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A simple blood test can be lifesaving for cats with heart disease

Posted by SusanStokes on November 13, 2018

Heart disease is the silent killer of cats. One in six cats can be born with and develop heart disease in their lifetime. There are no outward symptoms, but now there is a blood test called a proBNP test that can detect heart disease earlier.

“Every cat owner needs to know that the most common age of heart disease in cats is any age,” said Dr. Joe Martins, DVM, Belle Mead Animal Hospital. “All cats from the really young to the really old can suddenly be affected.”


The most important thing Dr. Martins advises you can do is take your cat to the veterinarian at least once a year so he or she can listen to your cat’s heart. What the veterinarian is listening for is a heart murmur and/or an arrhythmia.

“Yearly exams to check your cat’s heart are crucial because the earlier heart disease is detected, the greater the possibility that the cat will have a positive response to treatment,” continued Dr. Martins. “This is when a baseline proBNP blood test should also be considered.”

“The proBNP test has been used in humans for years, and it has also been used for dogs,” explained Dr. Martins. “However, cats especially benefit from this great, inexpensive screening test.”

The proBNP test measures stretching of the heart due to disease on a microcellular level. It is a simple blood test that most veterinarians can now perform. With it, a veterinarian can establish a baseline of the condition of the cat’s heart without the added expense of performing an echocardiogram (cardiac ultrasound).

If a pet owner has a young cat whose brother, sister or mother had heart disease, it can be tested for a genetic predisposition inexpensively with a proBNP blood test.

“The proBNP test is also useful as a pre-surgical test,” said Dr. Martins. “There are 10-15% of cats that develop heart disease without presenting an arrhythmia or heart murmur. We use the proBNP test in our practice because it gives us added assurance that your cat’s heart can handle anesthesia or surgery.”

The most common outcome of undetected heart disease in cats is sudden respiratory distress and sudden death. This end stage of heart disease is often a chest full of fluid that restricts their lungs from expanding. Owners are shocked and devastated because their cats were seemingly normal until just that day or the night before.

A veterinarian can detect an arrhythmia or a heart murmur up to a year or so in advance by listening to your cat’s heart. Your veterinarian has an 85-90% chance of finding hopefully early heart disease in your cat with his/her stethoscope. The other 10-15% that may have been missed in the past can now be detected with a simple proBNP baseline blood test screen.

“Once a specific heart disease is diagnosed by an ultrasound, the treatment may be heart medication in liquid or pill form. Sometimes we can even use a form of transdermal medication,” added Dr. Martins.

These medications will enable your cat’s heart to work more efficiently so they can have a better quality of life inexpensively. Medication can help prevent sudden heart failure, respiratory distress and sudden death.

We hope this helps you understand more about how important regular veterinarian exams are for your cat and how early detection of heart disease can save your pet's life.

Susan, Taurus and Gemini



First published on Examiner Pet Health