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Published: Aug 07, 2012

Heart disease is a common condition in cats and is believed to be one of the most common causes of death among middle-aged felines, a veterinary cardiologist recently told the Chicago Tribune.

According to VCA Animal Hospitals, cardiomyopathy is the most common type of feline heart disease and there are three forms.  They are: hypertrophic, dilated, and intermediate or restrictive cardiomyopathy. Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM), which involves an abnormal thickening of the heart, is the most common form of heart disease in cats.

Cat owners should know that many animals do not show signs of illness in the early stages of disease.

Often cats will alter their activity levels to those that they can cope with, which make it difficult to diagnose cardiomyopathy until it is quite advanced," veterinarian Dr. Ernest Ward told VCA Animal Hospitals.

Signs your veterinarian may detect, according to WebMD Pets, include increased heart or respiratory rate or heart murmurs in cats.  Cats with heart disease will often exhibit clinical signs of decreased appetite and weight loss.

As the disease progresses, cats may also develop congestive heart failure, thromboembolic disease and hypertension.

Diagnosing this cat illness often involves chest x-rays, cardiac ultrasound and electrocardiography (ECG). However, the Chicago Tribune reports that some owners refuse additional tests for their cats because of the cost.

According to the newspaper, experts have developed a simple blood test to assist in the diagnosis of HCM in cats. The proBNP test - or Cardiopet test - offers owners a less expensive way to get a diagnosis in their pets.

This test will help cat owners determine whether their pet is suffering from respiratory illness or heart disease, as they both have similar clinical signs.
While negative results will likely put owners at ease, a positive one will require further testing, such as a cardiac ultrasound, to determine the prognosis.

It's also important to note that genetic research has determined that HCM is more prevalent in two breeds - the Ragdoll and Maine Coon.  Vets may be more likely to suggest aggressive testing when these animals present with common clinical signs of heart disease.

Like in humans, there are several different types of drugs that can be used to treat heart disease in cats. According to VCA Animal Hospitals, they include diuretics, beta-blockers, calcium channel-blockers, aspirin, angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors and drugs to lower blood pressure.