Supporting the Ricky Fund to Solve Heart Disease in Cats


Here’s a trivia question: What’s the number one cause of death in (indoor only) cats from around 2 years of age to 8 or 10 years of age? No one really knows for certain, as there is no CDC for pets, but very likely it’s a kind of heart disease called feline hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM). For sure, we do know that HCM is the number one cause of sudden death in cats.

We know HCM is common, and there is currently no successful treatment.

I had a cat who changed my life. His name was Ricky. He succumbed to HCM in 2002. Back in the day, Ricky was a sort of TV star, 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—a children’s piano. You can even watch one of those TV appearances, from PBS show called Pet 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.

Today, YouTube videos are filled with cats doing tricks, and Samantha Martin is touring the country with Acrocats (or at least she was before the pandemic). But back then, a cat going out into the world and doing “tricks” was considered an oddity to say the least.

Ricky and I had an extraordinary bond. 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.

The Murmur that Changed My Life: HCM

During one routine veterinary visit, the veterinarian heard a 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, and ultimately die of kidney disease or cancer.

However, most cats with HCM ultimately develop a signs that lead to death. One is 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, a condition that requires supportive care and medications. Cats can live with heart failure for a time, but ultimately their quality of life diminishes and they are also euthanized.

Other cats with HCM can suddenly die. No decision to make regarding euthanization, but that is heartbreaking to see happen (especially for children to witness). And that is what happened to Ricky. For several weeks, his health seemed to be waning, but then one day he just dropped. And that was it. He was just over 4-years old.

I knew from reading the email and, at that time ‘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.

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. We’ve raised over $200,000, but there’s no cure or treatment in sight. At least not yet. However, through Ricky Fund dollars raised, Winn has supported studies to better understand this disease in cats. Also, a gene defect has been identified in Ragdoll and Maine Coon cats, which breeders can inexpensively determine and then decide to breed or not.

Help me to continue to raise dollars to solve HCM

Winn Feline ATE Study

Aortic thromboembolism (ATE) is a life-threatening condition in cats in which a thrombus formed in the heart enters the aorta and blocks the blood flow to the hind limbs, leaving the cat often in pain and unable to walk. Currently, there is no definitive treatment for this condition, and many cats with this disease die or are euthanized due to a poor prognosis.

In people the “state of the art” treatment is catheter-directed thrombolysis (a catheter is introduced into the blocked artery and a medication that dissolves the thrombus is injected directly into the blockage). It has been shown that this treatment is more effective and has fewer side effects when compared other treatments.

The investigators have developed a novel approach and have begun targeted intra-arterial administration of tissue plasminogen activator (a blockage dissolving drug) as a treatment for cats with ATE, with encouraging results. They have treated six cats with ATE so far, with three of them surviving to discharge after regaining a femoral pulse and voluntary movement of their hind legs. This is in contrast to cases which are treated with traditional methods where the prognosis is poor and cats seldom survive to discharge.

Download the PDF summary of the grant progress report