Enlarged heart, which leads to congestive heart failure, occurs when the muscles of the heart become weak. As a result, the left ventricle increases in size and becomes thick, which makes it difficult for the heart to pump blood. Due to this, the blood begins to collect in the left atrium leading to improper blood circulation in the cat's body. In the beginning, the heart will try to control this problem on its own, but there comes a point when it is not able to meet the requirement of pumping blood to the whole body, due to which the cat may suffer from heart failure. Other complications that can be caused due to the problem of enlarged heart include blood clotting within the blood vessels (thrombi) and sometimes, partial or complete paralysis (saddle thrombus) too.
- One of the main causes of an enlarged heart in cats includes the absence or deficiency of an essential amino acid known as taurine in the cat's body. This reason was most commonly seen in cats who were given generic cat foods. However, the cat foods that are found in the market these days contain high amount of taurine and hence, heart failure in cats due to taurine deficiency has gone down.
- Cats who suffer from the problem of hyperthyroidism are highly prone to developing an enlarged heart. When the cat's thyroid gland becomes over productive, its blood pressure increases, putting too much stress on the heart muscles, leading to their weakening and thickening. Heart enlargement due to hyperthyroidism is usually seen in cats which are put on a complete fish-based diet and also those which are fed commercialized canned food that contains high amounts of iodine.
- Apart from these causes, even genetics is one of the reasons for a cat to develop an enlarged heart. Cat breeds like Persians, American Shorthair, Maine Coon, etc. are at a high risk of inheriting this disease. Moreover, male cats have a higher chance of developing this disease than their female counterparts.
- Cats who have suffered from viral infections early in their life can develop this heart problem too. Other than this, the presence of some kind of tumor, heartbeat abnormalities, heartworms, etc. are also said to be factors that can lead to the development of heart enlargement in cats.
Most of the time, when cats are taken to the vet, they are in the final stages of this disease. The reason is that most cats do not show any overt symptoms of an enlarged heart initially. Due to this, there have been cases where the owners had to deal with the sudden death of their beloved cat without any apparent reason. However, there are certain symptoms that your cat may experience when it is suffering from the problem of an enlarged heart.
- Less activity or weakness
- Weight loss
- Loss of appetite
- Difficulty in breathing and gagging
- Coughing (not very common in cats)
Diagnosis and Treatment
If you find any of these symptoms in your pet cat, it is important to take it to the vet as soon as possible. If the vet finds heart murmur i.e., irregularity in the way the heart beats, he may conduct an ultrasound scan of the heart to know the exact cause. Other tests that will help in detecting the problem include ECG and X-ray.
The doctor will first try to find out if there is any underlying cause that triggered this problem. For instance, if the cat is having hyperthyroidism, tumor, etc. If such causes are found, suitable treatment will be administered. The most common drugs prescribed to treat this problem are diuretics and ACE inhibitors. As there is a risk of blood clotting due to heart enlargement, the doctor may even recommend a small dosage of aspirin for thinning blood. Though diet changes are not usually recommended, cats that are obese may be required to be put on a diet and will be required to avoid foods that contain high levels of sodium.
Though there are many ways in which an enlarged heart in felines can be treated, the life expectancy of the cat varies depending on its health condition. Cats that are diagnosed during the early stages of this disease will live a longer life with appropriate treatment.