Nature plays no favorites when it comes to doling out heart disease.
The most common type of heart disease in cats is called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy
Wow! That is a mouthful. So let’s break it down:
- ”hypertrophic,” meaning thickened
- “cardio,” meaning heart
- “myo,” the Latin word for muscle
- and “pathy,” which means disease.
Feline hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) is a disease of the heart muscle in which the walls thicken and the heart enlarges. It accounts for 85-90% of feline heart disease diagnoses.
Normally, a bigger muscle is a good thing – but not the case with the heart. Thicker walls actually change the structure and function of the heart, and as the disease progresses, eventually the walls can become so thick that they become immobile and are unable to pump blood around the body.
HCM is an inherited disease in many purebred cats
Purebred cats such as the Persian and other Asian breeds, Ragdolls, Maine Coones and American shorthairs are predisposed to develop the condition. In fact, there’s a test available now for a specific gene mutation in Maine Coones and ragdolls.
However, while some breeds may be predisposed, no breed is immune, and it’s the regular house cat that is most commonly diagnosed.
When to see your veterinarian
Cats tend to mask the signs of heart disease better than dogs, and the disease is often not detected until it has progressed to a serious or even fatal degree. Signs of heart disease in cats can be vague, but like many diseases, early detection is key. You should see your vet right away if you notice:
- Heavy or rapid breathingBecause the heart is not pumping oxygen rich blood as efficiently, your cat’s body is feeling oxygen deprived all. the. time. So, naturally, it will try and increase the amount of oxygen it’s getting, and your cat may breathe like it has just done 30 laps around the house, even if it just woke up from a nap.
- Difficulty walking.If there is no external cause, like an injury, this may be the result of thromboembolisms, blood clots that cut off the blood supply to the hind legs
- Weight loss and poor appetiteWeight loss is definitely a symptom of heart disease though weight gain can be, as well. Changes in appetite can be caused by many things, and should be brought to your vets’ attention in order to rule out any outlying causes.
- VomitingThis is the key difference between heart disease in cats and heart disease in dogs. Dogs rarely vomit from the effects of heart disease, they cough; cats rarely cough, they vomit.
- Fainting or collapsingTake your cat to the vet right away if this happens. Do not pass GO, do not collect $200, go straight to the vet.
- Changes in activity, such as restlessness and/or being tired all the timeThere are many reasons that this could happen, but you should make sure your vet is aware of any changes in your cat’s behavior.
Heart disease in cats is very treatable
If your kitty’s heart problem has developed as a result of another underlying issue, treatment of the primary disease can result in partial or complete resolution of the HCM.
Early diagnosis and a proactive healing protocol can slow progressive cardiac changes and maintain an excellent quality of life.
Reducing environmental stress plays a big part in helping a cat recover from and manage their heart disease. What are some ways you can make your home less stressful for your cat? Tell us in the comments!
Meet the Author
Dr. Clayton Jones
Dr. Jones has 25 years of veterinary medical experience as a staff veterinarian and medical director of his own practice. He also is a member of the American Veterinary Medical Society and President of the US-Cuba Veterinary Cooperation Society.