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Ask the Vet: Cat's Silent Heart Disease Causes Painful Hind Leg Paralysis

Dr. Lee Pickett on

Q: Latte, our 8-year-old indoor cat, suddenly started crying and pulling himself along on his front legs while dragging his back legs. We rushed him to his veterinarian who diagnosed a saddle thromboembolism and recommended euthanasia because Latte's prognosis was so dire.

We agreed, but because of Latte's stress and ours at the time, we don't remember everything the vet said about his condition. Please explain it.

A: I am so sorry to hear of your experience and extend my condolences.

A saddle thromboembolism is a clot that forms in the heart, travels through the large artery called the aorta, and lodges at the "saddle" where the aorta branches into the arteries that supply blood to the hind legs.

The clot blocks blood flow to the hind legs, causing severe pain, loss of hind leg function, cool hind paws with pale or bluish pads, and diminished or absent pulses in the hind legs.

Both hind legs are affected in 78% of cats, and one hind leg is involved in 21%.

 

In over 90% of cats with saddle thromboembolism, the cause is heart disease, usually a condition called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy that wasn't evident. The prevalence is higher in males. Saddle thromboembolism usually appears around 8 to 12 years of age.

Half the cats with thromboembolism also exhibit congestive heart failure, with excess fluid in the lungs and breathing difficulties, including rapid, open-mouth breathing.

The prognosis is grave: Only a small percentage of cats with saddle thromboembolism survive. Long-term complications are common, and thromboembolism recurs in half the survivors.

Q: Some of our neighbors allow their dogs to swim in our community swimming pool. Others of us without dogs don't like it. Please give us facts to help us keep the dogs out of the pool.

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