Why do we heart test our Bengal cats for so many years?

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 with 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, you may hear some breeders 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 to not test breeding cats.  Breeders who are responsible for bringing lives into the world should want to use all resources available to them to bring healthy lives into this world.  While heart testing isn't a guarantee that the cat won't ever develop heart disease, monitoring the health of the heart 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 fourteen 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 a 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 it is essential that you buy from breeders who not only test their cats but 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.  But 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 most recently tested negative for HCM at age 11. Second: Korshki Liquid Magma of Wildernesswell HCM negative at 9 years old. Third: Majestic Pride Myan Dream of Wildernesswell HCM negative at 8 years old. To the right: Solana Ranch Last Patriot HCM negative at 8 years old. Below Left: Beaux Mondes Innocent Bystander of Solana Ranch HCM negative at 8 years old. Below Right: Solana Ranch Maisie Dobbs HCM negative at 7 years old.

9 comments

  • Sabrina Zowin
    Sabrina Zowin Los Gatos
    Thank you, for this information, I am a new breeder and wish to have every bit of information that I can possibly get my hands on thank you for all your research, and thank you for sharing what you have found

    Thank you, for this information, I am a new breeder and wish to have every bit of information that I can possibly get my hands on thank you for all your research, and thank you for sharing what you have found

  • Quality Bengal Kittens
    Quality Bengal Kittens
    Thank you for taking the time to write such a kind comment. As breeders, we want to bring the healthiest kittens into the world, and the best way to do so is to share information. We do have another Bog that is about breeding to the standard. It is on the Breeder tab of the website, We hope you find the information there helpful as well.

    Thank you for taking the time to write such a kind comment. As breeders, we want to bring the healthiest kittens into the world, and the best way to do so is to share information.

    We do have another Bog that is about breeding to the standard. It is on the Breeder tab of the website, We hope you find the information there helpful as well.

  • Claire
    Claire China
    Hi, thank you for this helpful article. You wrote this in 2018, and I was wondering if there is still no genetic testing of HCM for bengals as of today (4/26/2020)? I saw some lab in China offering HCM genetic testing for bengals and was confused. I read that only rag dolls and Maine coons can be genetically tested, but even for these two breeds, some affected cats can test negative, and therefore and genetic testing results aren’t reliable yet.

    Hi, thank you for this helpful article. You wrote this in 2018, and I was wondering if there is still no genetic testing of HCM for bengals as of today (4/26/2020)? I saw some lab in China offering HCM genetic testing for bengals and was confused. I read that only rag dolls and Maine coons can be genetically tested, but even for these two breeds, some affected cats can test negative, and therefore and genetic testing results aren’t reliable yet.

  • Quality Bengal Kittens
    Quality Bengal Kittens
    Hi Claire Thank you for asking. As of April 26, 2020, there is NOT a genetic test for HCM in Bengals. To be completely honest, even once a test exists, it should not replace screening. There are many different mutations of HCM; a test is likely to only find the most common form. While we hope a genetic test for the Bengal is soon created, it will not fully eliminate the need to scan the cats' hearts.

    Hi Claire
    Thank you for asking. As of April 26, 2020, there is NOT a genetic test for HCM in Bengals. To be completely honest, even once a test exists, it should not replace screening. There are many different mutations of HCM; a test is likely to only find the most common form. While we hope a genetic test for the Bengal is soon created, it will not fully eliminate the need to scan the cats' hearts.

  • Claire
    Claire China
    Thank you for the reply. I asked this because my pet cat’s breeder insisted that annual heart screening is not necessary because all her cats are “genetically tested negative” for HCM. I believe the lab she went to tested for the two known mutations found on Ragdolls and Maine coons, which of course all bengals will be tested negative. She also said the allele responsible for HCM is N/HCM, which I believe is a false information. This upsets a bit me because: 1. She said heart screening is unnecessary in her clients group chat. This will make everyone think screening is unnecessary and neglect a very real risk to their pets’ health. 2. I don’t think she gets her breeding cats screened regularly, since she believes the “genetic testing” clears her cats of possibilities of getting HCM. I tried to communicate with her about this, but she simply insisted other breeders don’t genetically test for HCM because it’s costly. I know there are a lot of unqualified breeders out there, but she’s one of the best known breeders in China, so this will mislead a lot of new breeders who look to her as an example. I bought my cat from her because of her big name, but now she gives me a sense that she cares a lot more about advertising and making money than her cats’ wellbeing. I wish there’s something I could do to about it. Would you have any suggestions?

    Thank you for the reply.

    I asked this because my pet cat’s breeder insisted that annual heart screening is not necessary because all her cats are “genetically tested negative” for HCM. I believe the lab she went to tested for the two known mutations found on Ragdolls and Maine coons, which of course all bengals will be tested negative. She also said the allele responsible for HCM is N/HCM, which I believe is a false information.

    This upsets a bit me because:
    1. She said heart screening is unnecessary in her clients group chat. This will make everyone think screening is unnecessary and neglect a very real risk to their pets’ health.
    2. I don’t think she gets her breeding cats screened regularly, since she believes the “genetic testing” clears her cats of possibilities of getting HCM.

    I tried to communicate with her about this, but she simply insisted other breeders don’t genetically test for HCM because it’s costly. I know there are a lot of unqualified breeders out there, but she’s one of the best known breeders in China, so this will mislead a lot of new breeders who look to her as an example. I bought my cat from her because of her big name, but now she gives me a sense that she cares a lot more about advertising and making money than her cats’ wellbeing.
    I wish there’s something I could do to about it. Would you have any suggestions?

  • Claire
    Claire China
    Hi, that breeder just responded to me. She realized her mistake and agreed to screen her cats regularly. I’m happy for her.

    Hi, that breeder just responded to me. She realized her mistake and agreed to screen her cats regularly. I’m happy for her.

  • Quality Bengal Kittens
    Quality Bengal Kittens
    Claire That is great news that you were able to affect change. Thank you for doing your part to hold breeders accountable for making the best choices.

    Claire

    That is great news that you were able to affect change. Thank you for doing your part to hold breeders accountable for making the best choices.

  • Anna
    Anna Ohio
    I just got a 3/4 F1 bengal (3/4 asian leopard) flown in yesterday from Wyoming. I have not gotten into the vet yet because they are so backed up...the guy that got my cub's brother just got his test results back, he did what is called a snap test probnp and it came back abnormal and under comments it said strong. what does this mean? they are 9 weeks old!!!! now i'm worried sick and going to take him to any clinic i can get into tomorrow!

    I just got a 3/4 F1 bengal (3/4 asian leopard) flown in yesterday from Wyoming. I have not gotten into the vet yet because they are so backed up...the guy that got my cub's brother just got his test results back, he did what is called a snap test probnp and it came back abnormal and under comments it said strong. what does this mean? they are 9 weeks old!!!! now i'm worried sick and going to take him to any clinic i can get into tomorrow!

  • Quality Bengal Kittens
    Quality Bengal Kittens
    Hi Anna ProBNP tests for the stress level of the heart. It would not be abnormal for a high percentage hybrid to receive a test result showing an abnormal stress level when being taken to vet as a 9 week-old-kitten - especially if it was just shipped. Honestly, I am shocked a vet would do a stress test on a nine-week-old kitten that was just shipped. This indicative of a vet who is looking for a problem in order to earn more income. The worst thing you can do for your kitten is run into a vet tomorrow. You will cause your kitten unnecessary stress. What you need to do is focus on bonding with your kitten with positive experiences. If you are worried, you need to engage in whatever activity that clams you down - exercise, meditation, yoga, deep breathing before you interact with your kitten. Your kitten will pick up on your stress level and this will inhibit your bonding. You bought this kitten from a breeder - and I hope that means you can trust this breeder. The breeder has more knowledge and experience with high percentage hybrids than most vets. Please reach out to your breeder, so your breeder can give the facts behind the testing of the parents. Stress tests do not give you the information you need on a heart. The only test that will give you useful information is an echocardiogram. You really should not be doing an echocardiogram on the heart until over six months. Honestly, as a pet owner, you should not have to do an echocardiogram if your breeder does them on the parents.

    Hi Anna

    ProBNP tests for the stress level of the heart. It would not be abnormal for a high percentage hybrid to receive a test result showing an abnormal stress level when being taken to vet as a 9 week-old-kitten - especially if it was just shipped. Honestly, I am shocked a vet would do a stress test on a nine-week-old kitten that was just shipped. This indicative of a vet who is looking for a problem in order to earn more income.

    The worst thing you can do for your kitten is run into a vet tomorrow. You will cause your kitten unnecessary stress.

    What you need to do is focus on bonding with your kitten with positive experiences. If you are worried, you need to engage in whatever activity that clams you down - exercise, meditation, yoga, deep breathing before you interact with your kitten. Your kitten will pick up on your stress level and this will inhibit your bonding.

    You bought this kitten from a breeder - and I hope that means you can trust this breeder. The breeder has more knowledge and experience with high percentage hybrids than most vets. Please reach out to your breeder, so your breeder can give the facts behind the testing of the parents.

    Stress tests do not give you the information you need on a heart. The only test that will give you useful information is an echocardiogram. You really should not be doing an echocardiogram on the heart until over six months. Honestly, as a pet owner, you should not have to do an echocardiogram if your breeder does them on the parents.

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