Don’t break my heart!
The most common heart diseases are known as Cardiomyopathy. There are often no signs that there is anything wrong with the cat. There are three basic forms of Cardiomyopathies: Dilated, Restrictive and Hypertrophic.
Dialated Cardiomyopathy (DCM) is a thinning and weakening of the heart muscle. There is also enlargement of the heart. Often this condition can be caused by an improper diet and can be reversed if proper nutrition is given to the cat. Lack of the amino acid taurine is often the cause.
Restrictive Cardiomyopathy (RCM) is when there is scarring on the heart muscle and it can no longer pump blood efficiently due to the heart chamber’s loss of elasticity.
Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy (HCM) is when the heart walls thicken in the left ventricle and impede proper pumping function.
Both HCM and RCM have a genetic basis. Cats with these conditions should not be bred as this condition is a dominant trait. HCM is the most common form of heart disease in all cats. The prognosis for such a disease is always guarded. Blood clots may be thrown which cause paralysis of the limbs or strokes. Death usually occurs from Congestive Heart Failure (CHF), with fluid buildup in the lungs and body tissues or can be due to a blood clot causing massive stroke or heart attack.
How is heart disease diagnosed?
Heart screening should be done by a Board Certified Veterinary Cardiologist or other equally qualified, trained and experienced veterinary professional. Early stages of HCM are usually not detectable via ECG or auscultation. At minimum, HCM screening should include a thorough physical examination and a two-dimensional cardiac ultrasound (echocardiogram). Additional tests such as Colour Flow Doppler Ultrasonography may be done at the discretion of the breeder and/or veterinary professional.
DNA tests are available for some breeds such as Maine Coon and Ragdolls, but these do not cover all possible causes of HCM in the cats. These same tests are not valid in other breeds. So, even though there are some tools available using DNA for testing, the echocardiograms still need to be performed.
HCM can be treated if diagnosed early. There are various medications available to extend the life of our cats. It would be a much better solution to not breed cats who are HCM positive to begin with. Given that this disease may not appear until later in a cat’s breeding career, it is imperative to test older cats who have been used in a breeding programme to see if it is being bred into the lines, as well as testing the cats currently being used.
(To be continued in the next issue)
(Cánie V Brooks is a TICA All Breed Judge. Breeding and showing Bengals for 14 years, she is currently on the TICA Bengal Breed Committee, TICA Mentoring Committee, past officer for seven years in The International Bengal Cat Society.)