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Heart Murmur in Cats: Symptoms, Treatment, & Life Expectancy

Are you concerned that your cat has a heart murmur but you don't know what to look out for? Well, our Liberty Lake vets will what to look out for, what causes a murmur and how it can be treated.

What is a heart murmur in cats?

A heart murmur may be heard by your vet when they listen to your cat’s heart. A heart murmur is caused by turbulent blood flow within the heart or the large vessels exiting from the heart. This results in an abnormal noise that can be heard by your vet when listening with a stethoscope.

Heart murmurs are assessed and graded according to certain criteria. There are grades 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 heart murmurs in cats. As you may have guessed, Grade 1 is the mildest and Grade 6 the most severe. The grading system is based largely on how loud the murmur is, but other factors are also considered, such as the area over which the murmur is audible.

The grade of the heart murmur does not necessarily relate to the degree of severity of the underlying heart problem. Some severe heart conditions may not be associated with any heart murmur at all, and some quite loud murmurs may occur with relatively small defects.

Heart Murmurs in Cats and Anesthesia

A feline heart murmur only indicates the possibility of a cardiac abnormality. Some murmurs come from little things that aren't harmful, and some are caused by severe heart disease. The volume of the murmur has no relationship to the potential severity of the disease. Only an echocardiogram can determine whether or not a murmur is serious.

The detection of a heart murmur during a veterinary examination allows us to improve your beloved cat's prognosis. A murmur by itself does not make anesthesia dangerous. Most importantly, it implies that we must investigate further to determine what is causing the noise.

Symptoms Of A Heart Murmur

The most common symptoms that are observed with a cat that has a clinically significant heart murmur are poor appetite, weight loss (or stunted growth in a kitten), breathing problems, pale gums, lethargy, or weakness.

Causes Of Heart Murmurs

The presence of a murmur generally implies an underlying heart condition, but murmurs can sometimes have other causes.

In young kittens, ‘innocent’ heart murmurs may be heard as an incidental finding. These are usually no longer present when the kitten is older. Anemia is another cause of heart murmurs in cats, but the cats often show other signs of lethargy and anorexia as well.

Occasionally, older cats are reported to have incidental heart murmurs, which is when the blood flow within the large vessels exiting the heart may occasionally be heard as a murmur.

Can stress cause a heart murmur in cats?

Some healthy adult cats may develop an intermittent heart murmur when their heart rate rises due to stress. This type of physiologic murmur goes away when the heart rate returns to normal, and it has no effect on the cat's health.

Treatment For Heart Murmurs.

When a heart murmur is first discovered in a cat, an investigation will be performed to find out the underlying issue. This may involve further tests such as an X-ray of the heart or a cardiac ultrasound examination.

If, however, the cat is showing no other signs of a problem and is exercising normally, then your vet may suggest you come back for a second examination in a few months to reassess the heart murmur and see if it has changed.

Sometimes, if the cat is well and the heart murmur is unchanged, a periodic examination will be recommended.

The only way to determine if there is any disease within the heart itself that may be causing the murmur is to perform a detailed ultrasound examination of the heart. This is completely painless and is normally performed in a fully conscious cat.

What is the life expectancy of a cat with a heart murmur?

Even cats with a more severe murmur and Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy can live for many years if medical treatment is effective. If a cat with a heart murmur develops congestive heart failure, their life expectancy is estimated to be 6 to 18 months.

Heart Murmurs can be a serious issue for your cat. If you're having any concerns, please contact our Liberty Lake vets today.

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