Cat Heart Disease

drawing of a heart
Cat Heart Disease - Human heart

Photo shows heart wall - Illustration by Patrick J. Lynch Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 License - I added the arrow and label to show the heart wall.

I have made several posts about the Bengal cat and HCM. HCM is a heart disease (there are others such as DCM) that affects Bengal cats and other cat breeds such as the Maine Coon. It seems odd to me that a cat breed can have a marked predisposition to such a devastating disease, a killer. This can only be due to cat breeders getting it wrong. If I'm wrong tell me, please - see Genetic Diseases in Purebred Cats.

Anyway, here's more about this important subject. I have used the human heart as the illustration is available and the cat's heart is very similar. HCM means Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy. In practical terms it means the thickening of the heart muscles. It is an inherited disease (a genetic disease) that affects many animals including humans, pigs, dogs.

Daniel an F3 Bengal cat
Daniel a healthy Bengal Cat
who lives with my neighbour in London, UK. Photo: Michael @ PoC

It seems that in Maine Coon cats the cause of cat heart disease (specifically HCM) could be a dominant gene. But the whole area of HCM is still being researched. We are still very much in the dark about it in relation to its cause in Bengal Cats for example. See also Maine Coon cat health.

Because the heart muscle thickens it is less elastic and the area of the ventricle (the chamber from where it is pumped) is smaller. This means less blood is pumped out of the heart (less efficient) and turbulence can be created. The valves can leak as a result too. This causes a heart murmur. Fluid can build up on the lungs.

Sometimes there are no apparent symptoms and your cat can die suddenly. It develops slowly and your cat can show no signs before 6 months of age. It can be years before a successful diagnosis can be made.

There is no cure, just treatment to ease the life of the cat. The test to diagnose the disease is an ultrasound test (echocardiographic test). See video below:



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23 comments:

  1. that's a great explanation of feline hcm. but i think you made a typo. almost no kittens show symptoms at 6 months of age. hcm does not usually show up until middle age. that's more like 6 years of age for cats. some cats don't get it until they're 10 years old. it really sucks because a good owner can take his cat to the vet every year just like they're supposed to, and the cat can always look normal and healthy. echocardiograms are not a part of routine veterinary examinations. so the cat looks normal, the owner thinks his cat is healthy, and then one day the cat is suddenly dead. hcm is horrible.

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    1. I know this is years later but HCM can be present at birth but not develop enough until a few months or years down the road. My cat presented with HCM at 8 months old. She's just five now, heart disease progressing and her condition is serious. But she's also stable and on about 7 meds.

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    2. Thank you Joanne for adding that bit of information. I wish you and your cat the best of luck for the future. I suppose, as the disease is inherited through one's genes you could say that it is present at birth but that it is yet to express itself in actual physical defects.

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  2. Thanks for the comment. Yes, I was unclear at the end. I agree with what you have said. I meant that HCM does not manifest itself before 6 months of age and even then as you state it may still not show.

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  3. Hi Anonymous 1,

    It is not always true that cats do not show symptoms till middle age. Kittens can have murmurs and die very young (probably being homozygous for the gene) and young cats do die at less than 4 years old, some as young as one.

    HCM is a very variable condition caused by many different gene mutations hence some types are late onset, while others show up very early.

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  4. Thank you for your helpful comment. It is appreciated.

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  5. i have this...
    its not plesent at all.
    no sports for me...
    there is a cur for humans however... a trans plant.

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    Replies
    1. Well, I am responding 5 1/2 years later but I would love to know what kind of discomfort you feel because that would give me an idea what a domestic cat feels. I hope that you do not mind me asking you.

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  6. Sadly our cat April (Bubba) got saddle thrombosis from this condition, and died 36 hours after being diagnosed. I wish we knew how horrible this disease is. If I knew then I would have demanded an EKG, and ultrasound. She was a special cat and is missed.

    Here is a tribute to her on MySpace

    http://profile.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=user.viewprofile&friendid=420336464

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  7. Hi,

    I would like to dedicate this page to Bubba. I can feel how much she is missed.

    Michael

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  8. Our bengal kitten is 6 months old. We took him to be neutered, given injections and microchipped but they couldn't operate because they found a heart murmur. He has showed no symptoms the vet told us about. Is it likely he has this?

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  9. Response to last comment: Keep an eye on it. Go back for further tests in due course, but a heart murmur as I understand it is a sign of HCM. Ask the vet for more details.

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  10. Our cat Rocky was part Bengal and he died from this. What to look for is heavy breathing for no reason and if they lay down with their chin and head flat on the floor. The only way to diagnose is with an echo. We were told that blood pressure, diuretic, and blood thinners can help extend the cats life if it is caught early.

    Knowing what I know now, I would do it all again. Rocky was a wonderful boy and Bengals are a fantastic breed.

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    Replies
    1. What I find sad is that the Bengal cat is very athletic and strong and a defective heart can take all that wonderful athleticism away from the cat.

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  11. I recently had an oriental mix that suddenly died one day after playing with a toy and walking three steps, it turned out that he had HCM and I don't know for sure if the oriental breed is prone to this or not and I am not sure what the other half breed of the cat was but I do know that he exhibited more of the characteristics of an oriental, elongated head, legs, torso those kinds of things, so orientals may be prone as well.

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  12. in response to my last comment, the cats as another anonymous commenter said do not have to be middle age as oliver my oriental mix was just 3 years old.

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  13. Our cat just died of VSD (heart murmur) with apparent complications that just didn't show up on his echocardiogram. We are devastated. He was only 19 mos. When I called the breeder (Summermist Bengals of CA) when it was first diagnosed she said flippantly, "All my cats have heart murmurs, it's nothing", and yelled at me for not feeding him raw food (we adopted him at a little over a year and didn't feed our other bengals raw, and they're thriving on the high-quality alternative they eat). How do you track down whether other cats in her line may be showing this horrible, fatal disease? If so she must change her breeding lines; no one should go through the agony of losing such a beloved pet.

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  14. I got a bengal kitten at 12 weeks and the vet said she had a heart murmur. They did say the best way to check if there was a more serious issue was to have an MRI. 3 years later, she woke me up coughing one night and in respiratory distress. I took her to emergency. She was diagnosed with HCM and I euthanzied her 1 1/2 months later when one morning she was in respiratory distress and having congenital heart failure.My vet told me I had the good sense decide to euthanize her so she wouldn't suffer and die alone while I was at work. She was on meds, but she'd often spit out the pills, so I accepted that it was about quality of life, rather than length. It's very sad that breeders keep breeding this type of cat and ignore this issue. I miss my beautiful cat, but I'm so glad I was the one to give her a good life, if too short.

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    Replies
    1. I have just read your comments a long time after you've made it and I'm very impressed by it. Great comment and it explains so much about this disease and life in general. It also provides a hint as to when to euthanise one's cat. It is very difficult to know when to euthanise one's cat. It is the hardest decision a cat caretaker makes.

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  15. My beautiful Bengal (and best friend) died suddenly of HCM. She was sitting beside me when I went for a short walk and came home to find her dead on the front step waiting for me. I really miss her, but I am grateful for the time she gave me. 10 years later, I have another loving Bengal, but I am concerned.

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  16. Response to last comment. I am shocked at how suddenly it happens. It must have been a shock to you too. I am sorry for your sudden loss.

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  17. The age in which the HCM can be very young. We adopted a cat that was clearly a Mainecoon. She is the Shay Baby. She was about 4 mos old when we got her. My wife woke one Sunday morning to find her lying on her side in distress. We rusher her to the animal ER. We where told that she had HCM. The doctor said this was the youngest cat they had seen this in. They said that she would be lucky to live the 2 years old. Well she is now 3 1/2 yrs old and as lively as ever. She gets her meds every day. She runs around the house and smacks Cali Cat everyday. The Vet is always amazed to see how well she is doing. I cherish every day with her. I give her some love every day as the last thing I do before I go to work, knowing that it maybe the last time I see her.

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  18. I just lost my Maine Coon (Ben) to HCM on 09Aug2011. He was 5 year old. Sunday he couldn't use his rear leg and was open mouth breathing. I rushed him to the Emergency Vet Clinic and I had to make the decision to euthanize him 36 hours later. I'm still devastated, he was such a sweet loving boy. Coming across this site has given me some comfort, knowing that I'm not alone in this type of situation. Best wishes to all of you who have lost your kitties to this disease.

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