When I consider what I like most about cats, I’d probably say it’s their
mysterious demeanor. I never know why one of my cats will suddenly pounce on my
computer keyboard, why another might hide for hours on Wednesdays, or what could
possibly be going on inside the head of one who spends time shadow boxing in my
bathroom. Just as their motivations and desires remain secret to us, they are
also, unfortunately, masters at concealing any illnesses they might have. A cat
can have a medical problem and even the most watchful owner may not realize it
until the condition becomes full-blown.
An unhealthy heart is an all too common feline problem, regardless of age.
The good news is that heart conditions are best treated when found early.
Additionally, early detection and treatment also give felines opportunities to
live relatively healthy and happy lives. All you have to do is be proactive by
routinely giving your cat a quick home-health examination. Don’t worry – it’s
easy, fun and can even save a life.
Let’s start by placing your cat where you can both be comfortable.
First, look into your kitty’s eyes. They should be bright and clear. If you
notice a film covering the eyes, it may be an exposed “third eye” or nictitating
membrane, which is a thin tissue supported by cartilage that protects the
cornea. Normally, this membrane is not visible in healthy cats; however, its
appearance is a sign of poor health.
Next, lift the lips to inspect the color of your cat’s gums. They should have
nice medium-pink color, although some black cats may have naturally gray gums.
When you press your finger on the gums, they should lose color; as soon as you
remove your finger, the original color should return. Cats with heart problems
can be anemic, resulting in very pale or blueish gums. Bright pink or red gums
are generally not a good sign and might be indicative of a heart problem.
The whiskers should be nice and long. Broken or thick whiskers may indicate
that your cat is not completely healthy. Please take into account that some
breeds, like the Devon Rex or the American Wirehair, almost always have short
whiskers, so this isn’t a great test for these breeds.
Next up in your home exam, put your right palm on your cat’s right shoulder
and your left on his left shoulder. Move your hands together, down the spine in
the direction of the tail, slightly pressing downward to feel the ribs. If there
is more than an inch to pinch, your cat might be carrying too much weight. It’ll
probably come as no surprise that overweight cats are candidates for heart
problems. Note that the hanging tummy is not an indication of obesity if you can
still feel the ribs. More often, a hanging tummy can be due to a lack of
particular hormones or some fluid in the abdomen.
Feel the pads of your cat’s feet – they should be warm. Cold feet, on one
side or all four, may be indicative of poor circulation, or possibly even a
Throughout your exam, pay attention to your cat’s breathing. Breaths should
come steadily … not very deep and not too shallow either. Some cats with heart
problems will appear to breathe with difficulty. If your cat starts to breathe
through his mouth, or begins to breathe with effort, you may have a problem that
needs immediate medical attention.
In fact, if you notice any of these negative symptoms, I would suggest you
consult with your veterinarian as soon as possible.
I encourage you to record the results of these exams in a dedicated notebook.
This will allow you to track changes over time, and it’ll be a handy resource
for reporting changes in your cat’s health to your vet during normal check-ups.
With any luck, your regularly scheduled monitoring might help to prevent a
minor problem from becoming a serious one.
Thank you for all you do to make the world a better place for your dear