Heart disease is the silent killer of cats. One in six cats can be born with and develop heart disease in their lifetime. There are no outward symptoms, but now there is a blood test called a proBNP test that can detect heart disease earlier.
Every cat owner needs to know that the most common age of heart disease in cats is any age. All cats from the really young to the really old can suddenly be affected. What is a cat owner to do?
Yearly veterinarian exams are crucial for your cat.
The most important thing you can do is take your cat to the veterinarian at least once a year so he or she can listen to your cat’s heart. What we are listening for is a heart murmur and/or an arrhythmia. A baseline proBNP blood test should also be considered.
Yearly exams to check a cat’s heart are crucial because the earlier heart disease is detected, the greater the possibility that the cat will have a positive response to treatment.
How can the proBNP test help?
This exciting blood test called a proBNP test may be lifesaving! The proBNP test has been used in humans for years, and we also can use it for dogs. However, cats especially benefit from this great, inexpensive screening test.
The proBNP test measures stretching of the heart due to disease on a microcellular level. It is a simple blood test that most veterinarians can now perform. With it we can establish a baseline of the condition of the cat’s heart without the added expense of performing an echocardiogram (cardiac ultrasound).
The test is also useful if we have a young cat whose brother, sister or mother had heart disease, because we can test for a genetic predisposition inexpensively.
The proBNP test is also useful as a pre-surgical test. There are 10-15% of cats that develop heart disease without presenting an arrhythmia or heart murmur. We use the proBNP test in our practice because it gives us added assurance that your cat’s heart can handle anesthesia or surgery.
What about indoor cats?
There is a fallacy even among veteran, self-proclaimed cat people that indoor, young adult cats can take care of themselves and don’t need annual wellness preventative exams. This could not be farther from the truth, especially when it comes to felines.
Cats are the masters at hiding disease from their loving owners. Cats silently suffer from many types of genetic diseases that will develop whether they are indoor or outdoor cats.
Indoor cats do live an average of 6-9 years longer than indoor/outdoor cats if they have a good heart. However, heart disease symptoms won’t present until your pet is very sick. At that point, your cat may not respond to medications.
What are the symptoms of heart disease in cats?
The most common symptom in cats with heart disease is again, NO early symptoms. This is where cats differ from dogs. A dog who has heart disease will display obvious symptoms as early as 6 months to 3 years in advance before overt heart failure. The initial symptoms in dogs could be signs like coughing, lethargy, or panting.
The most common outcome of undetected heart disease in cats is sudden respiratory distress and sudden death. This end stage of heart disease is often a chest full of fluid that restricts their lungs from expanding. Owners are shocked and devastated because their cats were seemingly normal until just that day or the night before.
A veterinarian can detect an arrhythmia or a heart murmur up to a year or so in advance by listening to your cat’s heart. Your veterinarian has an 85-90% chance of finding hopefully early heart disease in your cat with his/her stethoscope. The other 10-15% that may have been missed in the past can now be detected with a simple proBNP baseline blood test screen.
What is the treatment plan for heart disease?
Once we diagnose a specific heart disease by an ultrasound, the treatment may be heart medication in liquid or pill form. Sometimes we can even use a form of transdermal medication. This is a cream that you would put on the cat’s ear once a day. Senior pet owners and those with cats who are difficult to medicate really appreciate this.
These medications will enable your cat’s heart to work more efficiently so they can have a better quality of life inexpensively. Medication can help prevent sudden heart failure, respiratory distress and sudden death.
Please contact our office if you have further questions or would like to schedule an appointment.
Joe Martins, DVM, Belle Mead Animal Hospital