As National Healthy Cat Month continues so does our focus on our feline friends.
As discussed a couple of weeks ago, heart disease is now believed to be far more of an issue for our cats than previously thought. Today we are looking at the types of cardiomyopathies and some tips to help protect your kitty’s heart health.
As you’ll recall, cardiomyopathy is a term used to generally describe any dysfunction of the heart that cannot be linked to another underlying cause such as a specific disease or injury. The literal translation of the term is “disease of the heart muscle.” There are three types of cardiomyopathy: hypertrophic, dilated, and restrictive. Each of these conditions is incredibly serious and can be life-threatening to your cat.
Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) - HCM accounts for 85 to 90 percent of all cases of primary heart disease in kitties. With HCM the walls and ventricles of the heart become too thick, or hypertrophied. HCM is often inherited in cats, and there's a test available for a specific gene mutation in Maine Coons and Ragdolls. Purebred cats such as the Persian, other oriental breeds, and American shorthairs are also predisposed to the condition but it is the regular house cat that is most commonly diagnosed with HCM.
Restrictive cardiomyopathy - Restrictive cardiomyopathy is caused by excessive buildup of scar tissue (fibrosis) on the inner lining of the ventricle or lower chamber of the heart. This prevents the heart from adequately relaxing, filling, and emptying with the amount of blood needed to supply the rest of the body’s organs. The exact cause of restrictive cardiomyopathy is unknown, but cats with hyperthyroidism have a higher rate of incidence of the condition. High blood pressure or a heart attack, can both cause restrictive cardiomyopathy through the creation of scar tissue. Finally, it is suspected that cats with parasites such as heartworms also have a higher risk of developing restrictive cardiomyopathy.
Dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) - DCM is characterized by dilated - enlarged - heart chambers and reduced contraction ability. Before 1987, DCM was one of the most common heart diseases in cats, suspected to have been related to a dietary deficiency of the amino acid taurine in most commercial cat foods. This has largely been corrected by cat food manufacturers. Today the underlying cause in the majority of DCM cases remains unknown. In some families of cats, a genetic predisposition has been identified. Some breeds, such as the Burmese, Abyssinian, and Siamese, are more commonly affected by DCM. The disease will usually affect cats between the ages of 2 to 20 years, but the average age of onset is ten years old.
Symptoms of Cardiomyopathy
Cardiomyopathy will typically occur gradually and symptoms will worsen over time, usually progressing to congestive heart failure. Initially, you may not notice any signs your cat is suffering from the condition, or the symptoms will be so minor or sporadic that they will be easily missed. And unfortunately for us, cats, as a survival skill, are masters at hiding pain and illness. Until the condition is severe, even a very sick cat may have no symptoms, or very mild symptoms that don't seem to be indicative of heart disease. Signs to watch for include:
• Respiratory distress
• Rapid breathing
• Panting or open mouth breathing
• Exercise intolerance
• Decreased appetite
• Enlarged stomach
• Sudden onset limb paralysis
There are things you can monitor at home that may give you a jump on detecting heart disease. For more information, click here.
Treatment of Feline Cardiomyopathy
Currently there is no cure for cardiomyopathy in cats and no drugs have been shown to slow the progression. But, the good news is there are drugs that will help manage symptoms, improve heart function and reduce the risk of blood clot formation. With appropriate medicines and management you can prolong the life of your cat and reduce or eliminate symptoms.
Protecting Your Cat’s Heart Health
While more research is needed to determine the exact causes of cardiomyopathies, it is believed that lifestyle and diet may play large roles. Keep your kitty lean and active and engaged. The ideal food would be a human-grade, meat-based diet, but this can be a stretch for many of our budgets. Just feed the best quality diet you can afford and beware of foods with fillers such as grains and unnecessary carbohydrates that cats don't need in the first place. If you feed dry or canned food, we recommend you supplement your pet's diet with coenzyme Q10 in the form of ubiquinol. Additional marine sources of omega-3 fatty acids (krill oil) may help especially if you have a cat that may be predisposed to cardiovascular disease.
Dr. Karen Becker, a holistic vet we admire, believes we have underestimated the role of vitamin D in companion animal medicine, and its role in heart disease, as well. Identifying and treating vitamin D deficiency is an important step in reducing diet-related cardiovascular stress. Talk to Dr. Peggy about supplementing.
Also ask for a proBNP blood test. This test can give you peace of mind that your kitty has no early signs of heart disease. It's a simple blood test with a fast turn-around time that can provide the information you need to proactively manage your cat's heart health.
While none of these things can guarantee your kitty’s health, they will give him or her a better chance to develop and maintain a healthy heart muscle.
If you suspect your cat is suffering from any heart-related disease or defect you should seek immediate veterinary care as the speed of treatment could potentially make a significant difference in your cat’s lifespan and quality of life.