If you are a cat lover, you certainly will want to enjoy your pet for as long as possible. Cats have a life span of about 15-18 years or longer if they remain in good health. Unfortunately, some cats can and do develop heart disease which can be fatal. Two types of heart conditions seen in felines are cardiomyopathy and congestive heart failure. Here is a brief description of both of these conditions.
According to an article by Pawprints and Purrs, cardiomyopathy in cats is a disease of the heart muscle in which the muscle either dilates or stretches. This causes compromise in the function of the heart. In either case, the condition can lead to heart failure and impairment of the heart’s ability to properly pump blood through the body.
Causes of Cardiomyopathy
Cardiomyopathy in cats can be idiopathic, meaning the cause for it is unknown. Heart disease can also be acquired, meaning it was caused as a result of such diseases as thyroid problems, diabetes, cancer or kidney trouble. One known cause of cardiomyopathy is the absence of an essential amino acid, taurine, from the cat’s diet. According to Pets, Vets and You, this protein was lacking from many commercial cat foods back in the 1980’s, a problem which has since been corrected.
Cardiomyopathy has also been noted in certain breeds of cats. It may have a genetic component. There are several types of cardiomyopathy, including 1) dilated cardiomyopathy in which the heart tissues thins and weakens, 2) restrictive cardiomyopathy in which the heart tissue replaces itself with scar tissue (not often seen), and 3) hypertrophic cardiomyopathy in which the heart tissue becomes thick and stiff. According to Cat Health, this is most common type of cardiomyopathy in cats. The typical age of onset for it is young adulthood and it affects males more frequently than females.
Cats can develop heart trouble in a relatively short period of time. Initially the symptoms may be subtle until the disease has progressed to the severe stage or the cat suddenly dies. According to Claws and Paws Veterinary Hospital, symptoms usually seen are shortness of breath with open mouthed breathing, loss of appetite, vomiting, and paralysis or inability to move the back legs. The cat will also have a decreased energy level and lose interest in playing.
The veterinarian will do an initial examination of the heart using a stethoscope. He will then do lab work to determine if the symptoms are caused from other acquired medical conditions. X-rays will be done to determine if the heart is enlarged or if there is fluid in the lungs (pulmonary edema). According to Portland Veterinary Specialists, additional testing can include an echocardiogram (also known as an ECHO), and an EKG. Both of these can be done without having to sedate your cat.
Treatment of feline cardiomyopathy will not cure the disease, but its aim is to improve the quality of the cat’s life. Goal of treatment of cardiomyopathy is manifold. It includes 1) relaxing the heart muscle and improving the strength of the heart’s output, making it a more efficient pump), 2) reducing excess fluids in the lungs, 3) controlling blood clot formation and 4) maintaining the cat’s nutritional status. According to Pets Web MD, the specific drugs used to affect the strength of the heart will depend on how advanced the illness is and whether or not there are other complications.
Congestive Heart Failure
Congestive heart failure, or CHF, is another serious heart condition that can be seen in cats of all breeds and ages, but especially in older cats. According to Vet Info, it is typically seen in older cats with heart disease or thyroid problems. The cat’s heart is unable to pump blood well throughout the body, usually resulting in a build up of fluids in various parts of the body such as the abdomen and lungs.
According to Pets MD, congestive heart failure can be caused by heartworms or birth defects. CHF is also seen as a complication of cardiomyopathy. Other causes can include anemia, thyroid conditions and abnormal heart rhythms (arrythmias).
Symptoms of CHF
According to Pets MD, the symptoms of CHF may vary somewhat dependent on what side of the cat’s heart is affected. Usually what is seen, however, is wheezing and difficulty breathing. Coughing may be seen due to the fluid build up in the lungs. The cat’s appetite will be decreased and he will be extremely fatigued. The abdomen may be bloated if there is fluid build-up. These symptoms may develop quite rapidly.
In general, diagnosing congestive heart failure will require essentially the same expert examination and testing as done for feline cardiomyopathy, including EKG, x-rays and echocardiogram.
CHF is a serious condition and the cat will probably need to be hospitalized in order to reduce the build up of fluid in the abdomen and lungs. If not quickly treated, this condition can be fatal.
Feline Advisory Bureau: “Cardiomyopathy in cats”
Portland Veterinary Specialist: “Feline heart disease”
Cat Health: “Feline cardiomyopathy”
Vet Info: “Feline CHF: “Understanding Cat heart failure”