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Heart Murmurs in Cats

What the Presence of a Heart Murmur Means for the Feline Patient

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Heart Murmurs and Heart Disease in Cats

Heart murmurs in cats should be investigated to rule out serious heart disease.
Photo Courtesy of Urien 1998/Flickr.com

Heart murmurs are sometimes found in cats and, as a cat owner, it can be upsetting to find that your cat has a murmur. Feline heart murmurs are generally detected during a physical examination when the veterinarian listens to your cat's chest with a stethoscope.

What is a Heart Murmur

A heart murmur occurs when there is turbulence in the blood as it flows through the heart. The murmur is audible as a whooshing or swishing sound that occurs during the normal cycle of the heart beat.

Potential Causes of Heart Murmurs in Cats

There are many different conditions that can cause a heart murmur in a cat.

  • Some of these conditions are serious and can be life-threatening for your cat. Others are benign and not related to disease.
  • Heart murmurs in cats can be related to congenital heart disease, such as pulmonic stenosis or patent ductus arteriosus.
  • Feline heart murmurs can also be associated with cardiomyopathies (diseases of the heart muscle.)
  • The heart murmur may be constant, which means it is always audible at the same level of intensity. In other words, it always sounds the same.
  • Alternatively, a heart murmur in a cat may be dynamic, changing in intensity from one time to the next.

It is important to know that the intensity or loudness of the heart murmur does not indicate the severity of the disease.

How to Handle Feline Heart Murmurs

Because the intensity (loudness) of the heart murmur does not tell us whether the murmur is a result of serious disease or not, we have to rely on diagnostic testing to find out why the heart murmur is there.

In cats, heart murmurs are usually best evaluated with an echocardiogram. An echocardiogram is ultrasonic examination of the heart. It allows the veterinarian to assess the heart muscle, the individual chambers of the heart, the valves of the heart and other critical structures within the heart.

Though some cat owners elect to wait and do nothing other than observe their cat if the cat is acting normally, this is probably not a wise course of action. Cardiomyopathies (diseases of the heart muscle) and some of the other heart diseases that can cause a heart murmur can cause severe and life-threatening symptoms very quickly. In some cases, even sudden death may occur.

An echocardiogram can allow an accurate diagnosis about whether the heart murmur is dangerous for your cat. In some cases, it may be found that the murmur is benign and not dangerous. However, the only way to know that for certain is with proper evaluation of the heart.

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