Rapid Heart Rate In Cats: Everything You Need To Know
One of the most important parameters of a cat’s current state of health is its heart rate. If it is too slow, then oxygen and critical nutrients may not be delivered to the cat’s tissues. If it is too fast, it can lead to other health problems. Many of the cats seen in veterinary clinics have very rapid heart rates. Here are the things that every cat owner should know about rapid heart rate in cats.
The ‘Normal’ Heart Rate of Cats
No two cats will have the exact same heart rate. That is why veterinarians always refer to a particular range to find out whether the feline heart rate is normal or not. On the average, a cat’s heart will pump about 140 to 220 times in one minute.
Cats that are resting or are calm and relaxed often have a heart rate that is within the range of 140 to 160 beats per minute. Agitated or excited felines can have a heart rate towards the upper limit of the range.
Measuring the Heart Rate of Cats
It is important to count the number of times that your cat’s heart pumps to determine if it is within the normal range. When counting the heart rate of the cat, it is important to observe the correct timing. The cat should be well-rested, calm, and relaxed. If it came from playing in the backyard, it is wise to let it rest first.
Pet your cat to help it relax some more. While doing so, put your index and middle finger over the cat’s left ‘chest’. This is right behind its left front leg. You should feel pulsations coming from the pet’s rib cage. This is the heart’s pumping action.
Get your wristwatch with a second hand. A better option is to use the timer in your smartphone. There are digital timers you can use, too.
Feel the heartbeat and take note of its rhythm. Also take note of the strength of each beat. When you are ready, start counting the number of times that you feel the heartbeat. It is ideal to count the heartbeat for a full minute. This will help you determine other irregularities, such as skipped beats and irregular rhythm.
However, counting 140 beats per minute is like counting 2.3 beats per second. You can lose track of the count if you do it a full minute. As such, it is best to count the number of heartbeats for about 15 seconds. Multiply the result by 4 to get an estimate of your cat’s heart rate.
What Rapid Heart Rate Can Indicate
Healthy cats should have a heart rate of 140 to 220 beats per minute. However, one also has to take into consideration other things, especially the cat’s temperature. If a cat has a temperature greater than 104 degrees Fahrenheit and a heart rate of more than 180 BPM, then it should alert you to the possible presence of a health problem.
If the cat’s resting heart rate is faster than 240 beats per minute, it is possible that the cat has supraventricular tachycardia or SVT. This is quite normal if it does not occur very frequently. Rapid heart rate can also occur during periods of stress, the presence of an illness, or physical exertion.
The main issue with SVT is that it almost always goes unnoticed. The only way you can determine if there is persistent SVT in a cat is if you can monitor its heart rate round-the-clock.
Heart rates faster than 300 beats per minute can lead to serious health problems. Because the heart is pumping a lot faster than normal, it can tire the muscles of the heart. These tissues will compensate by increasing the size of their muscle fibers.
Unfortunately, such compensatory mechanisms can only last for so long. The heart muscles can still fail in the long run if the condition remains untreated. This can lead to congestive heart failure.
Possible Causes of Feline Tachycardia
Anything that can stimulate the sympathetic nervous system can trigger an increase in heart rate. Certain health conditions can also lead to rapid heart rate in cats. Examples of these include cancer, pancreatitis, cardiomyopathy, and heart valve diseases. Thromboembolic disease, digitalis toxicity, hyperthyroidism, and congenital heart defects can also cause a rapid increase in the pumping action of the heart. Pain, fever, metabolic disease, anemia, and gastric dilatation are all possible causes.
Supporting a Diagnosis of Feline Tachycardia
Feeling for your cat’s heartbeat only gives you a rough estimate of its condition. It is important to obtain a more objective assessment of the cat’s cardiovascular status.
A veterinarian can assess the health history of a cat showing a very rapid heart rate. He may order blood count and biochemical profiling tests to help determine the cause of the tachycardia. An electrolyte panel and urinalysis can also help rule out the presence of electrolyte imbalances, cancer, or systemic diseases.
The cat may also require electrocardiography. This will help record the electrical activity of the heart. The pumping action of the heart is a function of the network of nerve fibers present in the heart. It starts with the Sinoatrial Node sending an electrical impulse through the atrium. The nerve impulses reach the Atrioventricular Node where additional electrical impulses are generated throughout the rest of the heart.
These electrical impulses cause the heart to contract. We interpret these contractions as heartbeats. The ECG will help provide a clear picture of which part of the heart is having difficulty receiving or generating these electrical impulses. This will also help reveal if the cat has an underlying heart condition or not.
Treating Rapid Heart Rate in Felines
Hospitalization is necessary for cats with sustained or chronic SVT. If there are signs of congestive heart failure, the cat needs hospitalization, too. The cat can receive pharmacologic agents that will ‘normalize’ its heart rate. In the event of very irregular heartbeat, veterinarians can execute electrical cardioversion or a precordial thump to reestablish the correct timing of heartbeats from the SA node.
Rapid heart rate is a manifestation that something is ‘not normal’ in the cat’s heart. Veterinarians can help determine the exact nature of this ‘abnormal’ heart rate.