Acquired Heart Disease in Cats: Dilated Cardiomyopathy

Dilated Cardiomyopathy is characterized by decreased ability of the heart to contract properlyAcquired Heart Disease in Cats: Dilated Cardiomyopathy and occurs in people, dogs and cats.  Click here to learn about normal functioning of cat hearts. As the contractility decreases the heart compensates by dilating in order to have more blood to pump. The ventricles then become thin and dilated giving it the name. This is a common reason that people need heart transplants as there is no long term effective treatment for this condition.

A quick note on nomenclature.  When referring to DCM, we are most often referring to what is more accurately termed idiopathic myocardial failure, which results in the dilation of the ventricles.  We will rule out as many of the other causes that we can, and back into a diagnosis of idiopathic myocardial failure.

A great victory was achieved in 1987 when research at theVeterinary School at the University of California, Davis discovered the cause of this devastating disease to be a dietary deficiency of an amino acid called taurine to be the cause of Dilated Cardiomyopathy in the cat.  Subsequently, all commercial cat foods have been supplemented with adequate amounts of taurine and the disease has virtually been eliminated. Now only cats fed home made diets deficient in taurine are affected with this disease.  This underscores the importance of consulting with a veterinarian or veterinary nutritionist to create the diet that is right for your cat’s health.

There are reports of DCM, usually in older cats, to be caused by something other than taurine deficiency.  Research has not yet identified these other causes.  Unfortunately, the major of DCM in dogs and humans has not been so well elucidated.  There are secondary causes that make up about 10% of cases of DCM.  These range from viral (parvo, herpes) to tick-borne (Lyme disease, Ehrlichia), to metabolic (hyperthyroid, muscular dystrophy), to blood clots.

The clinical signs that result from DCM mainly deal with heart failure.  The left atrium becomesAcquired Heart Disease, Cats and DCM Diagram dilated due to leakage of the mitral valve.  This, in turn, causes backup into the pulmonary veins leading to respiratory difficulty due to fluid in the lungs (pulmonary edema).  The other major abnormality is called atrial fibrillation.  This change in the electrical pathways of the heart causes inefficient filling of the ventricles leading to poor cardiac output.  Both are manageable, but neither is curable.

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Dr Roger Johnson and Dr Kyle Marano

Roger K. Johnson, DVM, Diplomate ACVIM (internal medicine) is a board-certified veterinary internal medicine specialist. His professional interests include cardiology as well as using advanced diagnostics to help his patients. His particular favorites include echocardiography, abdominal ultrasonography, and endoscopy. Kyle Marano, DVM is a small animal veterinarian practicing out of Northern Colorado. He has written pieces ranging from sports commentary and analysis to quips on the every day life of veterinary medicine. His furry family includes a chocolate lab mix and an overly nosy cat.

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