October 2009 Issue

Diagnosis: Heart Disease

Regular veterinary checkups are a key component in keeping your catís heart healthy. Hereís why.

Although one cat may be prettier, smarter or more athletic than another, nature plays no favorites when it comes to doling out heart disease. All cats are at potential risk for serious insult to this vital organ. In some cases, the signs are obvious to the trained eye. In others, a serious heart disorder can remain hidden for years before finally expressing itself in a sudden, perhaps fatal, deterioration of function. The best thing that owners can do is to make sure their cats have thorough medical checkups ó at least once a year ó during which the veterinarian pays close attention to the heart. While examination with a stethoscope cannot detect all feline heart diseases, itís probably the most cost-effective approach to diagnosis in otherwise healthy cats. Congenital Defects. Most feline heart disorders are acquired during the course of an animalís life, but others are present at birth. However, says John Bonagura, DVM, a professor of veterinary clinical sciences at the Ohio State University Veterinary Hospital, congenital feline cardiac disease is relatively rare, occurring only in an estimated one or two percent of kittens. The most common congenital disorders, he notes, are heart valve malformations and holes in the septa. Abnormal valve development most often involves the mitral valve, located between the left atrium and the left ventricle. While a number of structural problems can occur, the end result is typically a valve that cannot close properly and thus allows blood to leak backwards into the atrium. Holes in the septa most frequently affect the membrane partitioning the right and left ventricles and may also cause the inappropriate flow of blood between the heart chambers.

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