Rapid Heart Rate in Cats

Published Feb. 27, 2024
A cat is examined at the vet.

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In This Article


What Is Rapid Heart Rate in Cats?

Cats normally have a much higher heart rate than humans to fit their high activity levels and small size. A rapid heart rate in cats, called sinus tachycardia, is when a cat’s heart rate is greater than 180 beats per minute.

Most commonly seen when cats are stressed, sinus tachycardia may also occur when they are in pain, when the heart is struggling to function properly (such as when there is blood loss, shock, or heart failure) or with diseases like hyperthyroidism and asthma.

Sinus tachycardia is extremely common for cats to experience at the vet, as they are often stressed or may be in pain. Rapid heart rate in cats while at home is much more concerning, though it can be hard for pet parents to notice when it happens.

Most cats will not show any outward signs of sinus tachycardia, but if you notice symptoms like rapid breathing, panting, vocalizing, or weakness with a rapid heart rate, take your cat to the vet immediately.  While rapid heart rate on its own is not usually life-threatening, conditions that cause it can be.

Symptoms of Rapid Heart Rate in Cats

Symptoms of rapid heart rate in cats include:

  • Heart rate exceeding 180 beats per minute

  • Panting

  • Lethargy and weakness

  • Decreased appetite

  • Loud vocalizations

Causes of Rapid Heart Rate in Cats

The causes of rapid heart rate in cats are almost always associated with an underlying disease, stress, or pain.

Trauma, blood loss, shock, and heart failure can increase a cat’s heart rate as the body tries to improve poor blood flow. A cat’s heart rate may also rise due to respiratory illness like asthma or pneumonia as the body tries to compensate for lower oxygen levels.

Hyperthyroidism is commonly linked with sinus tachycardia in both humans and cats as a direct response to the increase in the thyroid hormones triiodothyronine and thyroxine.

Sinus tachycardia can be seen in any age, sex, or breed of cat.

How Veterinarians Diagnose Rapid Heart Rate in Cats

Rapid heart rate in cats is normally diagnosed during a physical exam by your veterinarian and is usually related to the stress of the vet visit. If there is concern due to other findings or abnormal behaviors noted at home, your vet may recommend a complete blood count (CBC), blood chemistry, urinalysis, and thyroid testing to look for contributing factors.

An electrocardiogram (ECG) can help verify that this is sinus tachycardia and not another type of arrhythmia that leads to high heart rate. Radiographs, ultrasound, and echocardiogram may also be recommended to help diagnose the cause of the high heart rate.

Treatment of Rapid Heart Rate in Cats

A rapid heart rate in cats is rarely, if ever, treated directly. Most treatments will be aimed at the underlying cause as determined by your veterinarian. Stress at the veterinary hospital may be managed with medications like gabapentin or pheromones.

Some causes of rapid heart rate in cats can be managed at home, while others may require hospitalization and even surgery. Your vet will help guide you through treatment and prognosis based on your cat’s test results.

Recovery and Management of Rapid Heart Rate in Cats

Recovery from rapid heart rate in cats depends on the underlying cause. Stressed cats will usually recover well once they are home in a more secure environment.

Hyperthyroidism, joint pain, and asthma usually respond well on an outpatient basis to oral medications and routine follow-up.

Severe trauma may require hospitalization and intensive care.

Primary heart disease often requires close management with your veterinarian and frequent follow-ups to monitor heart function and rhythm.

Monitoring a cat’s heart rate at home is rarely needed. Instead, pet parents should focus on their cat’s breathing, appetite, and behavior to make sure they’re recovering well.

Prevention of Rapid Heart Rate in Cats

To prevent the most common cause of rapid heart rate in cats, try to make vet visits and travel as stress-free as possible. Leave your cat carrier in active parts of your home to allow your cat to get used to it, and encourage them to nap or even eat in their carrier.

Hard-topped carriers that open from the top or can be taken apart easily are best. Ask your vet about medications that may reduce stress during their visits.

Annual vet visits, routine blood work, and vaccinations will help prevent illnesses and injuries that can lead to sinus tachycardia.

Jamie Lovejoy, DVM


Jamie Lovejoy, DVM


Dr. Jamie Lovejoy graduated from Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine in 2012 after an undergraduate degree in Marine Biology. ...

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