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Cardiac Arrhythmias in Cats

By: PetPlace Veterinarians

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Normal heart rhythm is initiated from the sinoatrial (SA or sinus) node, which is located in the right upper chamber (atrium) of the heart. While abnormalities of the sinus node are typically a consequence of other disorders, such as thyroid problems, primary sinus disease is common and may lead to a type of arrhythmia known as sick sinus syndrome. Other atrial arrhythmias arise outside the SA node. Among the most serious of these is atrial fibrillation. Arrhythmias arising from the ventricles may also be serious. Venticular arrhythmias include premature ventricular contractions and ventricular tachycardia. Serious arrhythmias may lead to cardiac decompensation and acute or chronic heart failure. Some arrhythmias worsen to the point of fibrillation and eventually the absence of any heartbeat (asystole).

Cardiac arrhythmias may involve a very low heart rate (potentially as low at 40 beats per minute), termed bradycardia; a very fast heart rate (potentially over 300 beats per minute in a cat), termed tachycardia; or simply an erratic heart beat. Numerous different types of arrhythmias may occur. Some of the more common ones include:

  • Atrial fibrillation
  • Atrial tachycardia
  • Ventricular escape rhythm
  • Ventricular premature complex
  • Ventricular tachycardia
  • Ventricular fibrillation
  • First degree heart block
  • Second degree heart block
  • Third degree heart block

    Often, cardiac arrhythmias are associated with underlying heart disease caused by conditions such as hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, congestive heart failure, dilated cardiomyopathy, or congenital cardiac defects. In addition, there are a variety of other diseases or events that can cause cardiac arrhythmias, including:

  • Hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid gland)
  • Chronic lung disease
  • Anemia
  • Overdose of certain medications such as digoxin, narcotics, xylazine
  • Administration of anesthetic agents
  • High or low blood potassium
  • Tumors of the heart
  • Trauma
  • Toxicity, such as chocolate poisoning
  • Urinary obstruction
  • Smoke inhalation
  • Head trauma
  • Hypothermia
  • Fear
  • Excitement
  • Pain
  • Low blood pressure (hypotension)
  • Diseases of the spleen
  • Severe infections

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