What are Heart Murmurs?
If your vet discovers a heart murmur, that alone is not an actual diagnosis. Rather, it can lead to the discovery of an underlying problem. Not all heart murmurs affect the health of your cat, but if heard, it may be best to still have your cat fully assessed.
When your veterinarian uses a stethoscope to listen to your cat's heart, an abnormal sound, known as a heart murmur, may be heard. Typically, the heart makes two distinct noises as the heart valves closes. Murmurs are heard between these normal beats. The more severe murmurs are capable of drowning out the average heartbeats.
Symptoms of Heart Murmurs in Cats
Symptoms of a heart murmur can vary widely depending on several characteristics. Some cats may not exhibit any signs at all. However, there are a few clinical signs to lookout for:
- Pale gums
- Abnormal or congested breathing
- Rapid or difficult breathing
- Loss of appetite (anorexia)
- Weight loss
Heart murmurs are classified as congenital, acquired, and innocent/physiologic.
- Congenital: This type is present at birth, and is commonly caused by heart defects or diseases.
- Acquired: Cats with this type develop it later in life. It is the most common type of murmur.
- Innocent/Physiologic: This has no impact on a cat's health, and is commonly found in young kittens.
Causes of Heart Murmurs in Cats
There are a number of conditions that can disrupt blood flow, thus causing heart murmurs. Common causes include:
- Hypertension (high blood pressure)
- Hypoproteinemia (low protein levels in the blood)
- Hyperthyroidism (excess thyroid hormone)
- Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (heart walls thicken and restrict blood flow)
- Blood clots in the heart
- Increased heart rate in nervous cats
Diagnosis of Heart Murmurs in Cats
Heart murmurs are mainly discovered during a physical examination as your veterinarian listens to your cat's heart. Once the abnormality is found, your vet will further assess your cat. Initially, you will be asked about your cat's health as well as whether they have presented any clinical signs.
The vet will also grade the intensity of the heart murmurs while listening with the stethoscope. This grade is placed on a scale of I to VI. Grade I is barely audible, and it is heard on only one side of the chest. By Grade VI, the loudness has intensified. It can be heard in more than one location, and the vibration of it can be easily felt through the cat's chest wall.
If your cat presented no symptoms and was instead nervous during the physical examination, your vet may simply wish to re-evaluate them at a later date when they are calmer as the murmur could have simply been innocent. Likewise in young kittens that have a low-intensity murmur, the vet will just propose a re-evaluation in a few weeks.
In the case that your cat presents symptoms or the murmur appears to be caused by an underlying problem, your vet may order several diagnostic tests. Blood tests such as a CBC (complete blood count) is used to detect anemia or infections, and blood pressure tests are used to check for hypertension. Chest X-rays will also be ordered to look at the lungs and the vessel size and shape of the heart. An EGG (electrocardiogram) will be used to examine any irregular heart rate or rhythm.
Further, your vet may perform an ultrasound to exam the heart, a procedure known as an echocardiogram. An echocardiogram may be accompanied by a Doppler examination which detects the speed and the direction of blood flow the heart valves and chambers. This particular assessment is highly useful in determining the exact location of the cause of the heart murmur.
Treatment of Heart Murmurs in Cats
Any type of treatment always depends on what exactly is the underlying cause of the heart murmurs.
In the event that heart murmurs are innocent, then your vet may wish only to monitor your cat. Regular monitoring ensures that no complications arise, and your cat remains relatively healthy. This periodic re-examination may occur every few weeks to every few months.
Depending on the cause, specific medication may be given to treat whatever condition that has been discovered. Medicine is useful in cases such as hyperthyroidism and high blood pressure. Nutritional supplements are also useful in treating cases of anemia. In the case of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, some medication such as blood thinning drugs and beta blockers to relax muscles may be useful in providing some relief. Even so, cardiomyopathy is mainly treated with supportive care.
If the murmurs are caused by a congenital disease, then your vet may recommend surgery. Any specific surgery will depend on the exact nature of the disease.
Recovery of Heart Murmurs in Cats
Depending on the cause of the heart murmurs, the outlook ranges. Those diagnosed with innocent murmurs live healthy and normal lives, and require no recovery and minimal management beyond routine examinations. If your vet has prescribed any medication, then it is best to take it as directed even if your cat appears to be in good health.
Depending on the diagnosis, lifestyle changes may be of good help to manage your cat's condition. These changes include managing diets as well as exercise. Also, be sure to still follow-up with your vet as only they can check whether or not a murmur has been resolved or may have worsened.
Heart Murmurs Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals
I just adopted a 6 month old, 7 lb kitten from a local shelter. His medical record was clean when I got him, but to my dismay when I took him to the vet 6 days later I was informed he had a moderate heart murmur. Something the shelter should've easily been able to diagnose considering in his 6 months of live he has been through their system twice. The second surrender being a mystery to the reason why, but now is very clear. I even took him in for a second opinion in case it was nerves, but the result was the same.
Over all he is a very vocal and energetic kitten who loves to get affection but you can tell he's not well. He is very prone to heavy wheezing with even a few minutes of play. Even when he isn't playing his breathing is a bit wheezy. He barely eats his food and I leave it out for him all day. I fill the bowl every morning before work and every night before bed, even if it's just me taking out the food from the day just to put it back in the bowl to entice some munching since it seems fresh. I use both dry and wet food and he will nibble when the bowl has just been poured. I've also noticed he does not sleep a lot for a cat. Maybe about 5-8 hours, which is far from the normal 12 to 16. I have tried a number of things to promote him to sleep: letting him sleep with me, play time before bed time, getting a nice cozy cat bed and a warm blanket that smells like me, even cat calming scents. Nothing seems to work. He's restless at night and stays awake during the day.
I am worried the lack of sleep and eating are due to his murmur because he is uncomfortable and in pain. I am also frustrated that none of this was on his medical record. If I didn't take him to the vet right away weeks or months could've gone by before I took him to the vet. It was negligent on the part of the shelter. Especially since I informed them his medical info was incorrect and they pretty much told me "too bad so sad, you adopted the cat and signed a contract you were able to cover his medical expenses so he's your problem now unless you want to surrender him to us and be banned from adopting ever again."
When I talked to the vet his suggestion was to just keep monitoring him and call if there are any life threatening symptoms. Also to do check ups every 6 months. They can run more tests on him to get a more in depth diagnosis, but they don't have any technicians or specialists in the area so it would take time and money to get them out here or I would have to take time off to go out to see them directly.
I just want to be able to take care of Lucipurr properly and give him the home he deserves. Because of work I am out of my house for about 60 hours a week and also do freelance work on the side where I cannot give attention to him. I'm growing concerned that my work life is not the proper environment for a kitten with a heart murmur. The attention and ability to monitor is not there. Money may also become an issue if this grows worse. I work a lot but I'm not rolling in cash.
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I have a 7 month old male ginger Maine coon mix kitten who can't stand for very long, lays head down, can't play for long periods of time of time and just isn't feeling well.he did fall (very long legs) and hurt his leg a couple of weeks ago and limps at times. We're not sure if he lays down and breaths rapidly because of pain, or? Please help I'm low income we don't know what to do
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My cat is 16 years old and was just diagnosed with hart murmur.
The cat’s appetite is good and she still active. One of the symptoms is that the cat will shake at times when she wakes. The vet who check it out suggested a more expensive examination provided by a larger facilitated vet hospital in Portland Maine. The doctor said she is healthy in all aspect except the unknown cause of the hart murmur.
Question: At the cat’s age of 16 what effective treatment can be down to correct the described problem.
There is no one-fit all treatment for heart murmurs, the treatment (if any) would be dependent on the actual cause of the heart murmur (heart murmur is a symptom, not a condition). Some animals live their whole life with a heart murmur and some develop a murmur as they age. Echocardiography can be performed to examine the structure of the heart and to look for valve anomalies and other pathologies. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM
Has the cat been screened for hyperthyroidism? It is common in elderly cats and can cause heart murmur. Also it can cause seizures which exhibit as head shaking.
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My 22 day old kitten has been passing out and when we felt it's heart it will slow down to almost stopping and it will speed up and it will jolt up screaming and trys to run. It's like it's forgot to suckle so we've been bottle feeding it. My cousin says it could be a murmur but I don't have no money to take it to the vet and I'm afraid I'll lose him
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