Monday, May 4, 2015

Just how serious is a cat heart murmur? Should you treat it?

Beorn the cat sitting outside

Last week, I was cruising through Beorn's medical records, and I noticed two pretty spectacular things. One, he's a year older than I thought (he's 15 already!). Two, his heart murmur seems to be worsening.

Beorn has lived with a Grade III heart murmur for many years (in fact, I wrote about that murmur back in 2013). But, during his last exam, the doctor noticed that the murmur was now in the Grade IV range.

This probably escaped my attention due to the plethora of other things that went wrong with Beorn during that particular time period. He'd been in a fight and was dealing with an abscess, and we'd discovered during routine blood work that his kidneys were failing. There was so much information to process, and a lot of it was negative, so the heart murmur update seemed like something we could gloss over.

That's not the traditional pet owner decision. Typically, heart stuff slides to the top of any owner's worry list, and that's reasonable. Heart disease is associated with all sorts of nasty stuff, including weakness, collapse and early death. It's also something that can be managed with medications, weight control and routine cardiac care.

But in senior cats like Beorn, who are dealing with other problems that are terminal, heart issues just don't seem overtly important. I'm not someone willing to take a senior cat in kidney failure to a cardiologist for a sedated heart workup. His kidneys aren't strong enough to clear the sedative out of his body, so the test itself could be fatal. And the stress of riding in a car for an hour or more to reach a local veterinary cardiologist could be tough on his heart, too.

So for now, I'll continue to monitor him at home and ensure that his weight stays well within normal limits. I won't try packing on the pounds, as that's tough on his wee ticker. But I will make sure he has warm spots on cold days and cool spots on warm days, so his heart won't have quite so much work to do.

Is that the right course of action for all cats with heart murmurs? Of course not. As this article makes clear, there's a lot that doctors can do to help cats with heart murmurs. And prompt attention to heart problems tends to make healing more likely. But for those of us with cats in hospice-type situations, handling a heart issue isn't at the top of the to-do list. It's not right for the family or the cat.

Are you living with a cat with heart disease? Shoot me a note in the comments section. I'd love to hear your stories.

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