Tips for Feline Heart Health

When I consider what I like most about cats, I’d probably say it’s their mysterious demeanor. I never know why one of my cats will suddenly pounce on my computer keyboard, why another might hide for hours on Wednesdays, or what could possibly be going on inside the head of one who spends time shadow boxing in my bathroom. Just as their motivations and desires remain secret to us, they are also, unfortunately, masters at concealing any illnesses they might have. A cat can have a medical problem and even the most watchful owner may not realize it until the condition becomes full-blown.

An unhealthy heart is an all too common feline problem, regardless of age. The good news is that heart conditions are best treated when found early. Additionally, early detection and treatment also give felines opportunities to live relatively healthy and happy lives. All you have to do is be proactive by routinely giving your cat a quick home-health examination. Don’t worry – it’s easy, fun and can even save a life.

Let’s start by placing your cat where you can both be comfortable.

First, look into your kitty’s eyes. They should be bright and clear. If you notice a film covering the eyes, it may be an exposed “third eye” or nictitating membrane, which is a thin tissue supported by cartilage that protects the cornea. Normally, this membrane is not visible in healthy cats; however, its appearance is a sign of poor health.

Next, lift the lips to inspect the color of your cat’s gums. They should have nice medium-pink color, although some black cats may have naturally gray gums. When you press your finger on the gums, they should lose color; as soon as you remove your finger, the original color should return. Cats with heart problems can be anemic, resulting in very pale or blueish gums. Bright pink or red gums are generally not a good sign and might be indicative of a heart problem.

The whiskers should be nice and long. Broken or thick whiskers may indicate that your cat is not completely healthy. Please take into account that some breeds, like the Devon Rex or the American Wirehair, almost always have short whiskers, so this isn’t a great test for these breeds.

Next up in your home exam, put your right palm on your cat’s right shoulder and your left on his left shoulder. Move your hands together, down the spine in the direction of the tail, slightly pressing downward to feel the ribs. If there is more than an inch to pinch, your cat might be carrying too much weight. It’ll probably come as no surprise that overweight cats are candidates for heart problems. Note that the hanging tummy is not an indication of obesity if you can still feel the ribs. More often, a hanging tummy can be due to a lack of particular hormones or some fluid in the abdomen.

Feel the pads of your cat’s feet – they should be warm. Cold feet, on one side or all four, may be indicative of poor circulation, or possibly even a blood clot.

Throughout your exam, pay attention to your cat’s breathing. Breaths should come steadily … not very deep and not too shallow either. Some cats with heart problems will appear to breathe with difficulty. If your cat starts to breathe through his mouth, or begins to breathe with effort, you may have a problem that needs immediate medical attention.

In fact, if you notice any of these negative symptoms, I would suggest you consult with your veterinarian as soon as possible.

I encourage you to record the results of these exams in a dedicated notebook. This will allow you to track changes over time, and it’ll be a handy resource for reporting changes in your cat’s health to your vet during normal check-ups.

With any luck, your regularly scheduled monitoring might help to prevent a minor problem from becoming a serious one.

Thank you for all you do to make the world a better place for your dear companions,

Dr. Jane