If you own a Sphynx cat or any of the breeds developed from the Sphynx cat; Bambino, Elf, BamBob ect., you need to know all about these three letters…HCM. I will further reference only the Sphynx but know that this includes all cat breeds which have been developed from this breed because the genetic predisposition for the disease is carried on through the Sphynx genetics. HCM stands for the medical condition hypertrophic cardiomyopathy which is unfortunately a widely prevalent condition in the Sphynx cat. This condition is known to be hereditary in nature so it is critically important that you understand this disease and understand the ways you can reduce your risks of adopting/purchasing a Sphynx cat who will develop this disease.
I want to be sure that I keep this article as short as possible while still providing all relevant information a current, prospective, and future Sphynx owner needs to know and will simplify the medical jargon when possible to ensure that everyone is able to fully appreciate the information.
Let’s begin by first defining what is HCM? By definition: HCM is a condition that causes the muscular walls of a cat’s heart to thicken, decreasing the heart’s efficiency and sometimes creating symptoms in other parts of the body.
The first photo here depicts a healthy heart and the second is the diseased HCM heart, you can clearly see the increase in the structure of the heart wall which leads to disease.
What Causes HCM? Although the cause of HCM has not been clearly identified, the fact that the condition is more prevalent in certain breeds (including Maine Coon, Ragdoll, British Shorthair, Sphynx, Chartreux and Persian cats) and that mutations of several cardiac (heart) genes have been identified in some cats with this disease suggests that genetics plays a role.
What are the Symptoms of HCM? Many cats with HCM do not appear to be ill. Others may show signs of congestive heart failure, which including labored or rapid breathing, open-mouthed breathing, and lethargy. Another very serious and potentially life-threatening consequence of HCM is the formation of blood clots in the heart. These clots may travel through the bloodstream to obstruct flow in other parts of the body. The effect of the clot depends on its location, although in cats with HCM, clots most commonly result in blockage of blood flow to the hind limbs, causing acute hind limb pain or, in extreme cases, hind limbs will become pale and cold and experience paralysis.
HCM is diagnosed by echocardiography, a technology that uses sound waves to create an image of the heart, the same as if a person had a heart condition and needed diagnostics; this is essentially the same as an ultrasound just of the heart. In cats with HCM, these images reveal the thickened walls and constricted volume of the left ventricle of the heart. Sometimes other tests are recommended including chest radiographs, and electrocardiography (EKG), and blood pressure checks.
These heart scans, or HCM scans as you will often hear them called can be scheduled at any local veterinary specialist’s office. However, these scans can be very expensive upwards to $500 per scan. Due to the extent of the prevalence of these conditions in the hairless breeds, it is recommended that every cat is scanned at least by the age of 2 years old, and then at least every two years thereafter; with every year being most ideal. This “routine” HCM scanning is done to aid in early diagnosis of the condition should your cat develop the disease. This early diagnosis can lead to a much better prognosis for your cat should they have the condition as early treatments can really slow the progression of the disease.
If your cat does not have any symptoms of HCM or other heart disease however they can be eligible to participate in any number of HCM clinics which are operated throughout the US. These clinics take place at either veterinary colleges, or specialty veterinary clinics where prices of scans are greatly reduced due to the number of scheduled patients organize for one particular day; typically once per month. These reduced cost scans at an HCM clinic range anywhere from $100-$200 typically. To find more information on locating and available HCM clinic near you simply visit: http://www.hairlesshearts.org/
Treatment & Prevention
Although HCM has no known cure, a specialized care plan can help manage clinical signs of the condition in your cat. Treatment goals include controlling the heart rate, alleviating lung congestion (congestive heart failure), and preventing the formation of blood clots. Medication can help manage HCM, and can be administered orally to stable patients or by injection in more serious situations. Other drugs, such as nitroglycerine, may be applied to the cat’s skin for absorption. Many of these medications are also have very wide spectrums of safety, and have been used for decades in human medicine with great clinical results; also are very affordable.
There has also been clinical studies proving the beneficial effects of the supplement CoQ10 (also known as Ubiquinole), in human patients with heart disease and these benefits are passed along to our feline counterparts. This supplement works to improve heart function by increasing the amount of energy produced in the heart muscle which in turn helps improve the heart function. You can find this supplement specifically formulated for pets on the following website from a very well trusted company called Mercola. http://products.mercola.com/healthypets/ubiquinol-coq10/
Along with these treatments for your cat who has been diagnosed with HCM you should also consider looking at your cat’s current diet. The reason for this is that the heart requires a tremendous amount of energy for proper functioning, and especially in a diseased heart the energy demands are even greater to continue the best functioning possible. A poor quality diet will lack the proper nutrients to provide the necessary vitamins, minerals, and amino acids which are necessary for good heart function. A good quality diet for your cat will be ideally a raw food diet, second best is a canned food diet (no dry) containing at least 95% protein. It has been proven that low taurine levels in cats can in fact be a cause of heart disease as was discovered years ago in a large published study put on by the WINN Feline Foundation. In the study the cats were fed either a commercial dry food diet or a prepared raw food diet of rabbit. After a short period of time the cats on the raw food diet were earning greater marks in health in every category proving that the raw food diet was superior to dry food diets. However, unfortunately the study failed to recognize the fact that rabbit is naturally very low in taurine which is essential for cats and suddenly several cats in the study acquired heart disease and the study was terminated. If only they had added taurine into the diet all would have been fine. Read more of the study @ http://felineinstincts.com/taurine-deficiency-in-raw-rabbit/
If your cat has been diagnosed with HCM it is extremely important that they receive the proper amount of taurine. All commercially prepared diets which are approved to state the words “complete and balanced for all life stages,” will have proper amounts of taurine. Adult only formulas will have accepted levels of taurine as well however typically only meet the minimum requirements. It is important to be sure your cat is not receiving just minimum amounts but as much taurine as their body and heart needs to properly function along with other vital amino acids. It is neither safe nor recommended to add a taurine supplement to your cat’s diet as this can lead to toxicity. The safe and simple way to increase your cats levels of taurine and other heart healthy amino acids are through the additional of beef liver in their diet. This can be achieved by either feeding a raw or lightly cooked beef liver treat twice per week; or purchase freeze dried beef liver treats to give to your cat a couple times per week. Note that it MUST be beef liver not chicken liver as the two are vastly different and beef liver is the densest source of taurine available.
It is purely speculation at this point as I have no laboratory evidence; however it is my speculation that one of the major reasons why our beloved hairless breeds suffer more commonly from HCM than other breeds tend to due to an increased demand for taurine. Why would they need more taurine than other cat breeds? Simple, because of their lack of hair they are metabolically challenged; because their bodies must work harder constantly to help maintain their normal body temperature. This requires extra energy which must be provided by additional nutrients including crucial amino acids like taurine which are spent through the bodies’ cellular production of energy. Therefore our precious hairless breeds may in fact greatly reduce their risk of this dreaded incurable disease simply by the use of a high protein (should be 95% or greater) diet, and the addition of taurine through a whole food source like beef liver.
The prognosis (predicted outcome) for cats with HCM is variable. Cats that do not display any clinical signs are often able to survive for years with only mildly compromised heart function. The best chance of long term survival with a diagnosis of HCM is early detection. If detected early medication treatment, diet changes, and supplements can all be helpful in slowing the progression of the disease and prolonging your cat’s life. It is a very common question I receive is how long can someone expect their cat to live with a diagnosis of HCM? This is a hard answer as it is dependent on so many factors, it could be months, could be years. I like to lean towards the optimistic side and advise anyone with a recent HCM diagnosis that I have known of a cat with proper treatment and good diet to live 11 years with the diagnosis. This may be the rarity, but it is my feeling that the more positive you can stay about any situation the better chance you have of achieving the best outcome you possibly can.
Please note: This article has been provided for informational purposes only. If your pet is showing any signs of illness, please consult a veterinarian as quickly as possible. A raw food diet may not be appropriate for all cats in all stages of health and we always recommend having your cat examined and discussing diet changes with your veterinarian.
Keep those Hairless Kitties Healthy and Happy Everyone!!!
Text: Copyright © April Arguin RDH, Founder of LiLNudists Sphynx, Bambino, SphynxieBob & BamBob Cattery. All rights reserved.