A closer look: Heart Disease (Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy) in Cats
Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) is a serious condition in cats with a wide variety of presentations and outcomes. Many cats have stable disease and require no intervention beyond regular monitoring, however, HCM is a common cause of sudden death in cats. Thromboembolism (blood clot) is a complication of HCM which is often fatal. Congestive heart failure is another complication of HCM. Medications often provide temporary relief from symptoms of congestive heart failure, but the long-term prognosis is poor.
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HCM is commonly diagnosed in young to middle aged cats. Many cases have no symptoms, or mild symptoms, such as lethargy and reduced exercise, that are mistaken for aging. Congestive heart failure is a secondary condition to HCM.
In rare cases sudden death occurs. Cats with HCM are predisposed to developing blood clots (thromboembolic disease). If a blood clot lodges in the aorta where it divides to go to the rear limbs (saddle thrombus), symptoms include a sudden onset of rear limb paralysis with vocalization and clear distress.
Cats with symptoms of that present with sudden onset blood clots require immediate treatment for pain relief and blood clots. Many cats with thromboembolic disease are euthanized due to severe pain and poor prognosis. Signs of severe blood clots are a medical emergency requiring immediate veterinary attention.
The cause of HCM is unknown in many cases, however some breeds are predisposed, suggesting a genetic component.
Testing and diagnosis
Many cases of HCM begin with detection of a heart murmur during a routine health examination. Definitive diagnosis involves ultrasound of the heart to demonstrate thickening of the heart muscle. Additional diagnostics include bloodwork and an ECG.
Steps to Recovery
Treatment options vary depending on the severity of the disease and how quickly it progresses. Mild, slowly-progressive HCM without symptoms may not require treatment. There is no treatment that slows the progression of the disease prior to the onset of congestive heart failure.
Once congestive heart failure begins it can be treated with medication that improves symptoms and delays progression temporarily.
HCM is a progressive lifelong condition. Prognosis depends on how quickly the condition leads to congestive heart failure and whether severe blood clots form as the disease progresses.
- Cats with low grade HCM sometimes never require treatment and the disease is not life limiting.
- Other cats progress to congestive heart failure and require ongoing medication. Many cats stabilize with treatment but congestive heart failure is usually life limiting.
- Some cats develop blood clots and sometimes present with sudden death without any other symptoms.
- Blood clots are a very painful condition and cats require hospitalization and high levels of pain relief while managing the clot. Many cases are humanely euthanized at presentation due to poor prognosis and pain levels.
HCM is not a preventable condition. At-risk breeds can benefit from screening from a young age.
Many cases of HCM have an inherited component and affected cats should not be bred.
Is Heart Disease (Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy) in Cats common?
HCM is common in cats.
- Treatment of congestive heart failure
- Treatment of blood clots
- Pain relief
- Ongoing monitoring