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Saddle Thrombus in Cats


intense cat suffering from saddle thrombus

When we were researching this topic, we found so many sad stories because of the poor outlook or prognosis for a cat stricken with saddle thrombus (also known as saddle thrombosis or aortic thromboembolism). To all of the wonderful pet parents who have suffered a loss, you have our sincerest sympathy.

What is saddle thrombus?

Saddle thrombus (or saddle thrombosis) is a blood clot that started off in the left atrium of the heart and then moved out into the aorta (hence the term aortic thromboembolism). Once there, the clot travels to the junction of the aorta and into the iliac arteries where it gets stuck. Since the iliac arteries feed into the femoral arteries, which serve the back legs, the clot prevents blood flow to the back legs and is an extremely serious condition.

90% of the time, saddle thrombus is related to an underlying heart condition such as dilated or hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (types of congestive heart failure).

How do I know if my cat has saddle thrombus?

Your cat will tell you. The main symptom is weakness or paralysis of the hind legs, which will be colder than other parts of the body and may even be bluish in color. The cat will be in a lot of pain, often vocalizing her discomfort loudly. Go to your veterinarian or an emergency clinic immediately if your cat has these symptoms.


Cats with saddle thrombus are treated on an individual basis based on:

  • The length of time since the symptoms were first presented,
  • Diagnosis of the primary heart condition and
  • How far the pet parent wants to go with treatment.

Your options are:

  • Medical treatment, including attempts to dissolve the clot and control the underlying heart condition. Relieving the patient’s discomfort with pain management is key.
  • Surgery; however this is not common and may not always be the best option for your pet. There is always a high anesthetic risk for patients that have a heart condition. The size of the clot also plays a role in the pet’s prognosis. There have been cases where the clot fills the entire length of the artery.
  • Euthanasia

If your pet recovers from saddle thrombus, she may not get the full function of her back legs back. She will be on blood thinners for the rest of her life to prevent any future clots from forming.

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