Irregular Heartbeats in Cats
The heart is controlled by an electrical conduction system which controls the heart rate. This conduction system generates impulses, or waves, which flow through the muscles of the heart. A healthy heart muscle then contracts and pumps blood through the arteries and out into the body.
Irregular heart rhythm, or cardiac arrhythmia, is important to take note of but is not always a serious condition. An irregular heartbeat occurs from time to time when a cat is under stress, nervous, or scared. Some breeds, like Persians, Maine Coon cats, and Himalayans, tend to be more prone to irregular heart rhythms than others.
Irregular heart rhythms affect many cats and are characterized by an abnormality in the cycling of electrical impulses that regulate the heart's beating. This causes the heart to beat either too fast or too slow, or sometimes to skip beats.
Causes of Irregular Heartbeats
The possible causes for an irregular heartbeat can vary but here are some of the most common reasons.
- Hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid)
- Hypertension (high blood pressure)
- An imbalance of electrolytes
- Poor reaction to drugs
- Birth defects
- Low magnesium levels
- Taurine deficiency
- Low blood oxygen content
- Heart cancer
- Heart disease
- Heartworm infection
- Ingestion of toxins
Signs of an Irregular Heartbeat
It is important to know the signs of an irregular heartbeat in cats so that you know what to do and when to bring your cat in to see the vet. Common signs and symptoms of irregular heart rhythms include:
- Heart beats too slow
- Heart beats too fast
- Heart gallop
- Heart murmur
- Physical weakness
- Loss of consciousness
- Difficulty breathing
- Rapid breathing
- Pale gums
- Loss of appetite
Treating a Cat's Irregular Heartbeats
Most cats will be treated on an outpatient basis. Patients with an electrolyte imbalance will be hospitalized to receive intravenous fluid therapy. If an underlying cause of the arrhythmia is found, such as kidney disease or hyperthyroidism, then treating the underlying disease will resolve the irregular rhythm.
Many medications can help control cardiac arrhythmia, some of which have side effects. In more serious cases, surgery may be needed to resolve the condition. The most common procedure is the installation of a pacemaker for long-term and better control of the arrhythmia.
Note: Northwest Animal Eye Specialists does not offer veterinary cardiology services. For an accurate diagnosis of your cat's condition, contact a veterinary cardiology specialist.