Seven signs of heart problems in cats

Seven signs of heart problems in cats

What to look for

Cats can be mysterious creatures and tend to hide their heart problems well. But here are some clues that you can use to look for signs of heart disease in your cat:

1. Difficulty breathing
Heart disease causes fluid to accumulate in the lungs which causes breathing difficulty, such as fast or laboured breathing. In cats breathing problems often look like panting or breathing through an open mouth. If your cat is open mouth breathing, this is often a sign for concern - you should keep your cat as cool and quiet as possible and call a vet straight away.

2. Exercise intolerance
When the heart is unable to pump oxygen around the body effectively, cats do not have enough energy to be as active as they should be. It can be difficult to monitor energy levels in cats because they don’t often go on walks with their owners like dogs, but exercise intolerance in cats can present itself as behaviour changes such as lethargy, hiding or sleeping more.

3. Fainting
This is caused by poor blood supply and can range from collapse to weakness or wobbliness.

4. Weight loss
A combination of reduced appetite and loss of muscle causes weight loss.

5. Blue gums
Caused by poorly oxygenated blood being delivered to the gums, this is when fluid accumulates in the chest and the blood is unable to become oxygenised as it passes through the lungs.

6. A reduced appetite
Poor blood supply to the intestines and accumulation of fluid in the abdomen causes a poor appetite, so look out for any changes in eating patterns.

7. Paralysed back legs

Hindlimb paralysis is caused by a clot getting stuck in the blood vessels supplying the back legs. The blood clot is initially formed due to turbulent blood flow within the heart. It usually happens suddenly and is very painful, requiring urgent treatment.

Pay attention to their Resting Respiratory Rate

Breathing changes are the most common and reliable signs of heart disease in cats. Because cats are so good at hiding signs of poor health, a good way to monitor heart disease in felines is measuring the Resting Respiratory Rate (RRR).

This is how many times your cat breaths in one minute whilst asleep or at rest. When the RRR is measured, it is important that your cat is calm and relaxed as activity and stress will make your cat breath more quickly.

The normal RRR for cats is between 15 and 30 breaths per minute (bpm).

Want to measure your cat’s RRR at home?
- Watch your cat’s chest move in and out (inhalation and exhalation). One breath equals one inhalation and one exhalation.
- Use a watch or phone to time 30 seconds.
- Count how many breaths occur in 30 seconds.
- Multiple this number by 2.
- Record the result.

If your cat’s RRR is increasing over time or consistently above 30bpm, you should speak to a vet.

You should repeat this process hourly or daily if the result is high or if your cat has been diagnosed with heart disease.

The importance of diet

A cat's diets should contain sufficient levels of the amino acid called taurine. This is because taurine deficiency can cause a type of heart disease called Dilated Cardiomyopathy. Unlike dogs and humans, cats cannot make taurine naturally so require it in their diet. Feeding a high quality commercial cat food will provide your cat with all the taurine and other nutrients it needs to have a healthy heart.

Cats should NOT eat the following foods because they often do not contain enough taurine:

- Home cooked diet.
- Vegetarian diet.
- Dog food.

Instead, remember that most cats enjoy the variety and benefits of having both wet and dry foods. Follow the feeding guides on the packets and always weigh out dry food to prevent overfeeding. Cats require different amounts of key nutrients depending on their age and lifestyle. If you're unsure, speak to a Joii vet nurse today.

Need more advice for your cat?

Download the Joii app today for 24/7 online vet calls for £24.

Back to blog