Steve_Dale_Ricky

Steve Dale is one of the most dedicated champions of cats, cat health and cat behavior you’ll ever encounter. He is one of the co-founders of the CATalyst Council, a member of the board of directors of the Winn Feline Foundation, the American Humane Association, and the Tree House Humane Society, a cat shelter in Chicago. This pet expert, writer, radio and tv personality and cat lover extraordinaire is passionate about cats’ health and happiness.

Steve’s passion for cat health extends into many areas, but one particularly close to his heart, no pun intended, is feline heart disease, specifically, feline hypertrophic cardiomyopathy or HCM. HCM is the most common form of heart disease in cats. It is also the number one killer of cats between the ages of 1 and 10, and, according to Steve, could well be the number one cause of death in cats overall.

At a recent symposium hosted by the Winn Feline Foundation, a leader in funding cat health research projects, Dr. Leslie Lyons of the University of California at Davis and Dr. John Rush of the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University presented the most recent information on this feline disease. I asked Steve to summarize what he learned.

“There’s good news and bad news,” said Steve. The good news is that there is now a genetic test available for Maine Coon and Ragdoll cats, two breeds that are genetically predisposed to HCM. A simple cheek swab can identify whether a cat has the genetic defect. Armed with this knowledge, responsible breeders could potentially be at the forefront of eventually eradicating the disease from these breeds. However, not all cats are Maine Coon or Ragdoll cats. Even though the disease is more prevalent in some breeds, it does affect all cats, and more research is needed to find out why that is the case.

Another piece of good news is a new blood test which can help detect HCM early. The Cardiopet ProBNP test can differentiate between something that looks like heart disease, such as upper respiratory illness or feline heartworm disease, and actual heart disease.

The bad news is that there’s still a long way to go. Even though a recent report issued by Banfield Hospitals on The State of Pet Health states that the incidence of HCM in cats has declined by 14% since 2007, Steve is not sure how significant this number is. The report tracks data received from more than 800 veterinary hospitals across the US, but veterinary visits for cats have declined over the  past few years, which may skew the data. Additionally, the report does not take outdoor cats into account.

Drug therapy for HCM, while available, is helpful in providing better quality of life, but it does not cure the disease, and that’s just not good enough for Steve. “I want something that makes these cats better.”

Why is Steve so passionate about finding a cure for HCM? It’s all due to a little Devon Rex named Ricky. Ricky was one of these special cats that leave huge paw prints on the hearts of their humans. “We had an amazing bond,” said Steve. “When people ask me about which of my pets was the most special pet, they always expect the answer to be something like ‘Lassie’. Well, if I fell in a well like Timmy, I bet Ricky would have rescued me.”

The special bond between Steve and Ricky began from the first day Steve laid eyes on Ricky. It only increased when Steve discovered that Ricky had amazing talents. When Ricky was about 6 months old, Steve’s dog Lucy participated in an animal assisted therapy program. Steve’s wife decided that they should do something else with Lucy to keep her from getting bored, and Steve said “let’s teach her how to play the piano!” He got a kid’s piano, and began clicker training Lucy to play. She did okay, but it was slow going. One day, Ricky walked into the room, took one look at the piano, and started to play. Steve laughed. “Why am I fooling around with this dog!”

cat_playing_piano

From that point on, Steve took Ricky for piano recitals to local pet stores. Ricky was featured on several national television programs and on virtually every local Chicago station. “Had YouTube been around back then, Ricky would have gone viral,” said Steve. In addition to being a virtuoso piano player, Ricky could also jump through hoola-hoops and leap across childen or dogs in a “down/stay” position.

When Ricky was one year old, he was diagnosed with HCM after he performed one of his concerts for the staff at his veterinary clinic. When Steve saw the look in the veterinarian’s eyes after she examined Ricky, he knew something was wrong even before she pronounced Ricky’s diagnosis. Ricky he was put on daily heart medication. He took his pills readily, and on days when Steve would forget to give him his pill, Ricky would remind Steve by jumping on his shoulder.

Ricky died suddenly at four years of age. “He was doing his favorite thing in the world when he died,” said Steve. “He was eating.” I could still hear the pain in Steve’s voice when he spoke about Ricky’s passing.

In 2002, the Winn Feline Foundation established The Ricky Fund for HCM Research in Ricky’s memory. The fund has raised more than $100,000 to date. Even though the fund has held up well during this economic downturn, it is close to being depleted, and more funding is desperately needed to continue funding research that will save cats’ lives. Sadly, the reality is that for every dollar spent on cat health research, 10-15 dollars are being spent on dog health research.

Even though Steve will always miss Ricky, knowing that his legacy lives on by funding research to help other cats with this devsastating disease eases Steve’s pain a little. “I would like to see heart disease in cats solved in my lifetime,” said Steve. He thinks this dream is achievable. “It will take brilliant researchers, a little bit of good luck, and money.”

There are two ways you can help Steve fight HCM. Make a donation to The Ricky Fund (specify in your donation that that’s where you’d like the money to go), and help spread the word about the fund and the need for additional funding and research to make HCM a thing of the past.

37 Comments on Renowned pet journalist’s special cat inspired fund to find solution to feline heart disease

  1. Why doesn’t anyone research herbs & other “natural” remedies? My kitty Sparky was diagnosed with HCM a few weeks ago. He’s lost a lot of weight & doesn’t want to eat.The cardio.doctor said it’s probably from the Lasix. Lasix can also destroy his kidneys.

    The echocardiogram indicates he might form blood clots. I read that Lumbrokinase is natural, no side effects, & can help with blood clots. Has anyone used this on their cat?

    Maybe it’s time to look at alternative ways to help our pets not just with medicines that have terrible side effects?

    • I’m sorry about Sparky’s diagnosis, Nancy. I’ve not heard of Lumbrokinase, but would also be interested to hear from anyone who has had experience with it. I, too, wish there was more of a focus on research into natural remedies, but unfortunately, the issue with all research is funding. There’s ver little funding for research into conventional treatment for cats, and even less, if any, for more natural therapies.

    • There is a wonderful website called earthclinic.com. It’s great for pets and humans and all kinds of things it’s home remedies and it’s crowd sourcing. You can read about what people did to help their cats’ problems and exactly their outcomes. I love it for everything. It’s my go-to website in the moment, when anything happens. Good luck. I just lost my cat to heart disease this week and I miss him so. It was a painful death and he died at home. First cat I lost that visibly suffered in the end.

      • I’m so sorry about your kitty, Beverly. I would like to add a word of caution about using sites like Earthclinic.com: always consider the source where the information comes from. It appears as though that site simply aggregates content from other sites. Your best bet is to run any home remedies by a vet who is holistically oriented. Some seemingly innocuous home remedies can interact with medications or may not be appropriate for cats.

  2. Sorry, I tried but can’t figure out how to post a picture on facebook. I have a f/b account and they are my profile picture. Not sure how to link you to it though.

  3. My ragdoll kitty at 9 months old died last week. My husband came home and she was lying there, dead. She had fluids surrounding her and the vets we have talked to all say it was HCM. We have her sister and we are getting a cardiogram Thursday to see if she is OK. Coco showed no symptoms, ate that morning and played with Lulu and didn’t have any trouble breathing. The breeder says her parents were tested and they were negative. Doesn’t give the test much validity if she really tested them and they were negative. She said it was the first kitty she had that died and she was crying when we talked (the night it happened). The first weekend I just wanted to die also. But Lulu needs me. Very heartbreaking disease.

    • I am so sorry for your loss. Glad to hear Lulu will be tested. Just know if she has HCM, with the right medications she can have a very full long life. HCM is a horrible disease and so many die never showing any symptoms. I would ask the breeder for copies of those tests done on the parents. Hate to say it but not all breeders do the right thing. It is important they trace it and do something about it before bringing more kitties into this world with HCM. Please do post back about Lulu… I will say a prayer.

      • Thank you, I appreciate the prayers and thoughtfulness of people. My friends and family cannot believe this happened. I had never had cats before and decided to get two, sisters, to celebrate 3 very hard years for me. I was 41 and had unexpected heart leakage and a valve replaced. Open heart surgery was actually much easier than I had expected! So much. One month later I had a major, major stroke. I had a 90% chance of dying for the first three days. Doctors didn’t know then whether I would ever speak again or move my right side. That began 3 years of therapy, doctors appt’s, non stop working to be able to speak again and to move my right side. It was long, harder than I can ever explain, excruciating work. For the first 2 years I wanted to end my life but couldn’t because of my wonderful hubbie and my mom, who drove me to every appt I had. I had tons of friends and coworkers supporting me. I am finally doing much better than all my doctors thought I would. So to start out my new life I got two beautiful kitties. They were such joy and so loving. Now this. No one can believe it. It seems so. . .unfair. Thank you for your warm wishes. I will update you.

          • Lisa, I’m so sorry to hear about everything you went through. And now Coco. It’s just devastating.

            I can’t open the link you posted. Feel free to post the photo on our Facebook page!

        • Hugs to you. I understand totally what you are talking about. Just shy of three years ago I was in a roll over car accident caused by damage to the wheel assembly on the passenger side that occurred a month earlier when I witnessed a fatal motorcycle accident and had to slam on my breaks AND use the rumble strip on the edge of the road to keep from being part of the accident (there was a full size van in the high speed lane, a big oldsmobile in the middle lane, and me in the slower lane, the motorcyclist literally flew up along bettween the van and oldsmobile and then cut off the oldsmobile to try to pull back into the middle lane. the oldsmobile had NO chance to stop). Anyways, there was no warning that my car was damaged and I suddenly felt the car losing ability to steer/control car right as I was cominig up on an area where there was a massive stone wall on my side of the road and an older woman out in her yard on the other side of the road…. I remember the split second decision of having to decide whether to try to stay on the road and get car to a stop… greatly risking hitting the woman which would have killed her, or trying to pull off the road knowing it was very likely that my car would collide with the stone wall. I chose the stone wall (figured it was my car, my fault, was not going to risk someone else’s life to save myself). the stone wall caught about 3 feet of the passenger side (totally oblliterating that side of the engine to the point that there were not even pieces of it, and the inertia of sudden stop on the passenger side and my side still trying to move forward made my car swing sideways, tires caught the pavement and I went airborn and the car rolled 2 3/4 times then came to rest on what was left of the roof. I had massive injuries from it requiring huge amounts of therapy, and have been having seizures at least three days a week, multiple times a day, and at times daily, that they can’t control. my Sallycat (black and white Tuxedo cat with near 100% symmetrical markings) has been my salvation. And she has shown the ability to be able to tell when a particularly bad seeizure was coming on so that I could get myself to a spot where I wouldn’t be injured. I am confined to a wheelchair most of the time with very limited ability to get up. It is heartbreaking enough what you went through, I am SO sorry that you had that kind of loss. Believe it or not, mixed breed cats tend to have much less health issues (because of the lack of in-breeding that happens with pure-breds). You might want to consider adopting a kitty from a shelter. I know it won’t take the hurt away, but it can help bring you new reasons for joy.

          • Hi Amy,

            So sorry to hear of your accident and the ongoing pain and suffering you go through. I know that your kitty brings you great comfort and knowing that she is there for your seizures makes it so much easier every day. Cats are amazing!!! When you need them most, they are there.

            I agree 100% that pure breeds have a lot more health issues. The breeder swore she had never had another kitten die and gave us a new kitten. She was adorable. She died at 8 months old, same as the first one, playing one minute, having a seizure and dying the next. We went and got a young cat (1 or 2ish) from a shelter. She is a doll and so far, no health issues. I think you are correct. Good luck to you, hope your health gets better and better 🙂

        • I am so sorry that you lost another kitten. obviously the breeder either outright lied, or she gave you another kitten from either the same parents or off-spring of those cats. Either way they clearly are not a responsible breeder. I would have demanded my money back. I wonder if there is a place to report that…. so that people know that they are not a breeder that people should go to.
          I think the reason that shelter cats tend to be so affectionate and happy is because they are SO grateful for being saved. And your new young kitty has two kitty-angels to watch out for her!!!

          • Thank you, we did do a necropsy on the 2nd kitten and gave the results to the breeder asking her to refund us the money, $650, which doesn’t make you feel better but it is the only thing you can do.  She refused and so I wrote to a lot of organizations (BBB, yelp, etc) and she immediately said she would refund the money if I took down what I wrote and told the BBB it was resolved.  I debated because I wanted to warn others that she is a terrible breeder, but I also wanted to not deal with her ever again.  I took down what I wrote but if someone were looking for her they will still see our complaint to the BBB which says everything (you cannot remove it).  I looked her up before I bought the kittens (and found nothing) so hopefully anyone interested would at least google the name and they will see my complaints.

            It is horrendous to sell these kittens and know they might die, if I got two surely someone else had the same problem.  But you are right, shelter cats are so loving and affectionate, I think they do know you saved them.  I am enjoying our shelter cat so much (and we still have one of the original kittens we bought).  She is a doll!  Thank you for your kind comments 🙂

    • The test is designed to help make sure that breeders know when cats have the mutation so that they will NOT breed those specific animals. It does not mean that if the parents came back negative that they could not give birth to kittens that have it. Especially if it is a recessive trait that doesn’t show up on testing, and requires both parents to have it in order for it to potentially get it. The point is that they are making headway and that they have developed a test to help breeders be better able to try to help prevent breeding animals that are likely to have younglings that develop it.

  4. thank you again Ingrid for this great piece – it is an awful disease Laurie…

    we’re trying to make a difference – hopefully, with luck, we will…..

  5. My 14yo Russian Blue rescue was diagnosed 9mos ago with DCM. I know this is a rare form of heart disease in cats but I am hopeful any heart disease research will lead us to knowing more about DCM one day too. Until then, I pray my baby continues doing well on her meds. I am thankful for this time I was given. So many lose their babies with no warning, as so many cases are undetected. It’s just an awful disease 🙁

    • I’m sorry about your baby’s diagnosis, Laurie. I hope she continues to do well for a long time. My Buckley had RCM, which is also rare. I, too, am hoping that HCM research will also provide solutions for other forms of heart disease.

  6. I always think of Steve and Ricky when I remember Namir, and so glad he made it to 15 though he had HCM. I hope the Ricky Fund can help find a test, treatment and cure for this so others don’t have the loss from this common illness.

  7. My heart-Devon died of the same thing at the age of 7. I’m so glad there’s an effort being made to find its cause.

  8. Just last week my dear Mr. Emerson died of congestive heart failure at three years of age. He was diagnosed with HCM before he was a year old and was on a lot of meds (incl atenolol, Plavix, and Lasix). I had adopted him as a kitten from a shelter. With all of his orange fluff, especially his beautiful tail, he resembled a Maine Coon. I made a donation to the Ricky Fund in his honor a few days ago. I miss him so much.

  9. My Bobo passed from complications of HCM one day after his 18th birthday. Wish that test existed when he was alive…so glad that other kitties might live longer as a result of the new test. We love Steve!

    • At least your Bobo lived a long life, Caren, although I know that doesn’t make losing him to this awful disease any easier. We never stop missing them, no matter how long they were with us.

  10. I have a Ragdoll Cat who is just 4 years old..she was diagnosed with Cardiomyopathy at the age of 2 yrs. We were devastated to learn that she could suddenly died at any time. This disease has caused her to lose her appetite. We give her Atenolol for her heart and Cyproheptadine to increase her appetite so that she will eat. I wish they would find a cure.

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