Heart Muscle Disease a likely Cause

Question:
My poor Abby who is still a youngin at 5 years old is having severe problems walking. She is an indoor only cat and has not sustained any trauma. Her problem has been going on for 2 months. She is unable to jump and her walking has gotten progressively worse as she drags her hind legs and frequently stumbles. She does not seem to be in any pain and her temperament, eating/drinking and toileting habits have not been altered. We have tried a pain killer and prednisone and her problems are getting worse. Bloodwork has nothing out of the ordinary.

Dr. Nichol:
This is distressing; it’s certainly not the quality of life you want for Abby. With no history of injury her difficulty walking suggests that a blood clot may have lodged in the arteries that supply her back legs. This is a common result of a heart muscle disease called cardiomyopathy. Any cat can be affected but the Maine coon and Ragdoll breeds are hard hit due to a mutation in their heart muscle cells.

According to veterinary cardiology specialist Dr. Mark Kittleson, “While the onset of these clinical signs often appears to be acute to the owner, usually the cat has had mild tachypnea (rapid breathing) for some time prior to … actual heart failure. Coughing can occur but is rare.”  Cats with a clot blocking blood flow to their rear legs usually have pain and paralysis. I have known cats like Abby with paralysis as their first sign.

Chest x-rays and electrocardiograms often miss the problem; an echocardiogram is crucial. Abby needs to be evaluated soon. Veterinary cardiologist Dr. Caryn Reynolds of the Veterinary Emergency and Specialty Center in Albuquerque is among the best I have known.

Feline cardiomyopathy is a terminal disease but there are helpful treatments that can buy a well-loved kitty more good time. While nothing can dissolve blood clots that have already formed Plavix is used to prevent new clots from occurring. Given several months some cats have actually broken clots them down on their own. Cardiac medications like atenolol plus a diuretic may be necessary. You need answers. Even with heart disease Abby could live years without complications.