What is Dilated Cardiomyopathy?
The defective cardiovascular organ causes the feline to have poor circulation, noted by cold paws, and reluctance to engage in physical activity. The feline may also appear weak and have a poor body condition as it ages. Dilated cardiomyopathy was once linked to a dietary deficiency in the amino acid, taurine. However, due to cat food manufacturers adding this essential ingredient into their products, DCM is rarely caused by taurine deficiency. Today, unless the feline is fed a naturally sourced diet, DCM occurs for idiopathic (unknown) reasons. Dilated cardiomyopathy possess a threat for blood clots, stroke and heart failure in cats, therefore treatment must be sought by a veterinary professional.
Dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) in cats is a heart disease of the ventricular muscle, which prevents the organ from moving blood out of the bottom of the heart at full capacity. To understand feline dilated cardiomyopathy, a basic understanding of heart anatomy is required. The feline’s heart has four chambers, just like the human heart, with two right and left aortas atop two right and left ventricles. The chambers separate oxygenated blood from un-oxygenated blood, pushing the blood from the heart to be used throughout the body. In the case of dilated cardiomyopathy, the ventricular chambers are dilated. The enlarged ventricle chamber is large in size compared to the other portions of the heart and upon contraction, the compression is weak, resulting in a partial blood pump.
Symptoms of Dilated Cardiomyopathy in Cats
The symptoms caused by dilated cardiomyopathy in cats is related to the decreased blood flow in the body. DCM is noted by a weak pulse, murmur of the heart, and irregular lung sounds, which can also be heard with the help of a stethoscope. At home, cat owners may be able to detect the symptoms of dilated cardiomyopathy in their cat if it displays the following clinical signs:
- No interest in food
- Distended belly
- Sudden paralysis
- Intolerance to exercise
- Shortness of breath
Causes of Dilated Cardiomyopathy in Cats
Dilated cardiomyopathy in cats is usually caused by idiopathic, or unknown, reasons. The heart condition tends to affect male felines more than females, and it usually appears between two and twenty years of age. Historically, feline dilated cardiomyopathy was linked to a deficiency in the essential amino acid, taurine. After discovering this connection, cat food manufacturers began adding the amino acid into their cat food products and the percentage of cats present with DCM greatly decreased. A feline with dilated cardiomyopathy could still have a deficiency in taurine if she is fed a vegetarian diet or has an underlying absorption-related health condition.
Diagnosis of Dilated Cardiomyopathy in Cats
Felines presented to the veterinary clinic are usually in distress, which requires stabilization before most diagnostic tests can be performed. The veterinarian may first place the feline on oxygen and fluid therapy before returning to talk to you about the symptoms you have noticed at home. The doctor will review the feline’s medical history, talk to the owner about her current diet and medications, then move on to complete the following diagnostic exams:
- Radiography: x-ray of the chest and abdomen
- Fluid aspirate biopsy
- Blood chemistry profile: assess the levels of circulating taurine and electrolytes, and evaluate the liver and kidneys.
- Electrocardiogram (ECG)
- Echocardiogram, also known as a heart ultrasound
Treatment of Dilated Cardiomyopathy in Cats
Dilated cardiomyopathy in cats is treated with therapeutic diuretic, angiotensin converting enzyme inhibitor drugs in severe cases, but additional medications may be needed depending on the specific case. In the case of a taurine deficiency, the veterinarian will prescribe supplements to readily supply the body with the missing essential amino acid. You may also be advised to feed your cat a specialized diet, low in sodium, to aid in cardiovascular recovery.
Recovery of Dilated Cardiomyopathy in Cats
Cats with dilated cardiomyopathy are usually asked by the veterinarian to return for a re-evaluation approximately seven to fourteen days after hospital discharge. The doctor will likely repeat the ECG exam and take additional x-rays of the chest to visualize the heart. These tests are usually paired with blood work to obtain a full evaluation of the cat’s most recent condition. Cat owners should expect to have the same test repeated every two to three months for the first year and follow check-up visits for the remainder of the cat’s life, as requested by the veterinarian.
The prognosis for felines with dilated cardiomyopathy is variable, depending on the underlying cause. Taurine deficiencies are reversible and if treated promptly; most felines live a long life. However, DCM that does not have an identified cause will greatly shorten the feline’s life span.
Dilated Cardiomyopathy Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals
My cat has a heart murmur and Cardiomyopathy. She is currently on furosemide to remove liquid around her heart. She has been on this medication for two years now. Lately she does not have much appetite and we had to increase her dose of furosemide. I am wondering if it could be caused by hyperthyroidism.
Hyperthyroidism would normally increase appetite, not decrease it. Loss of appetite is a symptom of dilated cardiomyopathy and may have progressed as the condition got worse resulting in increasing the dose of furosemide. In addition to furosemide, a highly palatable low sodium diet is important. The worsening of symptoms is probably due to May’s increase in age; during your next visit to your Veterinarian, an ultrasound and blood tests may be useful to check on the progression of the condition. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM
I forgot to add Coco is a Malayan cat a breed that was born of a mating between a Burmese and Chinchilla cats. She was 4 years old when it happened. The other symptom I noticed she would also have her head shaking, almost like a tremor or a vibration? It just didn't seem normal and was the ultimate reason for me taking to the emergency vets who practice out of our vet hospital.
Since then she has had all the lymph nodes in her neck swell up its been ongoing over last six weeks. So far she's been treated with antibiotics, has had a FNA (fine needle aspiration) results - inflammation. A special blood test when her Popliteal nodes ( glands at the back of her hind legs) became swollen too - results still inflammation, no spike. Finally she's had surgery to excise one of the popliteal nodes - results should be back in a couple of days. Meanwhile two days post op I had to take her back as her belly had become swollen and I suspected Ascities. I was correct in my guess ( I was an anaesthetic nurse for 25 years and a scrub nurse for 5) so I had a little knowledge of what was happening. She's now home and back on the Frusemide .25 of a tab per day. Hopefully with each test she won't have Lymphoma.
My cat has Dilated Cardiomyopathy and luckily our vets practice is also a hospital for domestic and farm animals.
When she came into the hospital there was a regular visiting cardiac consultant who managed to save her life.
Her medication is:-
Vetmedin x2 daily
Taurine x2 daily
Plavix x1 daily
Occasionally she also requires Frusemide either x1 or x2 daily - she required it for first 6 months.
Her specialist at her 6 month scans said she is only the second cat he's seen in 15 years that's responded to Taurine 500mg !
At the time she developed the DCM she also developed a Corneal Sequstrum .
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