What is feline cardiomyopathy?

Cardiomyopathy is when the heart muscles of the cat change the way they work. In cats, this basically involves a disease of the heart that causes the heart walls to change shape. They can stretch or thicken, making it more difficult for the cat's heart to work properly. The most common form is feline hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a form that involves thicker heart muscles.


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What is the cause?

The version that used to be most common, dilated cardiomyopathy, doesn't happen very often anymore. It is caused by taurine deficiency, which is mainly  a problem when a cat eats dog food only or when people try to put them on unconventional diets. All the major brands of cat food have taurine supplements to stop this, so it is pretty rare.

This disease has a lot of causes. It is often genetic, and not caused by anything in particular. Many diseases can cause it, such as infections and problems with your cat's thyroid. Finally, there are chemicals and poisons that can cause it as well.

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms are paralyzed or weak back legs, trouble breathing, rapid breathing, losing weight or not wanting to eat, and getting tired quickly. If your cat suddenly develops these symptoms, it is an emergency problem. Blood clots can cause sudden loss of control over the back legs, and can also lead to death. In most cases it will be a long-term onset that is more gradual over the course of a few months. Your vet will use an x-ray or an ultrasound to confirm a diagnosis.

What is the treatment?

The treatment is usually through medication. Many vets will have your cat take aspirin under supervision (important because aspirin is very risky with cats). There are also a variety of different drugs that can reduce heart problems. Unfortunately, most cats with cardiomyopathy do not do well. The average life span is about six months, with some living for three to four years. It does depend on the cause, however - thyroid-related heart problems or problems caused by taurine deficiency can be reversed, and the cat can go back to normal after treatment.

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