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Heart Valve Malformation in Cats: Causes Symptoms Treatment and Prognosis

Heart Valve Malformation in Cats: Understanding, Diagnosis, Treatment, and Management

For cat owners, their furry companions are like family, and their well-being is of utmost importance. Among the various health issues that cats may face, heart valve malformation is one of the most serious and potentially life-threatening conditions.

In this article, we will discuss heart valve malformation in cats, its causes, symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, and management, and answer some common questions about the condition. What is Heart Valve Malformation in Cats?

Heart valve malformation is a medical condition in which one or more heart valves do not function properly, leading to poor blood flow and heart function. In cats, the most common form of heart valve malformation is atrioventricular valve dysplasia, which affects the mitral and tricuspid valves that connect the atria and ventricles of the heart.

Anatomy of the Feline Heart and Valves

Before delving into heart valve malformation, let’s briefly understand the feline heart’s anatomy and valves. The heart of a cat is roughly the size of a golf ball and comprises four chambers – two atria and two ventricles.

The right atrium receives blood from the body and sends it to the right ventricle, which pumps it to the lungs for oxygenation. The oxygen-rich blood returns to the left atrium and passes through the mitral valve to reach the left ventricle.

Finally, the left ventricle pumps the oxygen-rich blood out to the rest of the body. The atrioventricular (AV) valves in cats are the mitral and tricuspid valves.

The mitral valve separates the left atrium and ventricle, while the tricuspid valve separates the right atrium and ventricle. These valves are made of flaps or cusps that open and close to let blood flow in the right direction.

If these valves become damaged or malformed, they may not close tightly, allowing blood to leak backward, causing congestion, and leading to heart failure.

Symptoms of Heart Valve Malformation in Cats

Cats with heart valve malformation may not show any symptoms initially, but as the condition worsens, they may exhibit various signs, including:

– Failure to gain weight

– Loss of appetite

– Difficulty breathing

– Weakness

– Fainting spells

– Muscle wasting

In advanced stages, cats may display severe respiratory distress, hind leg weakness, and even sudden death. Therefore, it is crucial to get your cat’s regular wellness checkups and promptly seek vet care if you notice any of these symptoms.

Causes of Heart Valve Malformation in Cats

Heart valve malformation in cats is primarily a congenital condition, meaning it develops before birth due to various genetic and developmental factors. Male and purebred cats are at higher risk for developing AV valve dysplasia.

Developmental problems during embryonic growth and hereditary defects may lead to abnormal valve formation that triggers stunted valve growth, thickened valve leaflets, and abnormal or absent chordae tendineae.

Diagnosis of Heart Valve Malformation in Cats

If your cat shows signs of heart valve malformation, your veterinarian may perform a physical examination, including a cardiac exam, listening for an audible heart murmur, and assessing for any respiratory abnormalities. Further diagnostic tests may include chest X-rays, an echocardiogram to visualize the heart structure and function, electrocardiography to assess the heart rhythm, and blood pressure measurements.

Additionally, your cat’s vet may perform cardiac biomarker evaluation, a blood workup, and urine testing to evaluate kidney function, electrolyte balance, and the presence of any concurrent health problems that may affect your cat’s heart.

Treatment and Management of Heart Valve Malformation in Cats

Options for Medical Management

Medical management of heart valve malformation involves alleviating symptoms and improving the cat’s quality of life. This may include using diuretics to reduce fluid buildup, blood thinners to prevent clot formation, angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors to improve blood flow, pimobendan to improve cardiac function, and atenolol to lower blood pressure.

Open-Heart Surgery as a Treatment Option for Cats

In severe cases of heart valve malformation, open-heart surgery may be the only option to replace or repair the faulty valve. A skilled veterinary surgeon can perform procedures such as mitral valve repair or replacement, which can drastically improve the cat’s prognosis and quality of life.

Recovery and Management of Cats with Heart Valve Malformation

Cats that undergo open-heart surgery require intensive post-operative care, including restricted activity, pain management, and feeding tube or assisted feeding. Additionally, nutritional management tailored to the cat’s specific needs, antibiotics, and regular checkups will be necessary to ensure proper healing and long-term management of heart valve malformation.

Prognosis for Cats with Heart Valve Malformation

Unfortunately, heart valve malformation in cats has a poor prognosis. Untreated cases can lead to severe congestive heart failure, blood clot formation, enlarged heart, and fatal arrhythmias.

Even with surgical intervention, the survival rate is limited, and many cats will require lifelong management and medication to maintain quality of life.

Hyperthyroidism and Heart Valve Malformation

Hyperthyroidism, a common hormonal disorder in older cats, can contribute to an increased risk of structural heart disease, including heart valve malformation. Therefore, regular screening tests for hyperthyroidism and early intervention may help reduce the risk of heart valve malformation and other heart-related complications.

FAQs about Heart Valve Malformation in Cats

How long can a cat live with heart valve malformation? The lifespan of a cat with heart valve malformation depends on various factors such as the severity of the condition, response to treatment, age, and presence of other health problems.

While some cats can manage their condition for several months to a year with medical intervention, others may require surgical intervention to increase survival rates, but even that does not guarantee long-term remission. Is congenital heart disease the same as heart valve malformation?

No, congenital heart disease refers to a group of heart abnormalities that cats are born with, while heart valve malformation focuses on the dysfunction of one or more heart valves. Heart valve malformation may be a part of congenital heart disease or a standalone condition.

What is patent ductus arteriosus, and how is it related to heart valve malformation? Patent ductus arteriosus (PDA) is a congenital heart disease in which a blood vessel connecting two major blood vessels of the heart does not close soon after birth, affecting blood flow.

While PDA is different from heart valve malformation, it can cause similar symptoms and congestion, leading to heart failure.


Heart valve malformation in cats is a severe, life-threatening condition that requires prompt diagnosis and management to prevent complications. Understanding the symptoms, causes, and available treatment options will help cat owners make informed decisions about their cat’s health.

Regular veterinary check-ups, preventative screening, and a well-balanced diet can help reduce the risk of heart valve malformation and other heart-related complications, leading to a happier, healthier life for your feline friend. In summary, heart valve malformation in cats is a congenital condition that affects the mitral and tricuspid valves, leading to poor blood flow and heart function.

Symptoms may include failure to gain weight, loss of appetite, difficulty breathing, and muscle wasting. Causes of heart valve malformation include developmental problems, hereditary defects, and congenital heart disease.

Diagnosis involves cardiac exams, echocardiography, X-rays, and blood pressure measurements, with treatment options ranging from medical management to open-heart surgery. Cats with heart valve malformation need lifelong management, including regular checkups, nutritional management, and medication.

Hyperthyroidism can increase the risk of heart valve malformation, and early intervention may help prevent complications. Understanding and early detection of heart valve malformation in cats are crucial in ensuring the best possible outcome and maintaining a long, happy life for your feline friend.

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