We all want the best for our feline companions, and that means giving them what they need to live a long and healthy life. To that end, it’s crucial to provide your feline fur baby with a heart healthy diet that will help guard against heart disease and other conditions.
All cats are potentially at risk for heart disease, and some serious heart disorders can remain undiagnosed until they are too advanced to treat. For this reason, it’s important to take your cat to a veterinarian for an annual checkup and to feed him a heart healthy food for cats starting early in life. Advancing age, being overweight and inactive, and breed type all play a role in the development of feline heart conditions but there are steps you can take to prevent and/or minimize the adverse effects of certain types of feline heart disease.
Heart Conditions in Cats
There are many types of heart conditions in cats, ranging from innocent murmurs to congenital defects (i.e. those present at birth) and acquired cardiomyopathy, which is by far the most common of adult feline heart disorders. According to a study on feline cardiomyopathy published by the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, cardiomyopathy (which means “disease of the heart muscle”) accounts for nearly two-thirds of diagnosed heart conditions in cats. The heart muscle either gets too thin or too thick to function properly.
According to Marc Kraus, DVM, at the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, there are three types of disorders that cause feline cardiomyopathy:
- Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy: Thickening of the left ventricle muscle, occurs most commonly in male cats and has no known cause other than possible hereditary predisposition. Can cause restricted blood flow, enlarged heart, consequent shortness of breath, blood clots and arterial blockage with consequent sudden onset of lameness, paralysis and pain.
- Restrictive cardiomyopathy: Caused by excessive build up of scar tissue on the heart’s inner lining and muscle.
- Dilated cardiomyopathy: Apparently a rare condition characterized by poor dilation of the left ventricle leading to heart failure. According to Dr. Kraus, this condition is rare because commercial cat foods generally include the amino acid, taurine, which can prevent dilated cardiomyopathy.
While cardiomyopathy is considered to be a “primary disease” (i.e. origins are genetic or unknown) there are also “secondary” heart diseases whose cause is identifiable. These include high blood pressure, hyperthyroidism and heart damage caused by heartworms. Secondary heart diseases tend to be considerably more responsive to preventive measures and dietary and lifestyle changes than are hypertrophic and restrictive cardiomyopathy. By starting your cat on a heart healthy diet early, you may be able to prevent the development of secondary heart diseases altogether.
How to Tell if Your Cat has Heart Disease
It is not always possible to know if your feline fur baby is suffering from the early stages of heart disease, which is why regular veterinary care is so important. A stethoscope examination can detect heart murmurs and fluid in the lungs, X-rays will show heart enlargement, blood and urine tests can reveal the presence of heartworms, and other diagnostic tests can check for irregular rhythms or pulse abnormalities.
More advanced heart disease usually causes symptoms such as a low-pitched or gagging cough, noticeable changes in weight, breathing difficulties, reduced ability to play or exercise and abdominal swelling.
Choosing a Heart Healthy Food for Your Cat
- Low sodium: Get the Onpets low-down on salty cat foods here. Because heart disease can result in heart enlargement and a loss of efficiency, the heart begins to hold excess fluid. It is this excess fluid that causes many of the side effects of heart disease. Consequently, it’s wise to feed your cat a low-sodium food that will reduce fluid build-up and strain on the heart. Check out the Tufts University Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine list of reduced sodium cat foods.
- Vegetarian diet? Not for your cat!: Cats are obligate carnivores and, as explained here, a vegetarian diet consequently is not good for your cat. Whether your cat is experiencing symptoms of heart disease yet or not, you want to choose a quality cat food that is meat-based, low in salt and high in nutrients, including taurine.
- Dry food vs canned: High quality commercial cat foods, both wet and dry, should meet most of the nutritional requirements for cats suffering from heart disease. However, Lisa A. Pierson, DVM states that “cats have a better chance at optimal health if they are fed canned food (or a balanced homemade diet) instead of dry kibble.” In her opinion, this is because the water content of dry food is too low, the carbohydrate content is too high, and the type of protein in dry food tends to be too high in plant-based proteins and too low in animal-based proteins.
- Home cooking: Generally the best option IF you add all the nutritional supplements necessary for your feline fur baby. Check out these Onpets recipes to get you started.
- Supplements: Check with your vet but generally the following supplements are beneficial for cats with heart disease:
- B Vitamins
- Omega-3 fatty acids, including those found in fish oil
- As discussed above, taurine.
- Magnesium: Caution that you may want to avoid or reduce magnesium supplements for senior cats as too much can lead to Feline Lower Urinary Tract Syndrome.
- Prescription Diets: Once heart disease is detected, your veterinarian may recommend a specific food for your cat’s type of heart condition or symptoms.
- Diuretics: Cats taking diuretics to expel excess fluid can benefit from supplementation with certain electrolytes, and probiotics and digestive enzymes are generally beneficial for any type of condition and for maintenance of good health.
- Home-made treats: After a good home-cooked meal, who doesn’t want a delicious treat? Check out these Onpets recipes for home-made treats for your favorite feline.
Don’t Forget to Consult Your Vet
Before making any changes to your cat’s diet, consult your veterinarian. This is always true, but it is even more important if your cat is already suffering from some degree of heart disease.
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