Originally published July 7, 2018. Updated January 3, 2024
While looking around for your future Bengal kittens, you may come across breeder websites talking about HCM testing. What is HCM, and how important is it to buy from a breeder who tests for it? HCM stands for Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy. When a heart is afflicted with HCM, the walls of the left ventricle of the heart thicken, therefore, making it difficult for the heart to pump blood efficiently. HCM is the most common form of heart disease in all domestic cats, not just Bengal cats.
Determining exactly how many cats are affected by heart disease is difficult since cats often don't show signs of heart disease until it is severe. A cat can live a symptomless life until one day it is afflicted with congestive heart failure or saddle thrombosis, which is when a blood clot cuts off circulation to the hind legs causing paralysis in the hindquarters. According to Pet MD, HCM "occurs more often in cats five to seven years of age, although the age range of reported cases ranges from three months to 17 years."
At present, there is no genetic test for HCM in Bengal cats. Because of this, some breeders may argue that getting a cardiologist to check breeding cats' hearts by echocardiogram is not worth doing. A cat could be HCM negative one day, and six months later, the cat could become HCM positive. That is true - especially within the first seven years of a cat's lifespan when HCM is most likely to develop. However, it is not a justifiable reason not to test breeding cats. Breeders responsible for bringing lives into the world should want to use all resources available to bring healthy lives into this world. While heart testing isn't a guarantee that the cat won't ever develop heart disease, monitoring its health is the fastest way to discover any potential problems with the heart and remove that cat from a breeding program. Instead of not testing at all, breeders should be testing their breeding cats through the age of seven and beyond to establish a line of cats with several generations of cats tested to older ages within their cattery. This minimizes the risk of heart disease and the risk of premature death.
Jon and I have been testing our breeding cats for 20 years. In this time frame, we've learned a lot about the value of testing. We've learned that establishing a baseline of measurements is critical to understanding what is normal for a particular cat. We've learned that seeing changes in a cat's heart can be more important than the result. And we've learned the value of continuing to test cats' hearts beyond the age of seven years old.
When buying a pet kitten, the last thing you want to experience is the premature death of your new addition to the family. When buying a breeding cat, the last thing you want is to buy is a cat that is passing down a genetic disease. This is why you must buy from breeders who not only test their cats but also those who test their cats to older ages.
By testing breeding cats to older ages, the breeder and their cardiologist can watch for changes in the heart over time. Once the cat is fully grown, its heart should not change. However, only multiple echocardiograms done after full maturity can determine consistency in the heart. While there is no magic age at which point a cat is guaranteed never to develop heart disease, cats who still have a healthy heart at over age seven have dramatically decreased their chances of developing heart disease over the course of their lifespan.
One of the perks of pedigree cats is all the known factors. You know what the cat will look like. You know what the cat's personality will be. You know what grooming to expect. And you know the cat's pedigree. But don't forget how important it is to know the health history of the kitten as well. That information is critical to the quality of life of the kitten you bring into your family. Breeders who have been around for several years should have their own years of testing, and those who are new should be buying from tested cats.
The cats pictured on this page are all cats we've used in our breeding program, which we have tested to older ages. Top: Dr. Lori Siemens DVM, DACVIM, scratches one of her oldest heart-healthy Bengal clients, WinsomeBG Head On of Sunshine, who last tested negative for HCM at age 14. Second: Korshki Liquid Magma of Wildernesswell HCM negative at 9 years old. Third: Majestic Pride Myan Dream of Wildernesswell HCM negative at 12 years old. To the right: SolanaRanch Last Patriot HCM negative at 9 years old. Below Left: BeauxMondes Innocent Bystander of SolanaRanch HCM negative at 8 years old. Below Right: SolanaRanch Maisie Dobbs HCM negative at 9 years old. See the extensive list of cats we have tested to over age five and over age eight.
IMPORTANT BENGAL HCM RESEARCH
Dr. Kate Muers is researching in hopes of creating a genetic test for HCM in Bengal cats. Please visit her website for more information and learn how you can submit DNA to the research. She is looking for cats who are HCM positive and cats who are over 8-years-old and HCM negative.
Click here to watch Dr. Meurs' webinar on HCM in Bengal cats.