The Feline Cardiomyopathies: 1. General concepts

Mark D. Kittleson, Etienne Côté

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Practical relevance: The feline cardiomyopathies are the most prevalent type of heart disease in adult domestic cats. Several forms have been identified (see Parts 2 and 3), with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) being the most common. Clinically the cardiomyopathies are often indistinguishable. Cats with subclinical cardiomyopathy may or may not have characteristic physical examination findings (eg, heart murmur, gallop sound), or radiographic cardiomegaly. Cats with severe disease may develop signs of heart failure (eg, dyspnea, tachypnea) or systemic arterial thromboembolism (ATE; eg, pain and paralysis). Sudden death is possible. Treatment usually does not alter the progression from subclinical to clinical disease and often the treatment approach, once clinical signs are apparent, is the same regardless of the type of cardiomyopathy. However, differentiating cardiomyopathy from normal variation may be important prognostically. Patient group: Domestic cats of any age from 3 months upward, of either sex and of any breed, can be affected. Mixed-breed cats are most commonly affected but certain breeds are disproportionately prone to developing HCM. Diagnostics: Subclinical feline cardiomyopathies may be suspected based on physical examination findings, thoracic radiographs and cardiac biomarker results but often the disease is clinically silent. The definitive clinical confirmatory test is echocardiography. Left heart failure (pulmonary edema and/or pleural effusion) is most commonly diagnosed radiographically, but point-of-care ultrasound and amino terminal pro-B-type natriuretic peptide (NT-proBNP) biomarker testing can also be useful, especially when the stress of taking radiographs is best avoided. Key findings: Knowledge of pathophysiological mechanisms helps the practitioner identify the feline cardiomyopathies and understand how these diseases progress and how they manifest clinically (heart failure, ATE). Existing diagnostic tests have strengths and limitations, and being aware of these can help a practitioner deliver optimal recommendations regarding referral. Conclusions: Several types of feline cardiomyopathies exist in both subclinical (mild to severe disease) and clinical (severe disease) phases. Heart failure and ATE are the most common clinical manifestations of severe cardiomyopathy and are therapeutic targets regardless of the type of cardiomyopathy. The long-term prognosis is often guarded or poor once overt clinical manifestations are present. Areas of uncertainty: Some cats with presumed cardiomyopathy do not have echocardiographic features that fit the classic cardiomyopathies (cardiomyopathy – nonspecific phenotype). Although no definitive treatment is usually available, understanding how cardiomyopathies evolve remains worthy of investigation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1009-1027
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Feline Medicine and Surgery
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2021


  • arterial thromboembolism
  • Cardiomyopathies
  • echocardiography
  • heart failure
  • myocardial diseases

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Small Animals


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