Tips for Feline Heart Health

Tips for Feline Heart Health


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Dr Jane Bicks 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.

Cat Hug 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 blood clot.

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 companions,

Dr. Jane

Comments (10) -

  • Polly Whitney

    4/27/2010 1:51:20 PM |

    Excellant instructional guide for heart-based home exam. Thank you.

  • Myra Abel

    4/27/2010 6:21:31 PM |

    Dr. Bicks:

    I really enjoy reading your emails, they are timely and up-to-date and it really feels nice to know there are so many caring people out there that do care about our pets.  I have 5 cats and 1 dog so I am always looking for one answer or the orther for all of them.  I have one in particular regarding my dog.  I will try to do one of your conference calls very soon.

    Thank again for your newsletters.


  • Robin

    4/28/2010 6:19:51 AM |

    thanks great advice!

  • Karen Oakley

    4/28/2010 8:16:17 AM |

    I thought this article was SO useful and helpful as my two older cats are both declining in health with each passing year (11 years). My one cat had exactly as you described, nictitating membrane. His eyes are completely clouded over but all the tests my vet ran are completely clear and healthy. Your article didn't say anything other than what this was. Is it related to an underlying heart condition, brain or eye damage? My cat has lost all his vision and responds well to sound and still gets around but doesn't move well to get out of the way. I'm not quite sure what I can do to treat this. Any suggestions as to how to approach my vet?

  • Debbie Damesworth

    4/28/2010 9:51:37 AM |

    Thank you, Dr. Jane.  I have 2 cats and have tried these home exams on them.  So far, so good.  They are 3 years old and thriving on our Life's Abundance products.  Thank you for ALL you do.

  • Michelle Schesny

    4/30/2010 8:33:00 AM |

    Hi Dr. Bicks,I remember years ago you took care of my cats at County Animal Misty Patches and Twinkle who have since passed,you always took good care of them.I enjoy the info you send,take care.

  • Mary Grady

    5/1/2010 4:23:12 PM |

    Dear Dr. Jane,
    Thank you for your information.I wish that I had heard of you sooner.I lost my 5year old Portia due to poor vet service.I kept taking her in as I knew things were not right with her.This practice allowed my Portia to become worse.I let them know how I felt in a letter.They never sent me a condolence card and when I asked them for my other cats records,they were very upset.These people should be out of business as I am not the person who lost an animal because of their lack of care.

  • Pets-ercise

    5/18/2010 1:36:48 PM |

    thanks for the great info.

  • Cat in Wyoming

    8/1/2010 11:50:31 AM |

    one can never stop learning about their pet's health, love my kitties, all 12 of them.

  • Ruth

    8/5/2015 3:04:41 AM |

    Great post,  very useful information

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