Sunday, November 7, 2010

Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy in Cats

Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy is a heart disease that causes the heart walls to thicken, so that they can't work correctly. It strikes many people without warning, and it's also the most common heart disease in cats. In 2004, I learned about hypertrophic cardiomyopathy the hard way.

Quinn (August 2000 - January 2005)
My husband and I had spent the day working in our new house doing some renovations. When we got home, we found Quinn struggling to breathe. Trying to stay calm, we rushed Quinn to the emergency vet, and they managed to get him stabilized, although it took a while to get a correct diagnosis. Over the next several weeks, we took him in to our vet, as well as to at least two other animal hospitals for specialized testing our vet couldn't do. Quinn was on so many medications, we had to tape a chart to the wall to keep track of what he took and when. He didn't want to eat, so we bought baby food and begged him to "eat just a bite for mommy, baby, please."

At one of the other animal hospitals, he picked up a respiratory infection, which spread through our other cats before we realized he was infected. We added that antibiotic to the drug chart, and of course, we had to dose the others with that as well. Quinn's appetite got even worse. He began to run from us because he didn't want to take another pill.

It was heartbreaking for us. It hurt our bank account, too. In the middle of it all, we got hit by a major hurricane and basically evacuated into the new house.

A few months after his heart attack, Quinn's medications had been reduced significantly. He was finally starting to seem happy and healthy again. We thought we were on the home stretch to full recovery, when he had another heart attack. That time, we set him free. He was four years old.

Many people criticized the money, time and attention that we devoted to trying to get Quinn well again. They didn't understand that our cats are our children. We had to give him every opportunity to survive. Years before, I'd had a cat with an enlarged heart who exhibited the same symptoms. Allie was not diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy specifically, and I have no record of the central Florida vet who treated him. Allie not only survived, he thrived and lived to be 18 years old. I had no reason not to give Quinn the same chance to live a long life. The money we spent also gave us time to tell Quinn over and over again how much we loved him. Would we do it again? I don't know.

A few months after Quinn died, his littermate Remy was at the emergency vet for a urinary tract infection when he was diagnosed with a heart murmur. My husband, who was present when Quinn was put to sleep and witnessed the worst of his second heart attack, was ready to have him put to sleep to prevent him suffering. We waited, though, and took him to our regular vet for a second opinion. He listened and listened and listened to Remy's heart and finally found the murmur. He said it wasn't all that pronounced; he could only hear it if he held the stethoscope in just the right place. We had some other tests done, including a sonogram of his heart, and he now takes atenolol every day, but five years later, he's still doing fine.Hopefully, his heart will continue to stay strong.

You can learn more about feline hypertrophic cardiomyopathy from the Cat Fancier's Association. Certain breeds are more susceptible than others. If you find your cat gasping for breath, one possible cause could be HCM, and a rush visit to a veterinarian is in order. I hope it's something you'll never have to experience.