Heart and Carotid Artery Tumors in Cats

Chemodectoma in Cats

Aortic and carotid body tumors, classified as chemodectomas, are generally benign tumors that grow from the chemoreceptor tissue of the body. These are the tissues most sensitive to chemical changes in the body, such as oxygen content and pH levels in the blood. While chemoreceptor tissues can be located throughout the body, chemodectomas mainly affect the chemoreceptor organs: the aorta and the carotid organs (i.e., heart and carotid artery).

Chemodectomas are rare in cats, but when they do occur, older cats tend to be more predisposed. However, there does not appear to be a gender or breed predilection for chemodectomas. Given that this is a rare condition in cats, aortic tumors are more common than carotid tumors, but metastasis to other organs appears to be more common in cats when it does occur.

Symptoms and Types

Aortic body tumors occur on the aortic artery near the base of the heart. They are rarely of a malignant nature; they will grow within the space but not spread to the surrounding organs. These tumors become a health concern when their growth displaces the trachea, when they grow into the adjacent vessels, or when their growth places pressure on the atria or vena cava, impairing their functionality for conveying blood to the body and heart. Symptoms associated with aortic body tumors include:

  • Coughing
  • Trouble breathing
  • Symptoms of right-sided congestive heart failure (CHF)
  • Weakness, lethargy

Carotid body tumors, meanwhile, occur on the common carotid artery near the point of bifurcation — where the artery splits into the internal and external carotid arteries. These arteries carry oxygenated blood to the head and neck, and are located in the neck. Because of this relation to the major arterial passages, carotid body tumors are often impossible to remove. In the majority of cases, these tumors remain slow growing but benign, and as with aortic tumors, they become a health issue when they invade the spaces of the adjacent blood vessels and lymphatic vessels. In an estimated 30 percent of cases, metastasis may occur into the surrounding organs, such as the lungs, bronchia or lymph nodes, or further into the liver or pancreas. Symptoms associated with carotid body tumors include:

Other symptoms seen in cats affected by either body tumor type include:

  • Severe hemorrhaging due to tumors in the blood vessels (can lead to sudden death)
  • Metastasis to local blood vessels (up to 50 percent of cases )
  • Organ failure due to cancerous growths (up to 20 percent of cases)


Something that becomes worse or life threatening as it spreads


Anything pertaining to the blood vessel system in the body


A gland that aids in both digestive and insulin functions


The prediction of a disease’s outcome in advance


An in-depth examination of the properties of urine; used to determine the presence or absence of illness


The windpipe; it carries air from the bronchi to the mouth

lymph nodes

Small structures that filter out the lymph and store lymphocytes


The condition of being drowsy, listless, or weak


A large blood vessel that transports blood out of the heart.


The name of the main artery that starts in the left ventricle of an animal’s four chamber heart.


Not being able to cause harm; the opposite of malignant.


The division of something one time.


A record of the activity of the myocardium


The process of removing tissue to examine it, usually for medical reasons.


A condition of the blood in which normal red blood cell counts or hemoglobin are lacking.

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