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Dear Christopher Cat

My cat was at the vet's last week for his annual physical.  My vet said she heard a couple of "dropped" heartbeats.  She didn't hear any heart murmurs and couldn't find anything else wrong.  Is this something to worry about?

Christopher Responds

Your cat may have cardiomyopathy, a group of heart (cardio) muscle (myo) diseases (pathy). 

The most common is hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, in which the muscular wall of the heart becomes thickened.  It may get so thick internally that the chamber cannot hold enough blood to adequately nourish the body on each beat.  And a thickened heart muscle does not beat as forcefully.

Another type, dilated cardiomyopathy, is associated with thinning of the heart muscle wall.  It rarely occurs now that cat food is fortified with sufficient taurine (an amino acid) to meet cats' relatively high needs.  This is why my mom won't let me steal Daisy’s dog food.

Cardiomyopathy changes the shape and thickness of the heart walls as well as the conduction of electrical impulses through the heart.  These electrical impulses, measured on an electrocardiogram (EKG), signal the heart to beat. 

Dropped or skipped beats occur when the electrical signal is not conducted through the heart correctly.  They may result from cardiomyopathy, other kinds of heart problems, or even from disorders which originate outside the heart.

Ask your veterinarian for a referral to a veterinary cardiologist who can do an EKG and an  echocardiogram (to look inside the heart at the walls and valves) to diagnose the problem.  Only then can effective treatment be initiated.

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