Diagnosing Feline Cardiomyopathy

Feline cardiomyopathy is a disease that affects a cat's heart. The heart muscle in cats with cardiomyopathy can either stretch too much, or the walls of the organ become too thick.

Causes of Feline Cardiomyopathy

Not much is known about why a cat would have a cardiomyopathy, but scientists have seen a connection between genes, certain conditions, and nutritional deficiencies and cardiomyopathy. Hyperthyroidism, a condition that causes an over-active and enlarged thyroid, is a condition that may cause feline cardiomyopathy. A lack of an amino acid called taurine can also lead to this condition.

Using Symptoms to Help Diagnose

One of the first steps in diagnosing cardiomyopathy in a cat is recognizing the signs of the condition, which may take time to develop. Cats in the early phases of the condition might not show any symptoms at all.

One of the first signs a cat owner will notice when the feline is ill is a lack of appetite and a decline in her activity level. A cat may also appear to have difficulty breathing, due to the lungs or chest cavity filling up with fluid as a result of the cardiomyopathy. This can lead a cat to gag or have coughing fits.

A cat can also begin to walk with a limp or show signs of paralysis or pain in a hind leg as a result of thrombosis and an embolism. Cardiomyopathy can cause the development of blood clots in a cardiac vessel (thrombosis). The clot can then detach itself from its original location and travel to another part of a cat's body (embolism), blocking the flow of blood from that area. Thrombosis and the following embolism can cause pain or paralysis in one or both hind legs of a cat.

Diagnosing Feline Cardiomyopathy with Other Tests

After a thorough examination and evaluation a cat's symptoms, a veterinarian will order x-rays so he can see if there is fluid in the cat's lungs or if the heart is enlarged in the left atrium. The pulmonary artery will also be examined for size.

Blood tests might be ordered to see if the cat's symptoms are a secondary cause to another illness, and to verify the health of other organs. An electrocardiogram will be done to see if there is an irregularity in the heart's rhythms. This test can help provide confirmation that a cat's heart is enlarged.

To make a definitive diagnosis, an ultrasound (echocardiograph) of the heart will be performed so the veterinarian can have a better look at the cat's heart. The left ventricle and interventrical septum will be measured for density. A Doppler view can show how efficiently the blood is being pumped in the systems of a cat's heart.

There is no cure for feline cardiomyopathy, but a cat's quality of life can be enhanced with the proper treatments, which can eliminate excess fluids and help her heart function better. Depending on the progression of the condition, cats have been known to survive for up to three or more years after being diagnosed with a cardiomyopathy.