Cats are wonderful pets that provide us with endless fun and companionship. And, as their human guardians, it is our responsibility to keep them in tip-top health. So, if you start seeing your cat’s heartbeat, you might start to panic – and this is completely understandable.
Keep in mind, however, that this does not necessarily indicate a heart problem. Your furry friend could just be excited, or perhaps a little frustrated that she cannot reach that rodent she has been eyeing in your backyard. But, if any other unusual symptoms start to emerge, it could be a sign of a bigger problem.
So when should you worry about your cat’s visible heartbeat? What are the common signs of heart problems in cats? Hopefully, the explanations below will help you find the answers.
I can see my cat’s heart beating – is this normal?
Seeing your cat’s “heartbeat” – or pulse – around her neck or throat might be frightening, but this is actually relatively normal!
What is more important than its visibility is the resting heart rate. On average, a healthy feline heart rate at rest should fall within 120 to 140 beats per minute. Rapid heart rates above this range are not normal unless your pet is excited or has just been playing energetically.
How to measure your cat’s heart rate
Finding out your cat’s heart rate might sound complicated, but it’s actually very easy – just feel for the beat through her ribcage on her left side, just behind her left foreleg. Count the number of beats for exactly 15 seconds; then multiply this by four and you have your cat’s heart rate in beats per minute.
Heart conditions – Symptoms to look out for
A slower or faster than average heartbeat is generally an indicator of a heart condition.
However, knowing your cat’s heart rate alone will not give you a clear picture of her health. You need to have her checked by the vet if you suspect that her heartbeat is irregular or not within the normal range.
Additionally, cats with heart problems may show one or more of the following symptoms:
- Lethargy and difficulty moving
- Loss of appetite
Cats are good at concealing their illness, which is why it is very important to have them checked by the vet once or twice yearly. Through examinations, your vet can keep abreast of your cat’s health and prevent the onset of any potential problems such as heart disease. Keep in mind that early diagnosis and treatment are essential to preserve your cat’s health and increase her lifespan.
Cat with a rapid heartbeat – should you worry?
A faster than normal heartbeat does not always mean a heart problem, especially if your cat does not show any other symptoms. Sometimes, the culprit could be an infection. Seeing an increased heartbeat without any other symptoms could also be due to psychological factors such as fear, shock, or excitement.
However, in some cases, a rapid heartbeat is associated with heart failure. Cats that have this disease could also show other symptoms like heavy breathing, coughing, and cyanosis (blue-tinged lips and gums).
Feline heart failure can be triggered by other health issues such as:
- Chronic valve disease
- Gastric dilation volvulus
Aside from the heart’s rate and rhythm, your vet will also need to consider the heart’s sound, which can be heard through a stethoscope. For example, a whooshing sound produced when the heart is beating can indicate a heart murmur. This condition can be linked to anemia, infection, obesity, or hypoproteinemia. Heart murmurs are more common in middle-aged and senior cats and rarely observed in younger ones.
Other things the vet will listen for are heart arrhythmia, cloaked or pounding heart sounds, and tachycardia.
Do cats get enlarged hearts?
Cats, like their canine counterparts, can suffer from enlarged hearts. Several heart-related conditions can cause a cat’s heart to become enlarged, including feline heartworm, congenital heart disease, cardiomyopathy, and valvular heart disease. A heart murmur is often an indication of such disease, along with other symptoms like fainting, breathing problems, lethargy, weight loss, noisy breathing, and weakness of the limbs. Your vet can diagnose feline heart disease through chest x-rays and echocardiograms.
If your cat has an enlarged heart, it is important to work with your vet to do follow-up testing and routine physical examinations to determine the underlying medical condition. This will help to determine the prognosis and the best treatment approach to improve your cat’s quality of life.
Are feline heart problems genetic?
Certain cat breeds are genetically predisposed to heart diseases, such as Persians, American shorthairs, Ragdolls, and Maine coons. Symptoms of congenital heart abnormalities often start to emerge around adulthood or in the cat’s senior years, although the disease can also affect younger cats.
Aside from being hereditary, heart disease in cats can also be acquired through infections or injuries. Hence, if you notice your cat’s heart beating at a rapid pace along with other symptoms, regardless of her breed and age you should seek veterinary care as soon as possible. Early detection of heart disease can prevent irreversible heart damage and premature death.
How feline heart disease is diagnosed
Detecting the early onset of feline heart disease can be challenging, especially since affected cats do not necessarily show visible symptoms. And, if symptoms are present, your furry friend will tend to conceal them and may even resort to hiding, making it more difficult for you to notice.
Unfortunately, up to one in every six cats will develop heart disease at some point in their life. This is where routine check-ups become helpful: through physical examinations and the advanced tools in your vet’s clinic, it is easier to detect abnormalities in your cat’s health.
If you suspect your cat has a heart-related problem, your vet will likely recommend tests such as a capillary refill test, echocardiogram, chest x-rays, ultrasound, electrocardiogram, and blood tests.
Treatment and recovery
Cats with rapid heartbeats may not necessarily need hospitalization or treatment unless the symptom is connected with a serious heart condition. Depending on the severity and the type of heart disease, the vet might recommend one or a combination of the following:
- Prescription drugs
- Oxygen therapy
- Exercise and diet changes
- Pacemaker implantation
Periodic visits to the vet are also necessary to keep an eye on your cat’s progress. Your vet will do physical examinations, blood work, and other analytic tests to ensure your cat’s body is functioning healthily.
With proper medical treatment and care, most cats with heart disease can carry on living normal lives. However, the prognosis is much more favorable with early diagnosis and treatment.
Wrapping it up
Our feline companions are irreplaceable – they are members of the family whose quirks and affection provide us with endless joy and companionship. In return, we need to make sure they are healthy and happy at all times. So, if you notice a rapid heartbeat in your cat, accompanied by any sudden behavioral changes or unusual physical symptoms, do not delay a visit to your vet.
Heart disease can occur in up to one in six cats at some stage in their lives. Keeping a watchful eye on your pet’s health will ensure early diagnosis and treatment of any heart condition and prevent any problems from worsening.
Image: istockphoto.com / beavera