"Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM) in Cats

"Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM) in Cats

Health & Safety

Dilated cardiomyopathy is a heart condition that affects some breeds more than others. It is a disorder that negatively impacts the ventricular muscle found in the heart which then means it cannot function as it should. Dilated cardiomyopathy or DCM sees the chambers in a cat's heart become enlarged and this in turn means it cannot pump blood around the body which if left untreated can lead to a fatal condition known as congestive heart failure.

The Causes

At one time, Dilated Cardiomyopathy was a common condition seen in cats and studies suggested that diet played a key role in why some cats developed the disorder more than others. It is thought that a diet lacking in the correct levels of an amino acid known as taurine could be the cause of why certain cats develop DCM and as such, commercial pet food manufacturers started adding more of the amino acid in their cat food with an end goal being to help resolve the problem. With this said, the actual causes of dilated cardiomyopathy and why some breeds seem to be more predisposed to developing the condition than others, remains a bit of a mystery and more research is needed to establish just why this is so although a genetic link is thought to one of the reasons.

Breeds Most at Risk

The breeds that appear to be more predisposed to developing dilated cardiomyopathy includes the following:

  • Burmese
  • Abyssinian
  • Siamese

Cats tend to show signs of there being something wrong with them when they are anything from two to twenty years old, but research has established that the average age of a cat that suffers from DCM is around ten.

Symptoms to Watch Out For

Cats that develop the condition typically show certain signs of there being something wrong with them. The symptoms to watch out for could include the following:

  • Depression
  • Lack of appetite
  • Weakness
  • Thromboembolism due to blocked blood vessels
  • Partial paralysis which is referred to a paraparesis

Diagnosing the Condition

A vet would need to have a cat's full medical history and ideally know their ancestry too which helps when confirming a diagnosis. The vet would thoroughly examine a cat suspected of suffering from DCM which would establish whether they are suffering from the following issues:

  • A low, normal or high heart rate
  • A slight heart murmur
  • A fast heart rhythm
  • Hypothermia
  • A weak impulse on the left side of the heart
  • Slight sounds in a cat's lungs

Other tests a vet would recommend carrying out on a cat suspected of suffering from DCM and which would help rule out any other underlying disorders could include the following:

  • A EKG - this would establish the electrical currents that occur in a cat's heart muscles and would help reveal any abnormalities which could affect its ability to pump correctly
  • X-rays of a cat's chest which would tell a vet if their heart is enlarged and to what extent. They would also confirm whether any fluids have built up in a cat's chest
  • An ultrasound would confirm whether a cat is suffering from DCM and would help establish the size of a cat's heart and its ability to contract. It may even reveal if the ventricular walls of the heart are too thin and whether the left part of the heart is enlarged or not

Treatment Options

When it comes to treating a cat that's suffering from DCM, it depends on the severity of their condition. Should it be severe, a cat would need to be hospitalised so they can be closely monitored and given the right kind of medication to stabilise them. One of the most important things is to keep a cat's kidneys functioning properly to avoid total renal failure which could prove fatal and which is one of the more serious complications associated with DCM. A vet would likely recommend treating a cat's low blood pressure and giving them blood thinning medication to prevent any clots from forming in the blood which could cause congestive heart failure. All too often when a cat suffers from dilated cardiomyopathy, they are quite severely anorexic too because they have not been eating correctly.

As such, a cat with the condition would need to be fed a bland diet that's low in sodium which would reduce the risk of any extra pressure being put on their already weakened heart. A vet would put together a special diet for a cat that's suffering from DCM and it's important to stick to it which is usually for the remainder of a cat's life.

Living with a Cat with DCM

Once a cat has been diagnosed and treated for dilated cardiomyopathy, it's essential they be monitored closely which means follow-up visits to the vet to make sure any treatment they are being given is working. A cat would need to be re-examined on a regular basis which is when a vet would typically carry out further tests so they can reassess a cat's condition and their treatment plan if necessary.


Sadly, the prognosis for most cats when they are diagnosed as suffering from dilated cardiomyopathy is quite poor and most succumb to the condition which is why vets try to make the time they have left as comfortable as possible rather than expect a cat to live a long and active life.

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