Questions/Answers on Heart Disease in Cats


                Houston, TX. These questions were answered in conjunction with a Grant Funding and Board meeting of the Winn Feline Foundation (a non-profit supporting cat health research).

These reader questions happen to pertain to feline hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM), the most common heart disease in cats. For indoor cats from the age of about 3 to 10, HCM is perhaps the most common cause of death. Certainly, HCM is the most common cause of sudden death in cats.

                After my cat succumbed to HCM in 2002, I set up the Ricky with Winn Feline. Through the funds raised, much has been learned, including a test to determine if a genetic defect for HCM occurs in individual Maine Coon’s and Ragdoll’s.  Of course, breeders use this information to determine which cats should reproduce in their catteries. Still, much more must be accomplished to help all cats. Learn more at

                Ricky was a special cat to me…but one of countless thousands of very special who have died as a result of HCM. The reality is that money is need to further research.

                Q: Has anyone ever found a connection between a lack of purring and HCM? Princess Kitty had HCM and rarely purred. I now have another cat who used to purr, but has virtually stopped, and I’m thinking about having a cardio check. Can heart disease interfere with purring? K. P., Miami, FL

                A: Anytime you observe a change in your cat’s customary behavior, it’s a sign something might be wrong – particularly in an older cat. “There is no known correlation specifically between purring and heart disease,” says Dr. Brian Holub of Boston, MA. “When a cat no longer purrs as often, and there’s a physical explanation, it’s usually due to stomatitis (inflammation of gums).”

Certainly a cat who might not be feeling well may not purr as often. It’s actually more common for cats who are anxious and feeling sick to purr more and/or at a greater intensity. “Purring might be a sign of distress, anxiety or even pain,” Holub says.

                Q: I had a cat who died suddenly of cardiomyopathy a couple of years ago. Should I have picked up on symptoms that I missed? B.D., Bangor, ME.

                A: “Sudden death, without warning or symptoms people can easily pick up on is regrettably common for cats with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy,” says Dr. Brian Holub, who serves as a scientific advisor for the Winn Feline Foundation. “Sometimes there are symptoms you might notice. For example if a cat who was previously active and now isn’t jumping on tables or counters any longer, something might be wrong. If you hold your cat while your cat is at rest, and feel like the heart is racing that’s another sign. A heart beat at home with a cat resting should certainly be under 200 beats a minute.”

                Holub encourages twice-annual veterinary visits. “We learn what a good benchmark heart rate is for your cat. And we can listen for a heart murmur or gallop. Sometimes these changes occur pretty quickly, which is why twice a year is a good idea.”

                While any cat of any breed or mix is susceptible to HCM. The disease is runs in families, and appears more frequently in these breeds, American Shorthair, Bengal, Burmese, Devon Rex, Maine Coon, Persian and Ragdoll. 


                Q: Both Spot and George received ECG (electrocardiogram, a test that measures electrical activity of the heart). George appeared to be healthy at this time last year. If George appears healthy is he at risk of HCM later. D. R., Lewisville, TX

                A: “The ECG is a poor screening test for hypertrophic cardiomyopathy in cats,” says Dr. Brian Holub of Boston, MA. “Abnormalities are frequently missed.”

                Holub says the ‘gold standard’ to determine if a cat has HCM is an echocardiogram. Of course, not all cat owners should have their cats ‘echoed.’ Usually, a veterinary cardiologist is responsible for giving cats ‘echoes’ based on referrals from primary practicing veterinarians.The reality is that while the ‘echo’ is the most precise test for HCM it is also the most expensive. Sometimes a simple blood test is all that’s recommended (called NT Pro BNP) to determine if further testing using the ‘echo’ is suggested.

                Due to research funded by the Winn Feline Foundation’s Ricky Fund, for Maine Coon’s and Ragdoll’s a simple cheek swab can determine if the genetic defect responsible for HCM is likely present.

                By the way, HCM can remain hidden, and appear in many cats without warning. So just because a cat is clear in 2010 doesn’t necessarily mean a cat won’t be diagnosed next year or the year after. Also, if should be noted that while many cats with HCM do die of the disease, many do live out normal life spans. 

                                                                                    ©Steve Dale, Tribune Media Services