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HCM Persian Cat Research Project

Project: Ronan's Big Heart

By Jeanne O'Donnell (Donegal Cattery)

When I accepted the challenge in 1996 to breed for a show quality lilac point Himalayan, little did I know the road blocks I would come across in my quest. Oh, I was educated about FIP (Feline Intestinal Peritonitis) and warned about Ringworm. If you breed long enough, bring in new breeding cats, or simply attend a cat show, you will eventually meet the task of addressing these issues in your cattery. But it all seemed worthwhile to achieve a goal that few had attempted, and even fewer attained.

It was common knowledge that cats that lived to a mature adult age would die from either kidney failure or cancer. We, as breeders, in our quest for producing healthy Persians, backed the research to find the genetic marker for the most common form of kidney disease, PKD (Polycystic Kidney Disease). We can now genetically test our breeding cats for this disease and eliminate it from occurring in offspring, so that's one less heartache.

I have been breeding now for seventeen years, and throughout those years I never heard a Persian cat breeder speak of heart disease. So I assumed that it was an uncommon disease for cats. Well, you know what they say about assuming. It wasn't that heart disease didn't exist in Persian cats. It was that no one was revealing its existence. It could have been ignorance, but not for the experienced breeder. No, it was the Ostrich Syndrome.

There was no way to predict which cat would inherit the gene for HCM (Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy). So no one talked about it. After all, HCM had the full attention of Maine Coon and Ragdoll breeders. It was "their" disease.

So how prevalent is HCM in Persians? There are various estimates of the current penetration of the disease in this breed. My veterinarian, who has dealt with many breeders over her thirty plus years of practice, says she is seeing HCM by cardiac ultrasound at a rate of about 40% in Persians cats. FORTY PER CENT of Persians, at least within the realm of her practice, are carrying the potential for having this disease; and they have a 50% rate of passing it as a breeding cat, even if they inherited the gene from only one parent. That sounds very similar to the characteristics of PKD, doesn't it?

So do we continue to ignore it and hope it will go away, or do we do something about it, like we did with PKD? In my opinion, there is only one answer to this question. The work has already begun. Four years ago I was referred by the CFA (Cat Fanciers' Association) to a researcher who was looking for this genetic marker in Persian cats. I began submitting DNA & pedigrees on all of my cats and kittens and asked many of my former clients to contribute as well. I put together test kits and sent them to my clients.

Researchers had discovered the genetic marker for HCM in Main Coons, so my hope was high. I even submitted an article to the Atlantic Himalayan Club, which they published in Cat Tracks, hoping that at least the Himalayan breeders would get involved. But I received no response.

The researcher was excited with my willingness to participate. And at roughly three years into our coalition, I finally had a diseased heart tissue to submit, a key to help in unlocking the genetic code. Ronan, my loving seal point Himalayan, who made it to thirteen years of age with his big heart, finally succumbed to multi-organ failure and donated his heart to this study. Sadly, it was at that point that I learned the study had stalled. There wasn't sufficient help or funds to actively pursue it. What is even more disheartening is that the researcher is the one who now does the genetic testing for the CFA, and even the CFA is powerless to help.

My only hope was pleading with the Winn Feline Foundation after seeing grant after grant awarded for more PKD research, or even worse, HCM grants for other much smaller breeds. How could this happen? The Persian breed is the most popular of all purebred cats, so that means a greater number of "heart sick" cats being bred. And that grieves my heart deeply. It's hard to imagine holding a two and a half year old female cat in your arms gasping for air until she dies from congestive heart failure. That was how I lost my beautiful tortie point, Foxy, the Himalayan who loved to shake the branches of my wintered-over hibiscus just to watch the leaves fall.

So here is my new challenge: TO CHALLENGE YOU. It is long overdue for Persian breeders to pull their heads out of the sand and step up to the plate, the contribution plate that is. Client contributions will be greatly appreciated as well. I have made arrangements with Maureen Walsh of the Winn Feline Foundation to set aside an account within a fund that is designated strictly for HCM research. It is called the Ricky Fund.

I am asking, NO I AM PLEADING with all Persian breeders and our clients to make an anonymous contribution to this fund. You will need to state that it is for the Persian HCM research on the donation form, hand written under the Ricky Fund option. The researcher, Dr. Gus Cothran, will submit a grant proposal to re-initiate this study. But he will only receive a grant if there is sufficient funding allocated in the Ricky Fund to do the work.

The Norwegian Forest Cat breeders recently banded together for their breed's HCM research and raised $23,577 allocated as a Winn Feline Foundation grant. With the large Persian base that we have in breeders and clients, we can easily exceed that. If you want to continue to breed and/or own Persian cats, it is your obligation to get involved.

So make the donation. And if you want to begin submitting DNA for this study, please call me and I will give you Dr. Cothran's contact information. But we first need to raise adequate funding. This will likely be the most important endeavor you can make to the future of the Persian breed. It is far more important than producing that "perfect cat." So Persian breeders & pet buyers: it's time to do something really great for the breed.

If you wish to talk with me about this disease, I can be reached at 910-270-4787. I can call anywhere in the USA and Canada for free, so just leave me your name and phone number and the best time to call on my answering machine. Thanks for your support.

Jeanne O'Donnell (Donegal Cattery)

Cardiomyopathy is a term that means disease of the heart muscle. The most common heart disease found in all types of cats is hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM). Many cats live normal lives with HCM, but others will suffer devastating consequences, even death. Support research on this important disease by donating to the Ricky Fund allocated through the Winn Feline Foundation.

You can help the future of the beautiful Persian Breed
. All donations can be made directly to Persian HCM Research Fund.

Click Here to Donate (Persian HCM Fund)

1) Click the "Stipulated Funds" tab
2) Scroll down to "Persian HCM Research Fund" and click "Give Now"
3) Click the dropbox and choose option, "I would like to choose a specific purpose for this donation."
4) Specific Purpose: "Persian HCM Fund", and donation amount

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