Do you know what your cat’s heart rate should be? Do you even know how to take his pulse?
Just as with humans, the feline heart is responsible for pumping blood into the lungs so that it can pick up oxygen and then returning it to blood vessels that will take it to all parts of the body.
What’s the Normal Rate?
Your cat’s heart rate can range anywhere from 120 beats per minute up to 240 bpm. Smaller, younger cats have heart rates closer to 200 or above.
Lazy Cat or is Something Else Wrong?
If something goes wrong with your cat’s heart, you might not recognize it at first. Cats are so unreadable that the lethargy one sees in a sick cat might be mistaken for its ordinary aloofness.
You can check your cat’s heart rate by counting the heart beats for 15 seconds and then multiplying that number by 4.
First you should coax your cat into lying down on his side, so that you can get the best possible measurement. Then you will slightly cup your hand around his hand leg to feel inside the thigh where it meets his groin. Some people find it’s difficult to feel the actual pulse there, so you can also try placing your fingers right over his heart or behind the bend of his front leg.
Measure your cat’s heart rate at a time when he is not ill or stressed so that you know what his normal rate will be. When he’s sick, or even if he’s just stressed out about visiting the veterinarian, his heart will beat a bit faster than usual.
What If the Heart Rate is Too Fast?
It’s true that rapid heartbeat is the most common symptom of illness in cats, and it can result from a variety of problems.
At the very least you can eliminate stress as the cause, provide a soothing environment for him—possibly even in your arms. If he wants to roam around, put him in a smaller space so that his activity is necessarily limited. Slowly, if stress is the culprit, as he slows down and breathes more normally, his heart rate should return to normal.
If you can’t figure out what’s causing his escalated heartbeat, it’s best to take him to the vet for evaluation.
If your cat is ill and he develops a fever, his heart rate will increase. A urine test will confirm that there is some kind of infection going on, even if he can’t tell whether his infection is viral, bacterial, or fungal. Many times veterinarians are unable to pinpoint the cause of a fever, and so they simply prescribe a broad spectrum antibiotic.
A common ailment in cats comes from enlargement of one half of the heart over another, called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. It results when the heart muscle thickens so that there is a decrease in the volume of blood pumped from it, and the heart beats faster to compensate for this. Your cat may go without any symptoms for quite a while before it catches up with him.
The next kind of myopathy that affects cats is called dilated cardiomyopathy. The chambers of the heart become enlarged as the heart muscle weakens, and your pet will experience other effects such as degeneration of his retinas.
This comes from a deficiency in taurine, an organic acid that cats get mostly through their food, including seafood and meats. Your cat’s food should contain 0.1% to 0.2% taurine, less in dry food and more in wet food. If your vet tells you that his cardiac problems are from taurine deficiency, rest assured that it will reverse once he begins to take supplements.
Restrictive myopathy is not common, but it involves stiffening of the heart muscle so that, as with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, there is a decrease in blood volume pumped. This is treatable to an extent but not very successfully.
Congestive Heart Failure
When the heart is unable to pump sufficient blood volume, as is common with cardiac myopathy, fluid will back up into the cat’s lungs. While it can occur in cats of any age, it’s most common in older cats.
While it’s never good news to hear that your cat has cardiomyopathy or congestive heart failure, rest assured there can be other less serious causes of rapid heart rate.
Cats that become anaemic develop a faster heart rate, which can easily be treated. Cats can become hyperthyroid, another treatable illness.
Rest assured that in most cases, what seems like a rapid heart rate to you might very well be normal since cats certainly have a higher heart rate than humans. In any event, the best advice is to take your cat to a vet for a check-up.
Meow’s the best time!
Some helpful resources…
Cat World: www.cat-world.com.au
Cats of Australia: www.catsofaustralia.com/cat-health-problems.htm