By Ann Hohenhaus, DVM
February is American Heart Month. According to the Centers for Disease Control,
the most common form of heart disease in humans is coronary artery disease. This disease causes the blood vessels supplying the heart muscle to become blocked, resulting in a heart attack. To raise awareness of heart disease in women, the Go Red for Women campaign works to wipe out heart disease and stroke in women.
Both dogs and cats suffer from heart disease, but neither have heart attacks like we do. Dogs most commonly develop thickened heart valves. The thickening prevents normal value function. Although he is a cat, Sidney, a patient of the Animal Medical Center’s Cardiology Service, has agreed to “Go Red “ and be the AMC’s spokescat for feline heart disease.
Meet Sidney. In addition to being a handsome, 10-year-old white cat with black trim, Sidney is a tough nut to crack from a medical perspective. Before Christmas, Sidney started having episodes of falling over without losing consciousness and sometimes he would curl his feet under himself and act woozy.
Sidney’s owner took him to his regular veterinarian, whose first step was to obtain routine blood tests looking for metabolic causes of episodes like an overactive thyroid gland, low blood sugar, or anemia. But the answer was not going to come easily; the tests were normal.
A neurology consultation
Was it his brain malfunctioning causing a strange kind of seizure? Sidney first came to The AMC and saw board certified neurologist, Dr. Chad West.
After assessing Sidney, Dr. West determined Sydney’s problem was not neurological. But he did detect an abnormal heart rhythm and a murmur. Because episodes in cats can be caused by an abnormal heart, a cardiac evaluation was recommended for Sidney.
Finally an answer
Sidney came back to The AMC to see board certified cardiologist, Dr. Philip Fox. An electrocardiogram (EKG) showed enlargement of the right heart and he confirmed the abnormal heart rhythm and murmur. Dr. Fox then used a non-invasive echocardiogram to evaluate Sidney’s heart and found the muscle of the heart walls to be thickened. To view Sidney’s echocardiogram, click here.
The diagnosis was hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM), or an abnormally thickened heart muscle. The thick muscle prevents the heart from normally filling with blood and is likely the cause of Sidney’s collapsing episodes. Enalapril, an ACE inhibitor, was prescribed for its beneficial effects and high level of safety in cats with heart disease, but if it does not correct Sidney’s collapsing episodes, different medications will be prescribed.
Feline heart disease
The most common disorders of the feline heart are abnormalities of the heart muscle itself. Thick heart muscles, like Sidney’s, are the most common; less frequently veterinary cardiologists diagnose thin, flabby heart muscles. Either form can lead to heart failure which is a backup of fluid into the lungs due to decreased heart muscle function.
Tips for the cat owner
Like Sidney, cats with feline cardiomyopathy can be successfully treated.
Early treatment of feline heart disease is critical, since cats without heart failure live longer than those developing heart failure. If your veterinarian detects a heart murmur or abnormal heart rhythm during your cat’s annual physical examination, ask if a further evaluation by a veterinary cardiologist is required.