Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:
Last week I was watching my parents’ house while they were out of town, and I noticed my cat, Charlie, was having trouble breathing. It was almost like he was gasping for air. The next day I realized he hadn’t been eating either so I took him straight to the vet. They informed me that he had fluid between his lungs and chest cavity called pleural effusion, and that he had an enlarged heart. After two days, they sent me home with heart medication and diuretics to get the fluid out of his body. It seemed like everything was back to normal: he was eating again, his breathing was good, and he was sleeping with me every night. But a couple of days after that, I woke up and found him under the table, breathing rapidly and unable to use one of his back legs. I rushed him to an emergency vet, where they put him in an oxygen tank and wanted to keep him overnight till I could bring him to my regular vet. But they seemed to care more about money more than about helping Charlie, so I took him home. The next day I took him to my vet, where they told me he had a blood clot in his leg and there was nothing they could do. My dad came back that day and he made the decision to put Charlie down.
I was devastated and I don’t understand where things went wrong. How could a healthy 6-year-old cat deteriorate that fast over the course of a week? And why did three completely unrelated things happen almost simultaneously? I feel like I did everything I could, but it seemed like everything was working against him.
Siouxsie: Oh, Jessica, we’re so sorry for your loss. We know how hard it is to lose a cat friend that young.
Thomas: My sweet Dahlia got really sick and died within about a week and a half … *sniffle* … and she didn’t even want to snuggle with me toward the end … *sniffle*
Bella: There, there, Thomas. Come here and let me snuggle you and lick your tears away.
Thomas: *sniffle* Thanks, Bella.
Siouxsie: Even I kind of liked the little monkey. At least she was nice to me and didn’t chase me around the house, unlike some kitties I could mention!
Thomas: Bella, that’s not nice, now stop it.
Siouxsie: Anyhow, Jessica, we think that the episodes that led to Charlie’s death are not as unrelated as they may seem.
Thomas: The three issues you mention are commonly related to a heart condition called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, or HCM.
Bella: In this disease, the walls of the heart muscle are abnormally thickened, and that reduces the efficiency of blood pumping.
Siouxsie: Because of the thick heart wall and defects in the valves that move blood between the chambers of the heart, usually a cat with HCM will have a heart murmur.
Thomas: Unfortunately, in some cats, HCM can reach a critical stage and result in congestive heart failure. A key sign of congestive heart failure is a buildup of fluids in the chest or the abdomen, such as the pleural effusion your vet found when you took Charlie to the vet.
Bella: Another thing that can happen in cats with HCM is that because the heart isn’t working properly, blood clots may form. When those clots break loose from the heart, they travel through the aorta (the main artery that delivers blood from the heart to the rest of the body) and get stuck when the arteries start getting smaller.
Siouxsie: Usually this happens where the aorta splits into two smaller arteries to deliver blood to the legs. In this case, it sounds like the blood clot got stuck in one of those leg arteries, which resulted in Charlie’s inability to use that rear leg.
Thomas: Why do some cats get cardiomyopathy and some don’t? Well, some of it has to do with genetics: Maine Coon and Ragdoll cats seem to be more prone to HCM. But any cat can get it and it’s most commonly diagnosed in male cats between ages 5 and 7.
Bella: The bottom line, Jessica, is that you did everything right. You took Charlie to the vet and got him treated, and you did your best to keep him healthy and comfortable. But sometimes there’s just nothing anybody can do in that situation other than giving him a humane release from his suffering.
Siouxsie: It’s so ridiculously unfair when a cat gets so sick at such a young age! We all felt the same way when Dahlia got sick and Mama had to ask the vet to release her from her suffering.
Thomas: Charlie knew you loved him and cared about him, and that’s really what mattered to him.
Bella: Please accept our deepest purrs of compassion and condolences, Jessica. We hope that maybe we’ve been able to alleviate your pain by explaining what might have happened.
Siouxsie: Have any of you other readers had a cat with heart disease? What tips do you have to offer to readers who may be dealing with this? Please share them in the comments.
Oh we know this all too well. Over the past 10 years, we have lost three kitties to HCM. None had a heart murmur and all died very unexpectedly. Sweet Tea literally died mid-step on her way to the food bowl. Pudding Head, our best hunter, was only 5 years old and the picture of health. She was waiting by the kitchen door to be let out and BOOM, she was dead. Our Maceo died earlier this year, he had the blood clots described. He had seen the vet several times mere weeks before he died for an URI and there was no indication of heart problems. It is really devastating to lose kitties so quickly when they seem perfectly healthy.
two weeks ago one of our cats died suddenly, without any warning signs, We are still awaiting the necropsy results but gather it may have been HCM. She (Claudia (AKA Clawdia) was only 3 years old. we have three other cats ages 8, 8 and 5 so it was devastating that the youngest and seemingly strongest died suddently. Can only say that enjoy each day you have with your pet (loved ones) as you never know when it will be the last…
My boy, Mister Meow, died just shy of his 10th birthday. Same thing. He was having some breathing issues that had started in February of 2013. My vet gave him some medicine and he got better. A while later, he started not jumping up on the counter anymore. So when he went in for a routine dental, my vet said she could x-ray his back to check for arthritis. What she got was a corner of a very unhealthy lung. She did another x-ray on his lungs and we decided to medicate him to see if we could help his lungs out. I also kept a breathing log for him. He seemed to be stable and his breathing was at a higher rate than my other cats, but he seemed to be doing good. I left him on a Friday morning in October for a weekend trip to see my cousin get married. We came back Monday evening and his breathing was really bad. I text a video of him to my vet and she had me bring him in first thing the next morning. He had congestive heart failure. They removed a lot of fluid from his lungs and we took him down to the University of Minnesota the next day. They did an echo on him and he had the same thing. His heart was bad, but they said we could make him comfortable with medications. For a month, he did very well on his medications we gave him twice a day. I got a phone call from my husband, just ten minutes before I was able to leave from work. He said Mister Meow was breathing really weird. He rushed him to the vet and I met them there. Mister Meow died on his way to the vet on November 14th, 2013. It broke my heart, and I still cry about him. We still have not recovered from the loss of Mister Meow.
My heart goes out to you. It is so hard to lose them so young. They take a piece of our heart with them when they go.
I’ve had 2 cats with heart problems. One had HCM and the other had congenital heart failure. The most important advice I would give is to take your cat to see a veterinary cardiologist. Some vets have ultrasound machines that can be used a diagnose but for the diagnosis to be accurate and to get the best treatment plan in place I strongly recommend a cardiologist. The link below can help you find a specialist in your area.
My baby with HCM was diagnosed when I wanted to have his teeth cleaned. My vet heard a murmur and recommended a cardiologist. The cardiologist placed him on a low dose aspirin, cardizem CD and atenolol regime. He lived 12 years with a normal life the entire time (other than the daily pilling). He died of something unrelated to his heart problem. FYI- there is a company called Capsuline.com. They sell gelatin capsules and I used their size 4 capsules to hide the pills in. They worked very well. They do sell a vegetarian one too.
My other baby was given a steroid pill and later and developed breathing problems. My vet at the time was not very good. I ending up taking him to the ER vet who diagnosed a heart problem. I took him to the University of Missouri Vet school where he was saved by Dr. Alan Spier who is now practicing in FL. He was diagnosed with congestive heart failure. The great news is he lived 6 more years to be just shy of 18 and had good quality of life until his last month. He had other diseases but with the help of great vets he had a long good life.
In summary I would say don’t ever ignore a breathing problem and get to a cardiologist. Early diagnosis is key to survival. Your vet should be listening to your cats heart at every annual or semi annual check up. They will be able to hear a murmur.
We lost our Russian Blue boy, Cinders, to HCM at just that age back in 1995. He went very suddenly and when the necropsy showed HCM, The veterinarian said his heart was “muscle-bound.” I could find little information then, but set out to learn as much as possible.
HCM is found in some Russian Blue lines although most of the studies concern Maine Coons and Ragdolls. Genetic testing is more likely to be done in Europe and genetic samples have been collected. Breeders screen their kitties very carefully.
So sorry to hear about Charlie..:-( Some purebred cats are prone to this condition, as was previously mentioned. I now have two Siberian cats and that breed can also carry the HCM gene. Since I used a reputable breeder, I shouldn’t have to worry about my two, as their gene lines would have been tested for the disorder.
It’s tough to lose a kitty, especially a younger one, so I hope that you are able to open your heart to another cat in need of a home. Sending healing purrs in your direction!
I have a seven year old cat who has a heart murmur. When I asked my vet what that means for her long term health, I got little more than a shrug. I pay a lot of attention to her in general and also specifically to her health but I wonder if there are specific things I should watch out for.
So very sorry for your loss. It’s always hard, but when your furry friend is so young, it’s even worse.
@Thomas Raven: With all due respect, it seems to me that if all you got from your current vet when you asked such a vital question was “little more than a shrug” you need to go shopping for a new one.
Thomas Raven, cats with heart murmurs have degrees of how bad they are. Just like cancer!
One of mine also has a murmur and my vet classified it as #1.
She told me it was barely audible when she listened with the stethoscope. And if it changed, she would urge me to get more tests.
And that is what your vet should do.
My daughter had an orange cat named Tigger who we referred to as looking like an Ocelot when he ran through the grass. At a few years old he started to slow down and began sleeping a lot. He ate well and was never sick otherwise but just wasn’t bery active like he’d been. One morning she woke up to find he had passed in his sleep. He had actuallty ate tuna the night before and seemed fine. We were stunned. To this day I think he had a problem with his heart and that’s why he slept a lot, etc. He lived to be 11 years old and never seemed to suffer.
Our cats are only 3 years old but I dread the time when they start suffering and finally “falling asleep for good” , what a sad thought :(
6 year old like your cat – welll that was also way too early!