Donate To HCM Research
To Find A Genetic Test For Persians

Donegal Cattery

Published July 2013

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In 1996, I first began to breed Himalayans under the Donegal cattery name. My goal was to produce show quality lilac points. Little did I know the road blocks I would come across in my quest.

Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy (HCM)

Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) is a genetic disease that involves a mutation in a cardiac gene (cardiac myosin binding protein C) that codes for structural proteins, which in turn has an effect on the muscular development of the heart. HCM is characterized by an inward thickening of the heart muscle, which makes the heart chamber smaller, thus reducing the volume of blood that the heart pumps with each contraction.  Large, middle-aged male cats seem to be more predisposed to HCM.

The genetic mutations for HCM have been identified in both the Maine Coon and Ragdoll breeds. Approximately one third of Maine Coons tested are positive for the mutation, with similar figures for Ragdolls, although the Ragdoll mutation is different than the one identified in Maine Coons.  Researchers are currently looking for similar mutations in both the Norwegian Forest Cat and Sphynx. 

HCM in Maine Coons

In 2007, researchers identified the genetic marker for HCM in Maine Coons and produced a simple cheek swab test to diagnose cats.

Ronan's Big Heart

Although I have been breeding for seventeen years, I never heard a Persian cat breeder speak of heart disease in their cats. Then, in 2008, my male Himalayan, Donegal’s Irish Crème, was diagnosed with congestive heart failure (CHF) just 12 days shy of his 7th birthday. It was devastating. Next, my two-and-a-half-year-old tortie point Himalayan, Foxy, died in my arms from the same illness. When a cat I had placed with a local friend was also diagnosed with HCM, I began to look for a common denominator. I didn't have to look far. I had a cardiac ultrasound performed on their sire, Ronan, and although he showed no symptoms of heart failure, he did indeed have HCM.

Unbeknownst to me, my foundation breeding male had been passing this disease on to his progeny for years.

CH InTheWind Peadar Ronan of Donegal (Ronan)

As I did more research on the subject of HCM, I quickly realized that while an ultrasound could diagnose the disease in its advanced stages, it often could not detect the problem earlier in the cat's life. A cat can have HCM but its heart might appear to be normal on ultrasound. In some cases, only as the cat ages will the ultrasound show the enlarging heart. By that time, the cat may have already produced kittens and passed on the genetic heart disease.

What we needed was a genetic test for HCM in Persians.

When I began to inquire why we didn't have a genetic test for HCM in Persians, I was referred to Gus Cothran, DVM at Texas A&M University's genetic research center. He was studying HCM in Persian cats. In lthe fall of 2008, Donegal Cattery began a collaboration with Dr. Cothran, providing DNA samples and pedigrees of Donegal cats (including breeding adults, kittens produced since 2008, and many cats that have been placed throughout the years with the cooperation of their owners) in the landmark study.

To unlock the genetic code of HCM in Persians, the geneticists needed a diseased heart from an affected cat.

Three years into our coalition, Ronan, my loving seal point Himalayan, who made it to thirteen years of age with his big heart, finally succumbed to multi-organ failure. I donated his heart to the study. It was at that point that I learned the study had stalled. They hadn't sufficient funds to continue the research.

Norwegian Forest Cat HCM Study

The Norwegian Forest Cat breeders banded together for their breed’s HCM research and raised $23,577 allocated as a Winn Feline Foundation grant. In March 2013, Winn funded a research grant to Dr Virginia Fuentes for her Norwegian Forest Cat HCM DNA study.

Visit Norwegian Forest Cat HCM DNA Research Project for more information.

You Can Help Identify the HCM Gene In Persians

As Persian breeders, we can not—we MUST not—ignore this problem. The research is waiting to happen. All it needs to move forward is money. So, I challenge every Persian breeder to step forward and donate to the research to find a genetic test for HCM in our beloved breed. How prevalent is HCM in Persians? There are various estimates of the current penetration of the disease in our breed, but some are as high as 40%. Let's get a genetic test and eliminate HCM in the same way we successfully battled PKD (polycystic kidney disease).

Send A Donation To The Persian HCM Fund

The WINN Feline Foundation has established up a separate fund to support research into HCM. It is appropriately called the Persian HCM Fund.

Here is the link to Winn Feline Foundation’s revised web site (2014) to learn about the Persian HCM Fund and make a donation.

To Donate by Mail:

Print the PDF donation form: On that form circle Persian HCM Fund. You can also choose “honor a special person or cat,” and the honoree (person) or owner of the honoree (cat) will be sent notification that a donation has been made in their honor.

To Donate Online: After the form downloads answer the following drop down menu:

  • How would you like your funds used? Select: I would like to choose a specific purpose or fund.
  • Specific purpose: Select: Persian HCM Fund
  • You can choose an honoree on this form by clicking on the following: Is this gift "In honor of..." (a living cat, with or without HCM) Click Honor. In the drop down menu for “Select an honor program” click on:
    Honor a special person or cat who brightens your day. Then fill in the information for the honoree as listed in #1 above. OR "In memory of..." (a cat who lost its life to HCM): Click Memorial. In the drop down menu for “Select a memorial program”. Remember a special person or cat with a loving memorial. Then fill in the information for the memorial recipient as above.

You will receive both an email and mailed receipt for your donation. Winn Feline Foundation is a 501(c)(3) organization, so your donations should be tax deductible.

If you have a Persian cat that has been diagnosed with HCM by ultrasound, please contact:

E. Gus Cothran, Ph.D., Director
Animal Genetics Lab.
Veterinary Integrative Biosciences
Texas A&M University
4458 TAMU
College Station, TX 77843-4458
(979) 845-0229

The Persian breed is the most popular of all pedigreed cats in CFA, so that means a greater number of “heart sick” cats are being produced. Helping to fund this research may be the most important contribution you can make to the future of the Persian breed. Let this be part of a reflection of your love for the Persian cat.

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