Petplan pet insurance presents: CATCHing up to heart disease in cats

Posted by Dr. Kim Smyth on May 31 2013

Cats instinctively try to hide pain and illness, harkening back to their days as wild cats trying to avoid becoming someone’s dinner. While life-sparing, this behavior can make it difficult for owners to evaluate their sick cat’s quality of life.

Heart disease in cats can produce a variety of clinical signs, including decreased appetite, coughing, respiratory distress, and aortic blood clots (also known as a saddle thrombus) that cause hind limb paralysis. In some cases of heart disease in cats, clinical signs can be subtle, further confounding the issue of assessing quality of life. In other cases, the clinical signs may be readily apparent, but it still may be hard to assess your cat’s quality of life.

Luckily, veterinarians at Tufts University have developed a tool to help cat owners and their regular veterinarians work together to more easily determine the health related quality of life in cats with heart disease. We’ve discussed heart disease in cats before, but it bears repeating that ten to fifteen percent of cats in the general population have heart disease, either previously diagnosed or unknown to both the owner and the cat’s veterinarian.

The clever veterinarians at Tufts University put together a survey called the Cats’ Assessment Tool for Cardiac Health (or CATCH, for short). The survey contains eighteen questions to identify symptoms in cats with cardiac disease. Owners will rank each aspect of their cat’s health from 0 (not at all) to 5 (very much), and questions range from evaluating whether the cat has difficulty breathing or is coughing to whether she has trouble eating or sleeping, or even if she’s displaying subtle behavior changes such as withdrawing from the family.

The results of the survey may influence your veterinarian’s approach to managing your cat’s heart disease. Based on the results, medications may be changed, or doses may be increased or decreased. The survey results also give you an honest look at your cat’s quality of life, which can be difficult to assess where chronic illnesses are concerned. Perhaps the survey results will serve as a jumping off point to discuss quality of life issues with your veterinarian or lead you to consider humane euthanasia as an option in cases where quality of life is poor.

There is no question that most owners prize the quality of their pets’ lives over the quantity of years they live, but making decisions about euthanasia seems especially difficult when there is no clear cut way to evaluate your beloved furry family member’s quality of life. CATCH aims to guide you by providing a reliable method for assessing your cat’s health related quality of life.

What is your experience in managing the quality of life of a cat with heart disease? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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