CARDIOMYOPATHY : A SILENT KILLER OF DOMESTIC CATS
Cardiomyopathy is a real killer because the early stages of the condition can be completely uneventful. By the time symptoms become clearly evident it is usually too late for the animal!
If you are a pet parent I am sure you are aware of the fact that your fur-babies are highly proficient in hiding potentially critical health conditions.
While, both cats and dogs are equally skilled in this, the felines really come on top because of their aloofness I guess.
This could have severe medical implications for the animals and on many occasions the outcomes leave the owners devastated for not being able to help their beloved companions on time. This is precisely the reason why the role of a veterinarian is particularly challenging yet extremely fulfilling, an oxymoron in true sense.
One such condition that is commonly seen in domestic cats is Cardiomyopathy. This is a real killer because the early stages of the condition can be completely uneventful. By the time symptoms become clearly evident it is usually too late for the animal, unless emergency interventions are given.
Feline Cardiomyopathy is a condition of the heart characterized by structural aberrations in one of its four chambers. In majority of the cases the structural deformities are seen in the left ventricle which is responsible for pumping oxygen-rich blood to the rest of the body. Cats with cardiomyopathy experience an appreciable thickening and weakening of the heart muscle followed by scarring.
What causes Feline Cardiomyopathy and what are the sub-types:
The exact cause of the condition is still unknown. But factors such as high blood pressure, hyper activity of the thyroid gland, cancer and genetics can play a major role in its manifestation.
There are three main types of cardiomyopathy seen in cats. Hypertrophic type is most common, followed by the restrictive type. Now if you still want to know more, then there is a third type as well which we commonly refer to as dilated cardiomyopathy. You need not worry about this type as it is rather uncommon. Cats with hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy, which is the most common type, experience a thickening of the ventricular muscle leading to an increase in pressure and eventually congestive heart failure. In restrictive cardiomyopathy fibrosis of ventricular muscles become evident leading to inadequate heart muscle relaxation during pumping, leading to congestive heart failure.
Typical Signs and Symptoms :
As mentioned earlier, the early stages of the condition are completely uneventful but if you are a cat "parent" it will be prudent on your part to take note of the following signs:
Be observant of the breading rate of your cat. Typically the respiratory rate of healthy cats should be 40 or less per minute and in the event that you notice any increase in this rate or your cat requiring an extra effort to maintain this rate, it’s time to contact your nearest veterinarian.
Take note of any abnormality in the gait and movement of your cat. In the event that you notice any dragging of the hind legs or general inability to use them without any signs of injury, it could be a sign of potential blood clot due to cardiomyopathy. Blood clots can become very common during advanced cardiomyopathy and clot fragments can enter the blood circulation leading to arterial blockage such as the terminal aorta. As a result of this there is impaired blood flow to the hind legs leading to symptoms such as lameness and paralysis.
In the event that your cat is very lethargic with severe loss of appetite accompanied with signs of respiratory distress and coughing, cardiomyopathy could be the underlying reason.
If you miss these signs and suddenly notice that your cat has almost lost the ability to move with accompanying signs of severe respiratory distress it could be the onset of congestive heart failure. This is a very serious condition requiring emergency medical intervention without which, the risk of mortality within 18 to 24 hours is very high. The respiratory distress is the due to the buildup of fluid in the chest cavity and in the lungs and this will starve the body tissues of oxygen. In the emergency care the veterinarian may also notice a bluish discoloration of the mucous membrane due to inadequate oxygenation of the body tissues. For pet owners this could be a very stressful period but if intervention is provided in a time-sensitive manner the outcome could be really positive.
Diagnosis and Treatment :
Diagnosis of feline cardiomyopathy is rather straight forward with an ultrasound of
the heart along with an ECG and X-
ray of the chest cavity. Interventions such as diuretics to relieve the fluid pressure on the chest cavity and ACEI agents to control the high blood pressure can significantly increase the chances of recovery. Fluid accumulation in the chest cavity, high blood pressure and respiratory distress are typical symptoms of congestive heart failure and the treatment mentioned above is initiated once they become clearly evident. Beta blockers such as ACEI can effectively correct impaired heart functions, prevent the formation of aortic blood clots and reduce high blood pressure while diuretics can rapidly alleviate the accumulation of fluid in the chest cavity. Once the fluid buildup is properly managed, the symptoms of respiratory distress start to disappear, bringing much needed relief to the owners.
Cat "parents" need to understand that the treatment mentioned above will not correct the underlying cardiomyopathy but will definitely increase the duration and the quality of your beloved pet's life. Furthermore, it has also been clinically observed that the nature and the degree of recovery can vary significantly from one animal to another. Factors such as the extent of heart muscle thickening and scarring, the degree of circulatory disturbance and blood pressure levels can greatly increase or decrease the chances of recovery of the affected animals. In the event that the condition is detected when ventricular thickening is minimal and there is no major disturbance in the blood circulation patterns, the possibility that your cat will lead an absolutely normal and healthy life is very likely.
As a veterinarian and as a pet owner I am a firm believer of the fact that our furry friends are highly resilient and will use every ounce of life left in them to come out of any predicament. All they ask for is a helping hand and a gentle nudge from us who mean the world to them.