Maine Coon cat and Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy: What you can do to reduce the risks

Tragic maine coon deaths

Every pet parent hopes to shield their beloved Maine Coon cat from harm and injury. Unfortunately, sometimes the problems are hereditary and beyond the control of cat guardians to prevent.

It’s a well-established fact that owning a cat reduces the risk of heart failure in humans[1]. Ironically, a large percentage of Maine Coon cats tend to develop Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM), a disease where the muscle walls of the heart thicken and lead to complications that can be fatal for your pet[2].

While the disease is very common in cats, the Maine Coon breed is particularly prone to it. Because it’s a genetic mutation, there is no known preventive or cure. Pure-bred Maine Coons are very susceptible to this problem since they may be carrying two copies of the mutant genes. It’s a failure of the breeding program which doesn’t have sufficient checks and balances to ensure that only healthy cats are allowed to have litters. Some countries, like the UK, have government bureaus working exclusively with the Veterinary Cardiology Society to eliminate HCM in the Maine Coon breed.

 

Diagnosis

There are two types of tests that these groups focus on to pin point the cats carrying the defective genes. The signs aren’t usually visible to pet parents, and therefore genetic testing is recommended to find the Maine Coons most at risk. While this has helped the study of the disease, experts have found that HCM shows up in some cats who have tested negative for the mutated gene. To further screen potential carriers, ultrasonography is recommended by veterinarians for cats who are to be bred. This, along with annual examinations, helps Feline Advisory Bureau to prevent the breeding of cats who can pass the gene forward to another generation. With the current plan in effect, the UK government is optimistic about eventually eliminating HCM from the Maine Coon gene pool completely[3].

Recognizing that your Maine Coon suffers from HCM is crucial to the kind of care you can provide for him. In many instances, timely diagnosis can help avert a heart failure and give your cat a longer life span.

HCM causes the heart muscles to falter in their efficiency and cause “heart murmurs” which a vet can hear and detect. Regular veterinary visits will ensure that your vet has an opportunity to examine and keep a tab on the condition of your Maine Coon’s heart. HCM is a progressive disease. Since some of the heart muscles don’t work as well as they should, the rest have to overcompensate to keep the cardio-vascular system from collapsing[4]. Over time, this causes them to become enlarged (hypertrophy), which in turn further complicates the seamless working of the heart chambers.

In the early stages, you are unlikely to be able to detect any issues in your Maine Coon. Until the disease progresses far enough to cause heart failure, your cat will behave like any other normal, healthy feline.

If your veterinarian suspects that there might be a problem, he will suggest using diagnostic tools like the chest radiograph, electrocardiogram (ECG), and ultrasonography.

 

Living with the disease

The good news is that the disease can be both severe and mild. Most Maine Coon cats who are diagnosed with HCM may live out their entire lives without a heart failure. The disease progresses so slowly in these cats, that they display no health issues related to the condition.

Unfortunately, for those that do, HCM can cause terminal heart failure and pulmonary edema, which makes breathing a painful experience. There is also a fear of blood clots forming and blood vessels suffering blockages.

There are some symptoms to look out for if you suspect that your Maine Coon may have a heart problem. These become more crucial to note if your cat tests positive for HCM. A loss of appetite, weakness, lack of energy, uneven heartbeat, paralysis of the hind limb, and sudden collapses with cold extremities are all signs that your cat must be immediately taken to the vet.

Managing the disease is far from easy. The vet’s priority is to prevent a heart failure from occurring. For this they prescribe oral doses that have to be fed multiple times a day, which can be unpleasant for both the cat and the parent. For more serious cases, the vet will recommend that the cat be admitted to the hospital for intensive, round-the-clock care. If your Maine Coon’s condition leads to congestive heart failure, this is the best environment for him.

Ultimately, if the disease progresses to its natural end, the afflicted cat has to be put to sleep to relieve him of pain.

 

Prevention

While prevention of this hereditary disease is not yet possible, experts recommend that diagnosed cats should be started on a sodium-restricted diet to stabilize blood pressure[5]. They should be kept in a quiet, comfortable, and stress-free environment. While no medicine has consistently proven to help with this disease, veterinary experts have had considerable success managing and treating the symptoms[6].

Until a cure or preventive is devices, an HCM positive Maine Coon will need to be treated for every symptom as it crops up in their system. As this is a long term commitment, adopters of the breed should be made aware of the possibility for the disease rearing its head. Many pure-bred Maine Coons end up in shelters after their owners realize the painful and expensive process ahead of them. It’s an unkindness to the cats to allow them to be adopted by people who don’t have any realistic idea of how much long term, medical pet care can cost.

As the breeding regulations stand in US today, there is no way to keep breeders accountable about neglecting veterinary examinations before breeding their cats. In an effort to reduce cost, they avoid these expensive diagnostic tests, which are essential to keep the disease from being carried on to the next generation of Maine Coon kittens. Until the major regulatory bodies like the AKC join hands with the government and come down hard on breeders who act irresponsibly, a disease like HCM cannot be eradicated completely.

Reference List

[1]  Cat Owners Have Lower Heart Attack Risk, Study

[2] Heart Disease (Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy) in Cats

[3] Genetic Welfare Problems of Companion Animals

[4] Heart Disease in Cats

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