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Chronic Valvular Heart Disease in Cats

By: PetPlace Veterinarians

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Valvular heart disease (VHD) is a condition characterized by degeneration and thickening of the heart valves. Valvular heart disease is a progressive disease more common in dogs than cats.

VHD can affect a cat causing valve malfunction, which can lead to heart enlargement or heart failure with accumulation of fluid in the lungs (pulmonary edema) or the abdomen (ascites).

What to Watch For

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Exercise intolerance
  • Fainting
  • Coughing is rare in cats

    Diagnosis

    Veterinary care should include diagnostic tests and subsequent treatment recommendations. Diagnostic tests are needed to recognize VHD, and exclude other diseases, including:

  • Complete medical history and physical examination including auscultation (listening with a stethoscope).

  • Chest X-rays

  • An electrocardiogram (EKG), which is a record of the heart's electrical action

  • An echocardiogram (ultrasound) can confirm the diagnosis

    Treatments for VHD may include one or more of the following:

  • Diuretics such as furosemide (Lasix)

  • Angiotensin inhibitors such as enalapril (Enacard) or benazepril may be prescribed

  • Positive inotropic drugs (increase contractions of cardiac muscles) such as digoxin (lanoxin) may be prescribed

  • Sodium (salt) restricted diet may be ordered

    NOTE: Treatment or therapy is not consistently prescribed for mildly-affected cats.

    Home Care and Prevention

    Administer any prescribed medications and observe your cat's general activity level, appetite and interest. Watch your cat for labored breathing, cough or exercise intolerance.

    If possible, learn to take a respiratory (breathing) rate when your cat is resting (ask your vet about this). Schedule veterinary visits to monitor the condition.

    VHD is often a progressive disease and cannot be prevented. Regular veterinary examinations that include examination of the heart with a stethoscope can identify it in its earliest stages.

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