Q: We lost our dear Gimli to HCM (feline hypertrophic cardiomyopathy) in February. He was only 7 years old. We miss him so much. We've Googled HCM research and think it's wonderful that research is being done on how to prevent or treat this disease. Can you tell us more about HCM? -- V.A., Oslo, Norway
A: I'm very sorry for your loss. You're not alone; feline Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy (HCM) is perhaps the most common cause of death in cats from about age 2 or 3 to 9 or 10 years (when kidney disease and cancers become more prevalent).
HCM is also the most common cause of sudden death in cats; often, owners don't even suspect their cat has heart disease. Some cats with HCM suffer repeated painful stroke-like events, causing temporarily paralysis. These events may occur with increasing frequency. Owners understandably start running out of money for treatment, which may become more challenging over time.
When diagnosed (often by veterinarians hearing a heart murmur, confirmed with an echocardiogram by a veterinary cardiologist), medication may help slow the progression of HCM, but most experts agree that, in truth, there is no treatment.
When my cat Ricky succumbed to HCM in 2002, I launched the Ricky Fund at the Winn Feline Foundation a non-profit funder of cat health studies. Ricky was a celebrity cat. This exceedingly social little guy performed "concerts" on a children's piano. He could also jump through a hoop, jump over dogs or children, and various other fun behaviors. He craved attention.
Shortly after he was diagnosed, Ricky "retired" as a performer. He died at age 8. Put simply, Ricky was my best friend.
HCM affects too many cats and too many families, so I decided to focus attention on this horrible disease. Through the dollars raised so far, researchers have found a genetic defect which occurs in Ragdolls and Maine Coon cats. With a simple cheek swab, breeders can determine if the defect likely exists in individual cats, and consider whether or not to use those cats in breeding programs. It's a start, but we need to do more.
The 34th annual Winn Feline Foundation Symposium June 28 will focus on HCM. The program features veterinary cardiologist Dr. John Rush, of Tufts University, North Grafton, MA, and Leslie Lyons, of the University of California-Davis. New information and research will be presented on diagnostic testing, dietary implications, and new drugs for treatment of HCM in cats. Lyons will speak about genetic sequencing.
The symposium (which is open to veterinary professionals as well as the general public) begins at 4 p.m. at the Boston Marriott Quincy, in Quincy, MA. Registration is $25. Proceeds benefit the Winn Feline Foundation Ricky Fund. Register online. I will attend, reminisce about Ricky and introduce the speakers. Learn more at: http://www.winnfelinehealth.org/Pages/WinnSymposium.html.
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