For many years we thought primary heart disease was extremely uncommon in cats. After researchers figured out the critical role that insufficient taurine in cat foods was playing in the development of dilated cardiomyopathy and cat food manufacturers corrected the problem, we thought we were home free.
Other than the occasional hyperthyroid cat with secondary heart disease, we didn't think heart problems were an issue for cats. But it turns out that another heart disease, hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, may be surprisingly common in cats. And it's my considered opinion that this disease, which has a genetic (inherited) component, may be behind many of the sudden deaths (particularly in male cats) that I have seen over the years. I even lost one of my own cats, our diabetic mascot Tiggy, to sudden death that was almost certainly cadriac in origin.
Fortunately, there is a lot we can do these days for cats with heart disease, even in the early stages before the cat becomes ill. And detection of asymptomatic heart disease is getting much easier with the new blood test for proBNP, a blood marker for hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.
IDEXX, our outside laboratory service provider, has a great new website full of information about feline heart disease. ALL cat owners should read it and get a little bit familiar with this disease. And don't be afraid! We have lots of patients with heart disease (on paper) who are on medication to control symptoms and possible stop progress or even reverse heart changes, and most of them live normal lives and go on to die of unrelated disease. My own Eddie was on heart medication the last three years of his life and it seemed to reverse the problem to where he had no external evidence (no murmur anymore, heart rate down to normal), and when he died of cancer at age 12 his heart was the least of his problems.