Tear in the Heart in Cats

By PetMD Editorial on Jun. 8, 2009

Atrial Wall Tear in Cats

A cat’s heart can be divided into four chambers. The upper chambers are called the atria (singular: atrium), and the lower chambers are called the ventricles. An atrial wall tear involves a rupturing of the atrium wall, which occurs mainly in response to blunt trauma. As with other wounds, the protective mechanisms of the body take over and heal the tear, with resulting scar formation, but if the tear is significant, the injury can lead to sudden death, or at the least cause serious illness. Trauma of this type can occur in cats of any breed, age, size, or gender.

Symptoms and Types

  • Sudden weakness
  • Fainting
  • Sudden death
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Ascites (abnormal collection of fluid in the abdomen)
  • Difficult breathing


  • Blunt trauma to the thoracic cavity (chest)
  • Neoplasm in the heart
  • Other cardiac diseases may play some role


Your veterinarian will perform a thorough physical exam on your cat, taking into account the background history of symptoms and possible incidents that might have precipitated this condition. Standard test will be performed, including complete blood tests, a biochemical profile, and a urinalysis. However, these tests may not reveal much information for the diagnosis of this disease. For confirmation of an injury to the atrial wall, your veterinarian will use specific diagnostic procedures and tests. X-rays, ECGs, echocardiography, color Doppler studies, and other such techniques will reveal structural and functional abnormalities pertaining to the heart. Any defect in the atrial wall, or scar formation indicating a past injury may be visible using some of these techniques.



Treatment will be directed toward overcoming any complications resulting from the atrial tear. If scar tissue has formed at the site of the tear, your cat may stabilize but chances for future complications may continue. Surgery to correct the defect may be advised for some patients, but the outcome is usually not rewarding. Strict cage rest will be advised in such patients to encourage healing and avoid further complications.

Living and Management

Unfortunately, the chances for long-term survival are very low in these patients even if the tear has sealed through scar formation. However, your cat may show significant improvement and may only need to be checked by your attending veterinarian on a regular basis for progress evaluations. Follow your veterinarian's guidelines regarding cage rest, diet, and other management issues.

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