One of the most heartbreaking moments that cat parents could deal with is to learn that their beloved feline friend is suffering from an ailment—even more so if the condition sounds as alarming and serious as cardiomyopathy. This may lead you to ask: how long do cats live with cardiomyopathy?
This question is certainly the first thing that will come into your mind when you’ve been told that your cat has been diagnosed with the disease. Then the other queries that beg answers such as “What are the treatment options available?” and even “Is there a chance he’ll survive this?” would eventually follow.
In this post, we will look at cardiomyopathy—its forms, symptoms, and complications. More importantly, we’ll give you an idea on how long a cat with this condition will live. You should have a better understanding of this common but severe health condition affecting cats after reading this article.
What is Cardiomyopathy?
Cardiomyopathy comes from three words: cardio which means “heart,” myo which is the equivalent of the word “muscle” in Latin, and pathy which pertains to “diseases.”
The etymology of the word should give you an idea of what it is all about. Yes, it is a disease affecting the heart’s muscles. There are three classes or types of feline cardiomyopathy, which we would discuss in a bit.
What Causes It?
Regardless of the type, the most common cause of cardiomyopathy is genetic. This means that a kitten who has a parent or parents with cardiomyopathy could develop it later in his life.
There are also other factors that can cause this heart disease in cats, such as hyperthyroidism, kidney failure, and lack of an important nutrient called taurine.
We’ll talk about those factors, too, later in this article. But before we get into those, here’s one more thing to know about cats: our favorite pets have this unique ability to cope with cardiomyopathy especially during the early stages.
A feline with cardiomyopathy may not show any signs of being sick until the condition worsens. In the long run, though, a cat would exhibit clinical signs. He would also be at risk of congestive heart failure, hypertension, and thromboembolic disease. It is important for you to be observant so you would be able to catch the disease in its early stages.
How Long Do Cats Live with Cardiomyopathy?
Now let’s answer the question we posed: how long would cats with cardiomyopathy live? It really depends on certain factors such as the type of cardiomyopathy and the severity of the condition by the time it was diagnosed.
For example, there are instances where cats who have mild cardiomyopathy live symptom-free for years. If the cat is properly treated or given adequate medication, even after the eventual worsening of his condition, he can live for up to three years.
It’s a different story when the condition has led to congestive heart failure, one of the major complications of cardiomyopathy. Life expectancy in cats with cardiomyopathy and congestive heart failure is shortened to 18 months or less, with six months on average.
To better understand the connection between the different types of cardiomyopathy and the prognosis, let’s take a closer look at the three common types of this feline heart disease.
Overview, Symptoms, and Prognosis of Different Types of Cardiomyopathy
As we mentioned earlier, there are different classes or types of cardiomyopathy:
#1: Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy
Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) is the most common type of this feline heart disease.
The word ‘hypertrophic’ means thickening. Thus, hypertrophic cardiomyopathy pertains to a heart disease due to the thickening of the heart’s muscular walls.
If you can still recall your old science lessons, the heart is a muscle that has four chambers—two are called ventricles, and the other two are called atria.
In cats with HCM, the left ventricle muscles grow and become abnormally thick, limiting the ability of the heart to squeeze and relax. This causes the heart to pump an inadequate amount of blood to the other body parts.
As the condition progresses, the heart’s structure will change and consequently affect its function. These changes can lead to heart murmur since the valves don’t expand as the heart muscle enlarges. In short, the heart valves become inadequate.
There is less flexibility on the part of the thickened muscle walls. The left ventricle, on the other hand, won’t be able to relax and be filled with blood.
This can also lead to blood buildup in the heart’s left atrium, forcing the fluid to go back into the chest cavity. When that happens, congestive heart failure follows.
HCM is a genetic disorder which affects felines from one to five years of age. There are, however, cases wherein cats as young as three months and as old as ten years old develop this illness.
Certain breeds such as Maine Coon, British Shorthairs, Ragdolls, American Shorthairs, and Devon Rexes are known to have increased risk of HCM. Male Domestic Shorthairs are also said to have an elevated risk of developing this ailment.
The scary thing about HCM is that there’s really no reasonable explanation as to why it strikes cats except for genetics. HCM occurs more often in male cats than their female counterparts.
As we’ve mentioned earlier, cats are great at masking their illnesses. The case is true for those with HCM. One of the few symptoms of feline HCM is when the cat tries to breathe through an open mouth. Kitties with HCM may also have difficulty walking even short distances; they would often stop to rest and recuperate.
Now you may wonder: “how long do cats with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy live?” It depends on the severity or the stage of the disease. It’s possible that a cat may live a normal life if there were early diagnosis and proper treatment by a veterinarian.
There’s also the chance that a feline with HCM may become paralyzed or even suddenly die because he was never diagnosed or treated.
#2: Dilated Cardiomyopathy
This is a rare type of cardiomyopathy. Also called DCM, it also affects the ventricle muscles. But unlike HCM wherein the ventricle muscles thicken, dilated cardiomyopathy is characterized by a thinning of the said muscles.
The heart chambers are also enlarged, affecting the heart’s ability to push blood out of the ventricles. When this happens, the heart may become ‘overloaded,’ and congestive heart failure could soon follow.
DCM was one of the most common heart ailments in cats before the turn of the 1990s. The disease was believed to be mainly caused by the absence of the amino acid taurine in cat food supplements. When cat food makers started adding taurine to cat foods, the cases of DCM in cats slowly decreased.
Cats with DCM may exhibit more noticeable symptoms than those with HCM. They can show signs of depression and weakness. A cat suffering from DCM may also lose appetite.
Now how long would cats with DCM live? It depends on the underlying cause. DCM due to taurine deficiency is reversible. If treated promptly, the cat may live a long, normal life. But DCM with an unidentified cause will greatly cut the cat’s lifespan short.
#3: Restrictive Cardiomyopathy
The third type is restrictive cardiomyopathy or RCM. It combines the features of both HCM and DCM. Like HCM, RCM does not usually exhibit signs or symptoms in cats. There are also cases wherein the symptoms sporadically happen—so much so that you may not notice them at all.
But some of the signs of RCM include panting or open mouth breathing and intolerance to exercise—two symptoms that are also associated with HCM.
Like in cats with DCM, a cat with RCM may also have a poor appetite. He may also be lethargic. It is also possible for a feline with RCM to have an uncharacteristically big stomach.
Scientists still have not pinpointed the exact cause of RCM. However, there are some probable causes. One is the lack of taurine in cat diet. Felines with hyperthyroidism have also been found to be of higher risk. Cats with parasites like heartworms may also have a greater chance of getting RCM.
See Also: How to Tell If a Cat Has Worms
Prognosis for cats with RCM is bleak, to say the least. Cats diagnosed with this type of cardiomyopathy would likely die 1-2 years after diagnosis. It is very rare for a cat with RCM to live longer than three years.
Possible Complications of Cardiomyopathy
As mentioned earlier, cats are great at masking the signs of cardiomyopathy. They may appear healthy to us even though there’s something wrong with them.
Yet as their condition worsens, they will be at increased risks of the following cardiomyopathy complications:
Congestive heart failure: Since the heart is no longer efficient in pumping blood to the other body parts, congestive heart failure may occur. Weakness and breathlessness are the two most common signs of feline congestive heart failure.
Thromboembolic disease: This is one of the more devastating cardiomyopathy complications in cats. Cardiomyopathy can cause blood clot formation due to blood flow disturbances through the heart. Blood clots in cats could travel downstream and get stuck in the femoral arteries which cause blood flow to the hind limbs. When this occurs, lack of blood flow can cause cold limbs, unbearable pain, and even paralysis. Cats would be unable to use their back legs and will vocalize their agony.
Hypertension: This cardiomyopathy complication is quite common and can be very dangerous. It can adversely affect the cat’s eyesight, cardiac function, or kidney activity. The cat may suddenly get blind, lose weight, or suddenly lose appetite. He may also exhibit increased urination, experience difficulties in breathing, become disoriented, or suffer from seizures.
To keep cardiomyopathy from developing into these complications, it is important to pay close attention to any changes in your cat’s condition so you will be able to take him to the vet for an early diagnosis.
How is Cardiomyopathy Diagnosed?
Since cardiomyopathy can be asymptomatic at times, it can be difficult for cat owners to tell if their cat has this heart disease.
Your vet can help you determine by having your cat undergo various diagnostic tests such as:
Electrocardiogram: this traces heart activity and detects cardiac rhythm disturbances
X-rays: can show changes in the size and the shape of the cat’s heart. It can also detect fluid build-up in the heart
Ultrasound: this can enable the veterinarian to look into the structure of the heart, particularly its wall thickness. It can also help in assessing the contractility of the heart and show where a murmur is coming from. This is the only diagnostic test which can determine the type of heart disease that a cat is suffering from
How is Cardiomyopathy Treated?
The heart disease can be improved or even reversed in cases where an underlying cause is established.
And among the several underlying causes of cardiomyopathy, hyperthyroidism is considered the most treatable. There are a few ways to treat hyperthyroidism and consequently, cardiomyopathy. One is to destroy abnormal tissue through radioactive iodine therapy. It would take about a week of hospitalization.
Another way to treat hyperthyroidism-induced cardiomyopathy is surgery. The cat is often treated with anti-thyroid drugs a few weeks before the operation. After the surgery, the feline would be hospitalized for a night. But he would feel well upon returning home and should be eating normally after a day or so.
Treatment for cats with cardiomyopathy and heart failure is more complicated. Vets generally recommend drug treatments to improve the condition. These drugs include beta-blockers that can slow down the heart rate and lessen oxygen demand in that part of the body. It may also entail the use of angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors that can help manage heart failure.
Cats with this heart disease also need to maintain a low sodium diet as this can help in slowing down the progression of hypertension and congestive heart failure.
Cardiomyopathy is a serious health problem that can threaten your cat’s life. Our feline friends may be able to carry themselves well during the early stages of this heart disease. But if the condition worsens, they could be at risk of complications such as heart failure and hypertension.
What symptoms is your cat exhibiting? Have you taken him/her to the vet to get a professional diagnosis? Let us know in the comments section below! Also, check out our article on how to tell if a cat is in pain.