CHAMPAIGN — People aren't the only ones who end up at emergency rooms with congestive heart failure.
It can happen to cats too.
But when feline hearts are failing, it can be tough to diagnose them and get them treated fast because they're often too stressed to handle the diagnostic imaging they need, veterinary experts say.
So here's a chance for cat owners and cats with sick hearts to maybe do themselves and future cats some good.
The University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine is seeking cats with newly diagnosed congestive heart failure for a study to try a different kind of diagnostic imaging that involves minimal stress for the cat.
Rather than pile on more stress with X-rays and echocardiograms, which involve handling the cats, researchers will place the study cats in the VetMouseTrap, a plexiglass tube used for awake restraint, and diagnose them fast with a CT scan, said Dr. Mauria O'Brien, a vet med clinical emergency and critical care professor.
The VetMouseTrap is already used with computed tomography, or CT scans, to diagnose lung conditions, but CT scans aren't used in veterinary medicine to look at the heart, she said.
The diagnosis with the CT scan can be used to begin fast treatment, and when the cat is calmed down, X-rays and an echocardiogram will be done to make a comparison, O'Brien said.
Any animal can have congestive heart failure, but cats don't display the typical symptoms of the disease, such as coughing and fatigue, that dogs and humans do, O'Brien said.
"There is typically no warning signs to the owners," she said.
O'Brien said she doesn't know whether findings from the study stand to one day make CT diagnosis for heart failure common in veterinary emergency rooms, because it requires multi-slice CT scan equipment often not found outside academic settings. The UI has a 16-slice CT scanner, she said.
But still, O'Brien said, an increasing number of academic veterinary hospitals are updating their technology.
The VetMouseTrap was invented by Dr. Robert O'Brien, head of diagnostic imaging at UI vet med, and Mauria O'Brien's husband.
For this study, the UI needs 20 cats within a week of diagnosis or initial veterinary care.
O'Brien said some coagulation studies will also be done, since cats are more prone to clots than dogs, so researchers prefer cats in the study not be on coagulation medications.
The cats will remain in the care of vet med until they're ready to go home. All imaging will be done free to the cat owner, and other medical care will be at the owner's expense, Mauria O'Brien said.
To participate or for more information, veterinarians or cat owners can call vet med's emergency service at 333-5332, or diagnostic imaging service at 333-1800.