Overview of Chronic Valvular Heart Disease in Cats
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
Diagnosis of Chronic Valvular Heart Disease in Cats
Veterinary care should include diagnostic tests and subsequent treatment recommendations. Diagnostic tests are needed to recognize VHD, and exclude other diseases, including:
Treatment for Chronic Valvular Heart Disease in Cats
Treatments for VHD may include one or more of the following:
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.
In-depth Information on Chronic Valvular Heart Disease in Cats
Chronic valvular heart disease is a degenerative condition, probably predisposed by genetic factors. It is not caused by an infection or related to bad teeth, although this is a common misconception.
The essential valvular abnormalities are either increased “floppiness” of the mitral valve in the heart, or more often, shortening and thickening of this valve. The tricuspid heart valve is also affected in some cats. The degeneration causes the valves to close improperly. Leaking of the valve causes blood to move backwards creating a heart murmur and limiting the amount of blood that can be pumped to the body. Severe leaking can occur when one or more of the fine strands that support the valve (the chordae tendineae) rupture.
A percentage of cats with chronic mitral disease develop a condition called pulmonary hypertension, which is high blood pressure in the arteries of the lung. These cats often develop fluid accumulation in the abdominal cavity and are prone to bouts of weakness or fainting.
The consequence of moderate to severe valvular heart disease is typically congestive heart failure. The symptoms of heart failure include exercise intolerance, breathing difficulties or coughing and obvious fluid accumulation in the chest cavity or the abdomen.
Mild cases of chronic valvular disease do not limit the cat, but severe cases cause heart failure and can be lethal.
Other medical problems can lead to symptoms similar to those encountered in valvular heart disease. It is important to exclude these conditions before establishing a definite diagnosis:
Veterinary care should include diagnostic tests and subsequent treatment recommendations.
Diagnostic tests may be needed to recognize chronic valvular heart disease and exclude all other diseases, including:
Additional diagnostic tests may be recommended on an individual pet basis: