Cures4Cats Day and Ricky the Piano Playing Cat


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Feline hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) is likely the number one cause of death in (indoor only) cats from around two-years to 8 to 10-years of age.

It’s so appropriate that the EveryCat Health Foundation’s Cures4Cats Day, October 17 will benefit and focus on HCM with several free webinars leading up to the event. I kick it off September 22 at noon CT, Ricky the Piano Playing Cat: His Big Heart Helping Other Cats.  Register HERE.

Veterinary technician nutritionist Kara Burns speaks on September 29, noon CT about the link between nutrition and feline heart disease. And another talk with a renowned veterinary cardiologist will be announced soon on the EveryCat Health Foundation Facebook page.

The EveryCat Health Foundation (previously known at Winn Feline Foundation) is raising money to fund studies about HCM through the Ricky Fund, which I founded over 20 years ago after my piano playing cat Ricky succumbed to the disease.

Ricky the Prodigy

Ricky not only changed my life but also reinvented the notion of what cats can be for millions.

Ricky, musical genius, became media moggy, appearing on various Animal Planet shows, National Geographic Explorer, CNBC, a Canadian TV show called The Pet Project, and many other programs, including about every local TV station in Chicago as well as appearances on WGN Radio.

That’s because Ricky played the piano. Yes, you read that right. You can even watch one of those TV appearances, from PBS, the show called Pets Part of the Family. Ricky loved to appear in public. He could also jump through hoops; jump over dogs on a down stay, offer a “high five;” sit when asked to; and come when called, among his various talents.

Ricky and I had an extraordinary bond. He’d enthusiastically join us outside on a leash and harness. He slept with my arm around him every night, greeted me at the door, and frequently spoke to me. He also seemed to read my mind.

Today, YouTube videos are filled with cats doing tricks. But back then people didn’t think cats could do such things.

The Murmur that Changed My Life: HCM

During one routine veterinary visit, the veterinarian heard a heart murmur, and the visit turned out not to be so routine after all. A veterinary cardiologist confirmed on an echocardiogram that Ricky had an enlarged thickened heart muscle, a condition known as HCM.

Cats with HCM may live out normal lifespans, even asymptomatic.

However, most cats with HCM ultimately develop signs that lead to death. One is called an aortic thromboembolism, or “saddle thrombus.” This is a serious condition, known also as ATE, which a thrombus (blood clot) affects the blood flow to the hind legs of the cat. It’s painful for the cat, but can be treated as an emergency. Cats do regain movement of their legs again. The problem is that typically once this occurs, it will reoccur. Not only does this cause the cat great pain, but repeated emergency visits get costly. Sometimes the events worsen with each occurrence. After several of these occurrences, the victim is usually euthanized.

Other cats with HCM go into heart failure. Drugs may diminish the signs for a time, but ultimately these cats are euthanized when their quality of life is diminished, and meds no longer help.

HCM is also the number one cause of sudden death in cats. Sometimes, the family has no idea the cat is even sick, as a diagnosis hasn’t occurred and one day the cat suddenly drops in front of the entire family. This is particularly traumatic for children to witness.

Ricky was diagnosed when he was about 2 ½ and dutifully accepted the medication, still he was only four-years old when he suddenly died in 2002.

I knew from reading the email and, and back then still ‘snail mail,’ that Ricky had touched thousands, changing their image of what cats’ potential could be. But to me, he was simply my best buddy.

Making a Difference

I thought, ‘This has to stop; we need to do something about HCM.’  So, in 2002, I launched the Ricky Fund with the nonprofit funder of cat health studies, the Winn Feline Foundation or now EveryCat Health Foundation. We’ve raised about $285,000, and absolutely have made a difference regarding understanding of HCM, also , a gene defect has been identified in Ragdoll and Maine Coon cats. However, there’s no cure or treatment in sight. At least not yet.

I will explain HCM 101, and reminisce about my heart, my cat Ricky – one of a kind, noon CT on September 22. This is a free event. Ricky the Piano Playing Cat: His Big Heart Helping Other Cats.  Register HERE.

The EveryCat Health Foundation series of talks is being sponsored in part by BI (Boehringer Ingelheim) and throughout with support from ANTECH Diagnostics.