What are heart arrhythmias in cats?
Your cat's heart rate is determined by electric impulses through the conduction system in the heart. 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.
While irregular heart rhythm or cardiac arrhythmia can sound scary when diagnosed, it is important to know that it is not always caused by 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. The resulting arrhythmia can result in a heart rate that is irregular or even just faster or slower than usual.
Symptoms of Irregular Heartbeats in Cats
Some of the most common symptoms of irregular heart rhythm are:
- The heart beats too slowly
- The heart beats too fast
- Heart gallop (during a cycle of contractions, instead of the normal 2 beats, a third sound is audible)
- Heart murmur, due to turbulent blood flow within the heart
- Physical weakness, due to too long of a pause in between heartbeats
- Loss of consciousness
- Difficulty breathing
- Rapid breathing
- Pale gums
- Loss of appetite
Causes of Irregular Heartbeats in Cats
The possible causes of 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
- Low magnesium levels
- Taurine deficiency
- Low blood oxygen content
- Heart cancer
- Heart disease
- Ingestion of toxins
Diagnosing Heart Arrhythmia in Cats
Your vet may first detect an arrhythmia using a stethoscope. While not every irregular heartbeat indicates a serious condition, it is always important to have them checked out.
Several diagnostic tests may be used to diagnose an arrhythmia and determine the underlying cause, including:
- Chest X-rays
- Echocardiogram (Ultrasound)
- Blood tests
- Abdominal ultrasound
Treatment Options for Irregular Heartbeats in Cats
If your cat has an irregular heartbeat, they will likely be treated on an outpatient basis in a veterinary cardiology department or specialty hospital. 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. If your cat has a severe heart arrhythmia, the recommended treatment may include surgery. The most common procedure is the installation of a pacemaker to better control the arrhythmia in the long term.
How can synchronized electrical cardioversion help treat arrhythmias?
Synchronized electrical cardioversion is a tool used to restore normal heartbeat rhythm in patients with arrhythmias. While this treatment has been used on different types of animals, it is most commonly used in treating dogs. The two most common arrhythmias treated with cardioversion are atrial fibrillation and atrial flutter.
Cardioversion is proven to be a safe and effective technique in these patients, who often have significant underlying heart disease. Cardioversion is performed under general anesthesia and can be accomplished on an outpatient basis. After the induction of anesthesia, we use the cardioverter to send a biphasic electrical current to the heart, which serves to reorganize the electrical activity in the upper chambers of the heart.
The restoration of normal heartbeat rhythm can lead to a better quality of life and improved exercise tolerance in these patients.
Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.