CATS: Understanding Heart Disease


By Dr. Lidja Gillmeister

How healthy is your cat’s heart? Because most felines exhibit very little outward expression when it comes to their health, it may be tricky to know.

The truth is that heart disease is common in cats, and a leading cause of death for both indoor and outdoor cats before cancers and other terminal illnesses set in during old age. Feline Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy (HCM) is the most prevalent type of heart disease in cats and can go undetected for years until the tragic death is discovered.

HCM is a disease that causes the heart ventricles to thicken. When scar tissue forms in response to the stress, the heart’s pumping power is reduced since it is less elastic and therefore weakened. In many cases, cats that suddenly die without explanation may have been affected with HCM (of course, we can try to determine the cause of death if you are able to bring your pet into our office). It’s positive to note that cats don’t typically suffer pain if diagnosed with HCM.

Symptoms of Heart Disease in Cats

If your cat is exhibiting any signs of heart disease as noted below, it may be a good idea to visit us at our La Jolla veterinary office. Visit us online at

or call us directly at 858-454-6155 and set up an appointment.

Respiratory Distress.

Some cats may exhibit rapid breathing or heartbeat in the presence of HCM.

Breathing with open mouth.

Cats with HCM, especially progressive HCM, may breathe or pant through mainly through the mouth.

Difficulty in exercise or daily activities.

Some cats with HCM have a difficult time doing any kind of strenuous activity, especially exercise like jumping, climbing or running.

Treating HCM

There is no cure for HCM, but cats that are diagnosed with heart disease still have options to ensure a comfortable life. The first line of defense against heart disease is a good, quality food, so talk to us about starting and maintaining a quality diet for your cat for a healthy life for years to come.

We can also help you treat your pet in the event HCM is diagnosed.

Diuretics and ACE inhibitors are treatments available for cats with congestive heart failure. Severe buildup in the chest cavity due to HCM can also be treated by removing fluid with a catheter to help the cat breath more freely. We may also prescribe alternative methods or treatments to ensure a comfortable and long life for the cat diagnosed with HCM.

If you suspect your cat may have heart disease, do not hesitate to give us a call at 858-454-6155 and schedule your pet’s consultation.