What are Irregular Heart Rhythms?
The heart is controlled by an electrical conduction system which controls the heart rate. 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.
Irregular heart rhythm, or cardiac arrhythmia, is important to take note of but is not always 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. This causes the heart to beat either too fast or too slow or sometimes to skip beats.
Symptoms of Irregular Heartbeats
It is important to know the symptoms of an irregular heartbeat in cats so that you know what to do and when to bring your cat in to see your primary vet right away. Common symptoms of irregular heart rhythm are:
- Heart beats too slow
- 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
The possible causes for 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
- Poor reaction to drugs
- Birth defects
- Low magnesium levels
- Taurine deficiency
- Low blood oxygen content
- Heart cancer
- Heart disease
- Heartworm infection
- Ingestion of toxins
Treatment Options for Irregular Heartbeats
Most cats will be treated on an outpatient basis. 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. In more serious cases, your primary vet may recommend specialty care and/or surgical procedures by a veterinary cardiologist. The most common procedure is the installation of a pacemaker for long-term and better control of the arrhythmia.
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.