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Cats and Heart Disease

 by jaime on 21 Jul 2014 |
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Cardiomyopathy is the most common type of heart disease that appears in cats, but it can develop in a range of different forms and the causes, treatments and prognosis can be quite diverse. Here's what you need to know about heart disease in cats.

Types of cardiomyopathy
Most cats that are diagnosed with heart disease have hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, which is characterized by a thickened heart muscle that no longer holds as much blood. Meanwhile, dilated cardiomyopathy involves a thinned, enlarged heart that contracts poorly. Restrictive cardiomyopathy is diagnosed when the heart is stiffened and fails to fill properly. Sometimes, a vet will diagnose unclassified cardiomyopathy, in which it is clear that heart disease is present but the structures of the heart don't quite match one of the well-defined categories.

Why does heart disease develop?
If your cat is diagnosed with cardiomyopathy, you may never learn the cause or it may be suspected that the condition is inherited. However, it can develop as a result of other diseases (such as an overactive thyroid or chronically high blood pressure), and in some cases heart disease can be partly reversible if the underlying disease is treated. Heart disease used to be commonly caused by a lack of taurine in a cat's diet, but increased awareness of the nutritional role of taurine has led to almost all forms of cat food providing a sufficient amount.

What are the signs of heart disease?
You might first learn of your cat's heart disease when your vet picks up a heart murmur or detects an unusual heart rhythm during a routine examination. If these signs are noticed, a scan of the heart may be ordered. In the early stages, heart disease provides few (if any) noticeable symptoms in cats, and your pet may live for many years without any major problems. Once more obvious symptoms develop, heart disease may have caused heart failure. At this stage, you may notice your cat breathing harder or faster, activity levels may be reduced and the appetite may decline.

How is heart disease treated?
Once heart failure develops, your vet may be able to offer useful medications to slow the progression of the condition and help to improve your pet's quality of life. Although the disease is usually terminal, cats have been known to enjoy many happy years without suffering major symptoms. For example, diuretics may be used to prevent fluid from building up in your pet's lungs or chest, beta blockers can reduce the pressure on the heart, and calcium channel sensitizers can boost blood flow and help your cat's heart to pump more forcefully. Your vet may also provide clot-busting drugs to reduce the likelihood of heart disease complications.

If you are the owner of a cat with heart failure, being observant and attentive is the most important thing you can do. Noticing changes in your pet's breathing rate and effort can help you detect when it is time to adjust the dose of medication and can help to ensure that your cat stays comfortable.

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