Feline hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) kills thousands of cats annually, one of the most common causes of death in cats.
I know about this disease because our cat, Ricky, died from it in June, 2002. Simply put, HCM is a disease of the heart muscle.
If the disease is diagnosed, medication can slow its progression. However, ultimately, most cats either die suddenly from what amounts to massive heart failure, usually before their sixth birthday, or develop debilitating blood clots. These clots cause stroke-like effects.
“No question, the medications we have today are inadequate,” says Dr. Mark Kittleson, a cardiac veterinary specialist at the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of California ” Davis. “The problem is that money for research to treat or prevent the disease is so very hard to come by.”
That’s why the Winn Feline Foundation set up the Ricky Fund. The Winn Feline Foundation is a non-profit organization that funds health related studies into medical issues affecting cats. Since its inception – primarily due to the generous support from readers of this column, listeners of my radio shows, including “Animal Planet Radio,” the Devon Breed Club, and Friskies – we’ve raised well over $30,000 for the Ricky Fund.
Janet Wolfe, executive director of the Winn Feline Foundation says, “For animal health, this is a lot of money raised in a short period of time. Obviously, this serious heart problem in cats has touched the hearts of many cat owners, who sadly know about this disease first-hand. The Ricky Fund gives us the money to fund research we otherwise might not have been able to support.”
In all, the Winn Feline Foundation is currently funding $130,000 in medical research, $30,000 is from the Ricky Fund.
At UC Davis, Kittleson is experimenting with a new drug which has never been used for cats with HCM. Kittleson, who is bound by a confidentiality agreement, can’t reveal the name of the drug.
Naturally, if this drug turns out to help cats with HCM, it’ll be great news. Still, the UC Davis study ” which has only just started ” is already making news. The cats involved in the study all get an MRI before they begin, they get another while on the drug being investigated (or a placebo) during the course of the study, and a third MRI when they complete the study.
Kittleson says this is the first time in history MRI technology is being used to see hearts in cats. “This is an incredibly efficient way to view their hearts,” he says. “I can’t tell you what a difference it can make. There’s so much potential to learn from what we see because now we can see everything. This is very cutting edge.”
Kittleson adds, “Without money from the Ricky Fund, we never would have been able to use an MRI for this study. The impact (of using an MRI) for cats is potentially huge long-term.”
At the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine ” Philadelphia, Dr. Amy Alwood is also using money which was granted from the Ricky Fund. She’s researching a new type of heparin (clotting drug) to determine if it can prevent cats with HCM from throwing blood clots.
About half of all cats with HCM die suddenly, very much from the same sort of heart disease that kills athletes without warning. While seeing your cat drop dead is traumatic to owners, it’s a far better way to go for the cats compared to the other half of cats with HCM. These cats develop blood clots, which typically land in the back legs and create paralysis. As the cats are treated, they regain use of their limbs, but usually weeks or months later, yet another clot occurs, which is followed by yet another. Each event is progressively worse. Meanwhile, the heart continues to grow weaker, and either these cats die or are euthanized.
Since the drug Alwood is studying seems to work in dogs, some cardiac veterinarians have already tried it on cats with HCM with some success. However, these cardiac vets have pretty much guessed about dosage, which Alwood hopes to accurately calculate. That’s if indeed the drug does have the positive effect she’s hoping for. She also hopes to learn if the drug merely delays clotting events or actually prevents them.
Like Kittleson, she’ll be using new technology as well. The thromboelastography test (TEG) is used in people, and has also been used in dogs, to determine what the likelihood for forming a clot may be. This high-tech test then translates that measurement to a computer screen. “It’s great technology, but never before done in cats,” she says. If this new kind of heparin does turn out to prevent the onset of clots, Alwood’s hope is that the TEG test can first determine which cats are at risk.
“There’s no question, people should understand their money is making a difference, making it possible to better deal with this disease,” Alwood says. “In fact, your readers who care so much are inspiring to me as a researcher.”
Wolf says, “Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy causes so much heartbreak and pain, I’m hoping this research will have the kind of outcome that will make a difference.”
In the past, many grants from the Winn Feline Foundation have led to outcomes that make a difference.
If you want to see research on Feline Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy continue, write a check to the Ricky Fund. (Checks should be made payable to the Winn Feline Foundation. It’s important to note ‘The Ricky Fund’ on the memo line of your check.
Winn Feline Foundation, Inc.
c/o “The Ricky Fund”
1805 Atlantic Avenue
PO Box 1005
Manasquan, NJ 08736-0805
Or call; (732) 528-9797 or give directly at www.winnfelinehealth.org and click on ‘The Ricky Fund.’
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