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Feline Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy

The Winn Feline Foundation Ricky Fund for Research

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Photon of Steve Dale and His Cat, Ricky

Steve Dale and His Cat, Ricky

Photo Credit: © Steve Dale

Steve Dale deeply loved his little Devon Rex cat Ricky. Because Steve is such a well-known pet authority, the world soon grew to love Ricky too. Ricky, known as the piano-playing virtuoso cat, was featured on Animal Planet, National Geographic Explorer, and countless other radio and television shows.

It was then inevitable that Ricky's fans mourned him along with Steve, when Ricky passed on at the age of four in June, 2002. Ricky was the victim of Feline Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy aka HCM, which was originally thought to be a disease of senior cats. Ricky had been diagnosed during a routine veterinary examination when he was only one year old, when his veterinarian detected a slight heart murmur, and referred him to a veterinary cardiologist. Although the disease was slowly progressing, Steve was comforted by the fact that Ricky didn't seem to know he was sick. Steve wrote that Ricky had even trained himself to jump on Steve's shoulder and "ask" for his heart medicine. Sadly, Ricky suffered a sudden heart attack on June 3, 2002, and was gone.

Ricky Fund Established

Being a "take-charge" kind of guy, while Steve mourned his little pal's loss, he wanted to do something to make Ricky's life even more meaningful than it already had been. Steve, along with the Winn Feline Foundation, established the Ricky Fund for research of HCM. In the subsequent years, a number of grants have been given from the Ricky Fund. To date, five different universities have been given grant awards to fund seven different research studies.
  • 2003 Grant Awards
    Anticoagulant effects of low molecular weight heparin in normal cats. $15,000. Amy J. Alwood, DVM and Lori S. Waddell, DVM, DACVECC; Veterinary Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania

    Effect of ramipril on cardiac mass and fibrosis in feline familial hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. $14,880 - MD Kittleson, DVM, PhD, DACVIM (Cardiology), KA MacDonald, DVM, DACVIM (Cardiology) and ER Wisner, DVM, DACVR; University of California (Davis), School of Veterinary Medicine

  • 2004 Grant Award
    A search for a genetic cause for feline hypertrophic cardiomyopathy Molecular evaluation of the feline myosin binding protein C gene in Maine Coon cats with familiar hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. $15,000 - Kathryn M. Meurs, DVM, PhD and Mark D. Kittleson, DVM, PhD; Ohio State University (Meurs) and University of California (Kittleson). (This study was also partially funded by stipulated donations.)
  • 2005 Grant Award
    A New Drug to Treat Heart Disease in Cats Effect of pirfenidone on myocardial fibrosis and diastolic function in feline familial hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. $14,996 - Mark Kittleson, DVM, PhD, DACVIM (Cardiology), Kristin MacDonald, DVM, DACVIM (Cardiology), University of California, Davis.
  • 2007 Grant Award
    Molecular evaluation of the feline myosin heavy chain gene in Ragdoll, Norwegian Forest and Sphynx cats with familial hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. $31,550 - Kathryn M. Meurs, DVM, PhD, DACVIM; Washington State University.
  • 2008 Grant Awards
    #08-015: Molecular evaluation of the feline myosin binding protein C gene in Siberian cats with familial hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. $12,988 - Kathryn M. Meurs, DVM, PhD, DACVIM; Washington State University; (This project is approved with funding from the Ricky Fund and pending funding from Siberian cat breeders.)

    #08-014: Molecular evaluation of the feline alpha tropomyosin gene in Norwegian Forest, Sphynx, Siberian, Ragdoll and Maine Coon cats with familial hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. $14,242 - Kathryn M. Meurs, DVM, PhD, DACVIM; Washington State University; (This project is approved pending funding from Norwegian Forest Cat, Sphynx, Siberian, Ragdoll, and Maine Coon breeders. This project is also supported by the Ricky Fund.)

  • 2009 Grant Award
    09-017: Feline hypertrophic cardiomyopathy: five year outcomes and risk assessment. $14,050 - Philip Fox, DVM, MS, DACVIM, DECVIM, DACVECC; The Animal Medical Center.

In the years since the establishment of Ricky's Fund, tens of thousands of dollars have been raised for HCM research through the efforts of the Winn Feline Foundation and Steve Dale.

With the donated money, researchers have learned the genetic defect for HCM that occurs in Ragdolls and Maine Coons. With a simple test breeders can determine if their breeding cats are carrying the defect, then make a decision. This genetic discovery has no doubt saved many many lives, and has improved the overall health of these breeds when breeders have tested.

Although these breakthroughs have resulted, more studies are still needed to help develop both new treatments, prevention, and hopefully, a significant decline of this disease, if not an actual cure.

Although some breeds seem more at risk for HCM, no cat is immune from it. HCM remains the single most common heart disease in cats, and as Ricky's case demonstrated, even very young cats can be at risk. Remember: sometimes the first symptom of HCM in cats is death by a sudden heart attack. You may help too, by donating to the Ricky Fund, and take your place alongside Steve Dale in helping to fight this deadly disease.
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