tall, stable cat tree to climb. Or take him out on a harness and leash and go for walks together. Even indoor/outdoor cats need to be encouraged to get active. Sizzle’s favorite form of exercise is walking down the stairs from our third floor condo to the base of a big bush, where he spends the day in a comfy pile of leaves watching the world go by.
- Check food ingredients. Most commercial cat foods contain the correct amount of taurine for heart health. But read your cat food labels to be sure. If you make your own food, be sure to follow a recipe that includes enough taurine.
- Treat hyperthyroidism and high blood pressure. Hyperthyroidism takes a toll on the heart and all the cat’s other organs. But both hyper-t and high blood pressure can be easy to treat and are inexpensive if you get your cat’s medicine from a human pharmacy instead of your vet.
- Add fish oil to your cats’ food. It’s an anti-inflammatory and helps with arthritis, heart health and more.
- Know your breed. Some breeds, including Ragdolls, Persians, Maine Coons and American Shorthairs, are more prone to heart disease than others. Regular vet visits are especially important for these cats, and talk with the breeder before buying a kitten.
Signs Of Heart Disease In Cats
Like it is in humans, heart disease is often a “silent killer” in cats. But these are some signs to watch for that require immediate medical attention.
- Difficult or open mouth breathing
- Persistent cough
- Fainting or collapsing
- Weakness or paralysis of the back legs
- Abdominal swelling or distention
- Depression or hiding
- Poor circulation. Look for cold extremities, bluish paw pads or nail beds, and grayish gums or tongue.
- Loss of appetite
- Less tolerance for exercise or winded after exercise
- Change in heart rate. You can use the stopwatch on your phone to monitor your cat’s heart rate.
If you suspect your cat has heart disease, start with your regular vet, but ask for a referral to a board certified cardiologist. Cardiologists have the specialized training needed to interpret diagnostic imaging correctly and maintain the fine balance between the many medications your cat might need.
Our Happy Hearts
As I’m typing, Sizzle is lounging under his bush. He’s had his dinner and medicine — three different kinds of heart meds, fish oil and CoQ10 — and we’ve gone for our walk in the woods. Now he’s watching the designer dogs prance by in their harnesses and leashes. He especially likes the two rescued greyhounds who walk together, maybe because the three of them have something in common. He was rescued, too.
True, I was the one who rescued him from an unhappy living situation. But it was a talented and determined cardiologist who rescued him from what came very close to an unhappy ending when he went into sudden and completely unexpected congestive heart failure.
I’m grateful for every day I have with him and for every night that he presses his huge orange and white body against mine and purrs us both to sleep. His heart is happy, and that makes my heart happy, not just on Valentine’s Day but on every day of the year.