Friday, February 10, 2017

Breed-Specific Heart Issues in Cats

Breed-Specific Heart Issues in Cats

Our previous post on HCM mentioned several breeds of cats that are more susceptible to it. While any cat may develop heart disease with a poor diet or living conditions, certain breeds of cats seem to have a higher incidence of heart disease than cats in general. This post takes a closer look at these breeds and what types of heart problems they tend to develop.

Not all cats in any breed will develop heart disease, but in forms of heart disease with a genetic link, testing cats who will be bred is prudent. Reputable breeders will not breed a cat carrying a genetic marker for heart disease. As more testing reveals additional factors, it will be easier to determine which cats may pass along the genetic defect making their offspring more likely to have heart problems.

Heart Disease in Abyssinian Cats

Abys can inherit a condition that causes them to have insufficient levels of an enzyme that allows their red blood cells to metabolize sugar. This can cause them to be anemic. Symptoms of this include jaundice, low energy, pale gums, and a bit of a tubby tummy. Some Abys show no symptoms at all of it, however. There is a DNA test for the recessive gene that causes this condition.

While not a heart disease, per se, this condition does affect the circulatory system.

Heart Disease in American Shorthair Cats

Some studies have discovered genetic markers in American Shorthairs that can make certain cats more susceptible to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM).

Some American Shorthair cats can also suffer from hip dysplasia. If your cat has HCM as well, you will want to keep a close eye on it. One of the complications of HCM involves paralysis of the rear limbs from a clot blocking blood flow to that area. If your cat shows lameness and the rear limbs are cold to the touch, it may not be from the hip dysplasia.

Sometimes American Shorthairs are cross-bred with American Wirehair cats, which can transfer this HCM genetic defect to their offspring. If you have an American Wirehair and plan to breed the cat, it's a good idea to have the screening test for this genetic marker done prior to breeding.

Heart Disease in Bengal Cats

The most common health issues affecting Bengals are polycystic kidney disease and conditions such as FIP and trichimonas foetus infections. While none of these are heart diseases, cats with FIP can be more susceptible to heart disease.

Heart Disease in Bombay Cats

Bombays are another breed that can carry the genetic marker for increased risk of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM). Their short muzzles may give them breathing problems, which will be exacerbated if they also develop HCM.

Heart Disease in British Shorthair Cats

British Shorthairs can be prone to hemophilia, in which their blood does not clot well. There is a DNA test for this hemophilia B gene, so breeders should provide documentation of a clean bill of health for kittens from their cattery.

Unfortunately, British Shorthairs are another breed that can carry the genetic predisposition toward hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM). There is also a test for this genetic marker, but it is less reliable than the one for hemophilia.

Heart Disease in Burmese Cats

The hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) genetic marker can be found in some Burmese cats. More common health issues with them are deformities of the cranium, glaucoma, or an increased sensitivity to touch or pain. They also tend to get urinary tract stones.

Heart Disease in Colorpoint Shorthair Cats

These lithe and beautiful cats can carry the genetic defect that makes them more prone to dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM). In this rare heart condition, the walls of the left ventricle in the heart become thin and weak. It used to be more common in cats before the amino acid taurine was added to most commercial cat foods.

Heart Disease in Cornish Rex Cats

Cornish Rexes can carry the gene that makes them more prone to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM). Another condition they can get causes their kneecaps to slip out of place. If your Cornish Rex is walking poorly, it may be from this, or it could be a serious complication from HCM that causes lameness in the rear legs. If the latter is the case, your cat will likely be in great pain and will be completely unable to move the hind legs. This is a veterinary emergency, unlike the knee cap problem.

Heart Disease in Devon Rex Cats

Some Devon Rexes carry the genetic marker making them more susceptible to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM). Just as with their Cornish Rex cousins, they are also prone to a condition in which their kneecaps slip out of place and make it difficult to walk. Be alert to this so that you don't mistake a serious complication of HCM for the less-serious knee-cap issue.

Devon Rexes can also have a hereditary myopathy that causes their muscles to be weak, especially in the head and neck. This can affect their gait in the front limbs, but not so much the rear. If your Devon Rex shows sudden lameness in the rear legs, that can be a serious complication of HCM.

Heart Disease in Himalayan Cats

Himalayans are another breed that can show genetic markers making some cats more susceptible to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM), depending on their lineage. Breathing problems from their flatter faces can be worse if they develop HCM. This breed is also heat-sensitive, and needs to live in a cool climate or an air-conditioned house in summer.

Heart Disease in Maine Coon Cats

The Winn Feline Foundation funded a study that discovered a gene defect in Maine Coons that causes hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM). A cheek swab can detect whether your cat has the defect. Cats who have it should not be bred, to avoid passing along the defective gene to the next generation.

Maine Coons can also be prone to hip dysplasia and spinal muscular atrophy (SMA). If yours has either of these conditions, be aware of the differences between how they affect their gait and how a blood clot resulting from HCM can paralyze a cat's hindquarters. The latter is a life-threatening condition that requires an emergency vet visit. There is now also a DNA test to check for SMA.

Heart Disease in Norwegian Forest Cats

"Weegies," as they're often called, are another of the breeds that can carry the genetic disposition to increased risk of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM). They are also prone to hip dysplasia. Be alert to any acute lameness in your weegie's hindquarters, as it could be a serious and life-threatening complication of HCM rather than of the hip dysplasia.

Heart Disease in Ocicats

These beautifully spotted cats can also carry the gene making them more susceptible to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM). They can also become anemic due to another genetic issue that causes their red blood cells to become unable to metabolize sugar due to an enzyme deficiency. Vetstreet recommends that you have your Ocicat checked each year for heart murmurs.

Heart Disease in Oriental Cats

Both Oriental Shorthairs and Longhairs may suffer from dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM), a rare condition in which the heart's left ventricle cannot contract properly. Rather than the thickened chamber walls characteristic of HCM, in cats suffering from DCM the walls of the left ventricle become thin and flaccid. Many cats used to get this condition before the amino acid taurine was added to commercial cat foods.

Heart Disease in Persian Cats

Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) can also affect this breed. A genetic link is suspected, hence its tendency to strike cats within the same breed. Their flat faces can cause additional breathing problems if they do develop heart disease. They are also heat-sensitive and need to live in a cool climate or be kept in an air conditioned house in summer.

Heart Disease in Ragamuffin Cats

Ragamuffins are yet another breed that can carry the genetic defect making them more prone to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM).

Heart Disease in Ragdoll Cats

Almost a third of Ragdoll cats have a genetic mutation that makes them more susceptible to developing hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM). With proper veterinary care, cats who have this mutation can be identified prior to breeding so that they do not pass along the gene to the next generation. The mutation in this breed was discovered in a study funded by The Winn Feline Foundation.

Cats with this condition are also more prone to developing blood clots (thromboembolic disease) that can be quite painful and life-threatening when they block the cat's blood vessels and cause lameness in the rear legs. This is a complication of HCM. If your Ragdoll has this mutation, he will most likely develop it before reaching age 2. There is no cure for this condition, and most cats who develop it are euthanized.

Some Ragdolls show no symptoms of heart disease at all until they suffer sudden death from it.

Heart Disease in Scottish Fold Cats

Also known as a Highland Fold, this breed does not have a propensity toward heart disease, but when two cats with folded ears are bred together, the kittens can develop an abnormality in their skeletons that cause their legs to be stiff or crippled. Since no breed is completely immune from developing heart disease, be alert to any sudden rear-leg lameness in your cat, as this is a serious complication of HCM, and may not be to the cat's skeletal deformity.

Heart Disease in Selkirk Rex Cats

Because cats in this breed are sometimes crossed with Persians, Exotic Shorthairs or British Shorthairs, they can pick up those breeds' genetic disposition to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM). Since the breed is also prone to hip dysplasia, be alert to any sudden lameness in your cat's rear legs, as this may be a serious complication from HCM instead of related to the hip dysplasia.

Heart Disease in Siamese Cats

Heart disease is but one of many health issues to which Siamese cats are prone. The "classic" Siamese cat had a more apple-shaped head. But the trend in recent years has been to breed them to develop a more triangular, wedge-shaped head. This can cause the cats to have respiratory issues that will be worsened if the cat develops heart disease.

Heart Disease in Siberian Cats

Yet another breed that can carry the genetic predisposition to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) is the Siberian. This appears to be their only potential hereditary health issue. Since there is a test for it, you should purchase yours from a breeder who certifies that both parents have been tested and found to be free of the genetic marker for it.

Heart Disease in Sphynx Cats

Mitral valve dysplasia affects the valve in between the left atrium and left ventricle of the heart. This type of heart disease is incurable.

Some Sphynx cats also carry the genetic marker making them more susceptible to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM).

Heart Disease in Toyger Cats

People go nuts over this breed with a striped coat that looks like a mini-tiger! But be aware that they can be prone to heart murmurs. This could be related to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM).

Heart Disease in Turkish Angora Cats

Yet another breed that can carry the genetic defect making them more prone to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) is the Turkish Angora.

Heart Disease in Mixed Breed Cats

Yes, even your "mutt" of a mixed-breed cat may be prone to heart disease! Any cat with an orange (red) coat tends to have a higher than average propensity to develop it.

Other Risk Factors for Feline Heart Disease

Heart disease seems to strike male cats more so than females. Cats will usually show symptoms once they are over 6 years old, but may show them earlier. Kitties suffering from hyperthyroidism may be more prone to heart disease. 

If you feed your cat a diet without enough taurine, it can lead to heart disease. Taurine is added to most commercial cat foods.

Avoiding Heart Disease in Cats

Since research continues into the causes and possible treatments for feline heart disease, there isn't really any way to completely avoid it. But if you are determined to buy a purebred cat, you can minimize your chances for getting a cat more likely to develop heart disease by dealing with a reputable breeder.

Some breeders will claim that they have an "HCM-free" cattery. This is not a sign of a reputable breeder, since it is impossible to guarantee such a thing. If you are concerned about the possibility of heart disease in one of the above breeds, ask your breeder if both of your potential kitten's parents have been tested for it.

The following breeds are generally free of the genetic disposition toward heart disease...but be aware that any breed can have other health issues. If you are buying a purebred cat, do your research ahead of time, both on the breed itself and on the breeder from whom you're buying. Make sure you understand all the temperament, personality, and health issues that can affect your new kitten. These are the breeds less disposed to developing heart disease:

  • Aegean
  • American Bobtail
  • American Curl
  • Australian Mist
  • Balinese
  • Birman
  • Burmilla
  • Chantilly (Tiffany)
  • Chartreux
  • Cymric
  • Egyptian Mau
  • European Burmese
  • Exotic
  • Exotic Shorthair
  • Havana Brown
  • Japanese Bobtail
  • Javanese
  • Korat
  • LaPerm
  • Li Hua
  • Manx
  • Munchkin
  • Nebelung
  • Peterbald
  • Pixiebob
  • Russian Blue
  • Savannah
  • Scottish (Highland) Fold
  • Singapura
  • Somali
  • Tonkinese
  • Turkish Van

The bottom line: any cat can develop heart disease. Control the risk factors for it by preventing obesity in your cat, and protecting kitty from mosquito bites that can cause heartworms.

Sources: "Feline Heart Disease", Pet Health Network; "Heart Disease in Cats", The Cat Practice; "7 Cat Breeds That Visit the Vet More Frequently", I Heart Cats; "Diagnosis: Heart Disease", Cornell Feline Health Center; "Genetic Welfare Problems of Companion Animals: Ragdoll", Universities Federation for Animal Welfare; "Heart disease a bigger issue for cats than previously thought", Steve Dale, My Pet World, Chicago Tribune; "Cat Breeds", Vetstreet; "Cardiomyopathy", Cornell University College of Medicine; "Cat Breed Guide", Trupanion

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