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New Research Looks to Identify Risk Factors for Heart Failure in Cats

By Heidi Jeter

I will never forget the day nearly 11 years ago, when my 8-year-old, black and white cat Bailey ran into my office howling in pain and with what seemed like paralysis in one of her back legs. I had no idea what the problem was, but within minutes, she was gone and I was shell-shocked.

After I described the incident to my veterinarian, she hypothesized that Bailey had suffered a blood clot, most likely due to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM). The diagnosis made sense given that Bailey had a heart murmur, which can be the only clinical sign present until a cat goes into congestive heart failure or develops a large blood clot.

As I learned, HCM is quite literally one of the most heartbreaking diseases in cats. Not only is it the most common cause of cardiovascular disease in our feline friends, but it is often undiagnosed and can strike down cats in the prime of their lives.

HCM usually affects middle-age cats , although it can occur at any age. The early signs are very subtle: decreased appetite, weight loss, an increased respiratory rate or reduced activity levels. Often times an owner won’t notice any changes because a cat will naturally restrict its activities. The first and only sign may be sudden death caused by an associated blood clot.

Fortunately some cats survive a blood clot, and Morris Animal Foundation is funding research that is evaluating treatments that could help manage the condition and prevent future clotting episodes.

In addition, through a current study being funded by Morris Animal Foundation, researchers at the Animal Medical Center in New York are working with 30 cardiology specialists around the world to identify clinical risk factors for cats, like Bailey, who have asymptomatic HCM.

Lead researcher Dr. Philip R. Fox and his team have collected data from medical records of about 1,400 cats, both healthy and ones with HCM.

They hope to use this data to develop tests that could determine which feline patients with HCM are at risk for developing heart failure or blood clots. The identification of clinical risk factors in humans with HCM has significantly improved patient health and survival in recent years, so the researchers hope that doing the same for cats would likewise improve veterinarians’ ability to diagnose, monitor and treat cats with this disease.

So far, preliminary review of the data shows that asymptomatic cats with HCM have a substantial risk of developing congestive heart failure or blood clots within five years after diagnosis. Data is also providing insight into the incidence of other diseases in cats, including chronic renal failure and cancer. 

The team expects to collect and evaluate data from more than 1,500 patients by midsummer, and their final results are expected by year end.

Thanks to research like this, veterinarians will one day have the tools they need to more accurately diagnose the disease and help save cats’ lives though improved disease monitoring and preventive therapies.

Categories: Animal health, Cat diseases, Cat health
July 8, 2013