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What is Enlarged Heart?

Your veterinarian may use the term dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) to describe the condition of enlarged heart, specifically the loss or weakening of cardiac muscle, leading to decreased function and possibly to congestive heart failure.

An enlarged heart is a condition in cats in which the muscle of the heart increases in size due to many different possible causes. This increase causes the heart to work harder to pump the same amount of blood, resulting in decreased efficiency and possibly heart failure. Though it used to be more common, a link between taurine deficiency and enlarged heart has been established, leading cat food companies to include taurine in their food, and a subsequent significant drop-off of enlarged hearts in cats. It's worth noting that outdoor cats or those fed diets not based on commercial cat food may still be at risk for taurine deficiency.

Enlarged Heart Average Cost

From 570 quotes ranging from $1,000 - $5,000

Average Cost

$2,000

Symptoms of Enlarged Heart in Cats

Cats with enlarged hearts will often have a broad range of symptoms, and depending on the age of the cat, these could be mistaken for simply a sign of being elderly. Only veterinary examination can pinpoint dilated cardiomyopathy for certain. The primary symptoms include:

  • Listlessness (depression)
  • Lack of appetite
  • Weakness/sluggishness
  • Partial paralysis as blood clots become more common
  • Abnormal heart rhythm
  • Difficulty breathing, possibly with a cough
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Causes of Enlarged Heart in Cats

It is widely believed now that taurine deficiency was the primary cause of enlarged hearts in cats, but with the addition of taurine to cat food, this has been largely resolved. Modern cases have no single cause that can be pinpointed, but instead there are several possible known culprits, including:

  • Parasites
  • Viruses
  • Genetic predisposition to enlarged heart

Assuming taurine deficiency is not the cause of your cat's enlarged heart, a more in-depth examination will be needed.

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Diagnosis of Enlarged Heart in Cats

Your veterinarian will need to examine your cat, particularly the sounds of the heart and the ability of your cat to breathe on their own. 

If your cat suddenly stops eating, shows signs of general disinterest or extreme fatigue, has difficulty breathing, or behaves in a way that indicates partial paralysis or pain in one specific region, it is a good idea to have them examined as soon as possible. 

On examination, a veterinarian will be listening for a galloping heartbeat, a heart murmur, weak pulse and other abnormal heart rhythms. In addition, the cat's breathing will potentially be labored as fluid builds up around the heart and lungs, a condition called effusion. Further examination through blood drawing can indicate heart damage by evaluating levels of creatinine, a chemical marker of muscle breakdown, an increase of which can suggest cardiac damage. Ultimately, an echocardiogram is the best test for diagnosing enlarged heart, and will be the next procedure if the initial examination suggests cardiac enlargement.

Your vet may ask you about your cat's eating habits lately compared to normal. In addition, they will likely ask about onset of a cough, decreased energy and playfulness, if they have lost interest in toys or novelties that used to get their attention. Being clear about your cat's normal behavior versus what they have experienced since you've noticed the change can be essential in helping your veterinarian determine what they need to evaluate. 

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Treatment of Enlarged Heart in Cats

Treatment for cats with enlarged hearts involves reducing swelling of the heart as well as reducing the amount of fluid accumulating in the chest. This will improve breathing and allow the doctor more time to establish a cause. If it is determined that taurine deficiency is the underlying cause of the DCM, taurine will be administered, but even in these cases, the prognosis is not good. Once cats begin to exhibit symptoms of enlarged heart, it can be too late to treat effectively. Unless your cat is not eating prepared cat food, lack of taurine is not the primary cause, so identifying the culprit takes precious time. For the most part, treatment is focused on improving heart function while a cause can be established.

Diuretics

Diuretics work by helping your cat expel excess fluids that their body might be retaining. Diuretics are usually administered orally, but depending on the condition of your pet, may be given intravenously. There is little risk here but they do not offer a permanent solution.

Antiarrhythmic Drugs

AADs work by inhibiting the impulses that cause irregular heartbeats. They are not useful if the enlarged heart has progressed to congestive heart failure, though.

Administered Oxygen

This is another stopgap, designed to give your cat's doctor more time to find an underlying cause. 

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Recovery of Enlarged Heart in Cats

If caught quickly enough, the prognosis can be about 50% for survival in cats with enlarged hearts, assuming taurine deficiency is the cause. For examples without a readily apparent trigger, expected recovery rates are very low. Even for those with taurine problems, the chance at survival is not high. Long-term management of the condition depends on the initial trigger, but once a cat has survived and the condition causing the enlarged heart is identified, it can be addressed accordingly.

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Enlarged Heart Average Cost

From 570 quotes ranging from $1,000 - $5,000

Average Cost

$2,000

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Enlarged Heart Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Need pet health advice? Ask a vet

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Ask a Vet

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dog-breed-icon

Male cat, tuxedo

dog-age-icon

Eight Years

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Unknown severity

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Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Lethargy

My cat just is tired. He is slightly over weight. The vet said he has a slightly enlarged heart. But he does not appear to be sick. Eats normally. He plays with our older cat. The vet took 3 exrays.

July 25, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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0 Recommendations

Thank you for your question. If your cat generally got a clean bill of health other than the enlarged heart, and this has not changed his behavior, he may just be quieter as an adult cat. If the lethargy is something that you have noticed change dramatically recently, it would be best to call your veterinarian and let them know that this is happening, as they have seen him recently. He may need treatment, or this may be normal. Your veterinarian will be able to examine him and see if he is okay. I hope that all goes well for him.

July 25, 2020

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Nellie

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short haired

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4 Years

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Serious severity

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Serious severity

Has Symptoms

In Description

Hi there. I went to the vets thinking my 4 year old cat had anxiety, but turns out she has an enlarged heart :( The firsr time she had an episode, it lasted 9 days, then 2nd lasted 5 days. Now that we finally have a diagnosis with bloodwork and xrays thst show an enlarged heart...my question is, is there anu medicine that can be prescribed to her without going through an eccocardiogram? She is now very lethargic and urinating without moving out of bed and has a fast heart rate. Not eating either and barely licking a couple drops of water. I am hoping she will come out of it like she did the past 2 times, but just not sure. Especially knowing now what it truly is! I want to give her the benefit of the doubt, but want her quality of life to be good. Any medication if just xrays done to determine and no specialist cardiologist echocardiogram? Thank you for any insight.

July 26, 2018

Nellie's Owner

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3320 Recommendations

An echocardiogram will allow your Veterinarian to get a better idea about the enlarged heart and will all measurements to be made so that the progress of the condition may be monitored plus medical management is contraindicated without an echocardiogram (see link below); without examining Nellie I cannot recommend any particular treatment. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM www.vet.upenn.edu/docs/default-source/ryan/cardiology-brochures-(ryan)/understanding-feline-cardiomyopathy.pdf?sfvrsn=9fa0aba_0

July 26, 2018

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kiki

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perssian

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14 Years

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Serious severity

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Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Difficulty Breathing,Weakness,

my cat is 14 yrs old he's been diagnosed with enlarged heart and he has pulmonary edema,he has difficulty breathing n his heart beats r not normal he cannot do any activities even walking ..what meds should he be on n should he take lasix as am afraid to give him lasix..thx

July 20, 2018

kiki's Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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1611 Recommendations

If Kiki has pulmonary edema to the point where he can't breathe or walk, he is probably suffering, and Lasix may give him some relief. Lasix is a fundamental medication for cats in heart failure. I hope that he is okay.

July 20, 2018

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Autumn

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Rescued cat

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10 Years

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Moderate severity

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Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Coughing

Does a cat suffer without medication? My cat that awas 10 years old never went.to the vet ( because my exbf said it was a house cat it didn't need to go) anyway she did pass away,( so heart broken) I felt ashamed to go to vet after we broke up because she was so old, she was napping and she had a blot clot,.a brought her to the doctor and she coded on the 2nd clot at that point I let her go cause she would of been paralyzed on right side of her body, this totally broke my heart, she was a rescued kitty and gave her 8 wonderful years but I wondered if she had medication would she lasted longer?Never again will i ever listen to someone that says it's a house pet doesn'tneed to see a vet. She didn't act like she was in pain, very happy cat, I just feel awful for not getting her to the vet. If she was on meds would it matter? Thank you Cindy

July 14, 2018

Autumn's Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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1611 Recommendations

Autumn may have lived longer if she had been on medications, but her end result would probably have been the same. It sounds like she did not suffer and went quickly, which is a blessing. I am sorry for your loss.

July 14, 2018

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Foxy

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tabby

dog-age-icon

7 Years

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Critical severity

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Critical severity

Has Symptoms

Labored Breath Due To Enlarged Heart
Labored Breath

My cat Foxy is currently in the ER. I took her to the vet due to labored breathing. After several test the vet saw she has an enlarged heart with a tear. I was given the option to take her to a cardiologist or make the choice to let her go. I'm so torn because she has lost some weight but is eating ok,still is playful and excited when I pull out treats. :-) My question is should I go ahead and take her to the cardiologist or is it time to let her rest?

June 22, 2018

Foxy's Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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1611 Recommendations

I think that decision is really up to you, and depends on finances and her quality of life. If you are able to pursue further treatment, she is a young cat and may have many years left. She may have a heart condition that will not allow her to live very much longer, but without the consult with the cardiologist, you may never know.

June 22, 2018

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Max

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tabby/bengal mix

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11 Years

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Moderate severity

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Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Coughing
Coughing, Congestion

We rescued Max, who had been abandoned, during a snowstorm around Christmas 2010. A couple of years later, began to have coughing spells, where he sounds very congested, but then is able to clear it and breathes normally afterward. I had assumed early on that he was trying to clear a hair ball, because I've never seen him spit one up. Over the past couple of years, he was diagnosed with asthma, so he's been on taper doses of prednisone off and on. This past October, he was put on a long, 2-month taper,which seemed to help him and prevent coughing, but towards the end of the taper, the coughing resumed. I extended the taper and seemed to help for a couple of weeks. I was then giving him 1/2 tab prednisone every 10 days to 2 weeks, but after a couple of months, the relief only seemed to last a day or so. In my opinion, the prednisone taper made his condition worse. Today, the results of his bloodwork came in. All was normal except for his ProBNP, which was 840. Plus the X-ray is showing an enlarged heart. I've been advised to get him to a vet 65 miles away for an EKG/ultrasound. From everything I'm reading, enlarged heart can't be reversed, and he can just be made as comfortable as possible. My question is this: is it possible the prednisone, prescribed for asthma, caused his enlarged heart? Or, is his coughing a product of the enlarged heart?

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Amos

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Dlh

dog-age-icon

15 Years

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Moderate severity

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Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Bad Breath
Irritability
Mouth Breathing, Lethargy

Amos has been on rx wet food for bladder issues for 13 years. The vet said he has heart enlargement of "3 out of 5" and recommended KD food but he doesn't like it. Lately he has been lethargic, irritable, and mouth breathing about 60% of the time. HI lost my 17yo cat in September and also have a 16yo cat. I'm concerned that they will tell me Amos's heart is more enlarged and to put him down. Can his quality of life improve significantly? He eats 2 cans of food daily but is very thin.

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Oliver

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Ginger Persian

dog-age-icon

2 Months

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Serious severity

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Depression
Loss Of Balance
Loss Of Appetite
Crying
Wobbly Feet
Struggle Breathing

So my kitten is almost 2 months old my cat had a litter, all his siblings are fine but I noticed that Oliver wasn’t growing like his siblings I thought maybe because his mum is petit he might have come out like her, anyways a few days ago I noticed that he stopped feeding and stopped playing he didn’t move at all and I would always find him in a corner of the room, I took him to the vet today they were shocked of how tiny he was for his age, they had an X-ray done for him and the vet showed me how abnormal the size of his heart was 💔 his heart is taken almost all the space in his lungs, the shape is round, he gave me this medicine drops to give him for two weeks then he said he wanted to see him, after I came back from The vet I feel like my Oliver is just getting worse even his mother has noticed she tries to comfort him but there’s nothing we can do to stop the pain, he also struggles to walk, I was thinking of putting him down to stop him from suffering like this, it breaks my heart how such a small thing suffers like that and I can’t do nothing about it. Should I put him down or shall I wait? Do you think he will survive or not? Will he be okay or will he always have to suffer with pain? I’m so upset and confused I don’t know what to do every time he starts crying I can’t help myself but cry with him.

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Binx

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Rag doll

dog-age-icon

2 Years

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Moderate severity

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Lethargy
Panting
Heart Flutter

A couple days ago I noticed my cat sleeping a lot and not very playful as he normally is. I have had trouble with him escaping, getting fleas, and tape worms. I’m not sure if tape worms could cause these symptoms. Today he was in very bad condition, he had a blank look in his eyes and was panting really hard. I rushed him to the vet and once they examined him and brought him back out he seemed fine just sleepy. The issue is I can’t afford to pay for all the blood work and test to see exactly what is wrong with him. I purchased antibiotics and tape worm medicine in hopes that would help. He lays on his side and moves around a lot like he’s trying to find a better position to breathe easier, he has been drinking A LOT of water, and eats pretty okay. What do you think the best option is for his symptoms?

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Angle

dog-breed-icon

Black

dog-age-icon

1 Year

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Moderate severity

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Wobbly
Wobbly Sad

My cat this month vet told my mom she has an enlarged heart she is only 1 and her back legs she is woddly said because of hurt is she in a lot of pain? And when should I have to put her down

Enlarged Heart Average Cost

From 570 quotes ranging from $1,000 - $5,000

Average Cost

$2,000