by Jennifer Miller
Here is a communication from a Bengal cat breeder to a list of other Bengal cat breeders on the subject of a heart disease that affects cats and other animals including humans – HCM or Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy. The writer is Jennifer Miller of the Katznjamr cattery, located in Texas, United States. She is a very well established breeder and what she says goes beyond discussing how best to deal with this disease. It hints at a philosophy on breeding cats.
Jennifer very kindly agreed that her “article” could be published on the Pictures of cats.org website for which I am grateful.
Here’s the article:
HCM is such a difficult subject to discuss, but such an important one.
It becomes even more difficult to tackle and share when lists are subjected to those who need to resort to finger pointing, rather than discussing their own personal findings and difficult decisions.
If we all shared our personal findings, our personal battles, struggles, and issues – what a learning experience that would be!
I’m so happy for those that are testing and able to share that their Bengals are currently HCM free. That is the best news in the world! Every time we test we are on pins and needles. It’s great to hear the good news others often get to share about their test results.
I’m thankful to those who share their theories. It’s good to hear experiences regarding enlarged papillary muscles. Thank you to those who have shared these testing results and followed up with their own personal experiences on these cats for a number of years. What a great way to learn! I hope breeders continue to share these observations and any others.
I’m thankful to those who share their positive results. We have been breeding for nearly fourteen years. In that amount of time we have had one positive HCM and one probable HCM.
Bengal breeders are sharing information — forming theories — sharing what has happened in their years of experience with a cat or a line. They are speaking from the heart (how appropriate). Even though questions and comments on their experiences are surely welcomed, why do these breeders have to be made to feel unethical or misinformed? It is then that the sharing stops, and the focus becomes more of a soap opera dance of back and forth tirades.
Meanwhile, the breed still faces a very difficult issue.
Some breeders are very willing to discuss the cats coming from other’s catteries, and to suggest what other breeders should or should not be doing. Or worse, they may even suggest another breeder is unethical.
Again — this shuts down open discussion and learning and causes most breeders (including a large number on this list who are not being talked about) to learn to stay quiet and low-key.
There was an attempt to create a Bengal Database a few years ago with all the positive and negative Bengals clearly stated, voluntarily, on an online list. There were some very good breeders working on this list effort. This effort disintegrated. There were a rare few positive Bengals listed. There weren’t even all that many negative Bengals listed.
Same for the Maine Coon breed — try to find any sort of database or listing with positive for HCM Maine Coons – and the Maine Coon breed is riddled with HCM. Thankfully, years ago Maine Coon breeders began to understand the importance of testing and have really begun to tackle this disease. Did they tackle the disease by “outing” certain cats or condemning breeders who had produced HCM positive kittens? No.
Instead – it was through testing, testing, and more testing – and making frequently difficult decisions to either continue using a cat or to neuter.
It was through dna studies and inheritance studies.
Through using older studs (and queens) that have proven to be clear of HCM (and by studying pedigrees, proving unlikely to carry for it).
By studying their own pedigrees and not being so quick to seek out the flavor of the month stud and queens.
By being honest with themselves and their programs, and making really tough, even gut-wrenching decisions.
By realizing that decisions are frequently not simple. That quickly neutering and spaying every breeding cat that has produced even just one HCM positive or probable kitten is likely not the answer – and perhaps even detrimental to ridding the breed of HCM. Why? Because HCM is dominant — and it only takes one parent to pass on the gene. That means a breeder must figure out what side the HCM is coming from — and that is often quite difficult to determine.
I strongly believe that most Bengal breeders are doing their best to fight this terrible disease. Many are having their cats tested, and doing their best to draw conclusions from the very limited data they are given or see shared online and privately. They do their best to move forward in as ethical a manner as they possibly can.
It’s not easy.
Sometimes breeders have cats testing negative for HCM at two, three, four, and five years of age. And these negative for HCM cats come from HCM negative parents.
And then a curveball is thrown….
Case Scenario 1
You have a queen whose offspring have all tested negative. The queen tested negative at nearly five. Even her closely linebred and one inbred (full brother to full sister) offspring have tested negative. Her sire has tested negative at 6.5 years. The line is appearing very healthy for three generations.
And then suddenly one son tests probable HCM positive at 3.5 years of age. You are furnished with the cardiologist’s findings : The cardiologist recommends retesting in six months. This boy is neutered, petted out, and you hear on a public list he has passed away while in his pet home. You are never furnished with a necropsy report. No follow-up medical findings are given to you. Additionally, the breeder who owned the stud is currently using five of his sons and daughters in her breeding program.
Do you spay your queen — based on these findings? I think the why or why not is the most important part of this equation.
I’ve gone on long enough. This is an issue I am passionate about (as we all are) and have studied as much as I possibly can, through Bengal findings, other breed findings and studies, canine findings (mostly learning from DCM) and studies, and human studies. There is so much to learn.
Meanwhile — let’s continue to contribute to the Lightning Fund. Our cattery would have submitted samples, but to date have not had any HCM positive Bengals in our cattery.
Even so — the disease is everywhere — and as far as understanding HCM we are only seeing the very tip of the iceberg. I would venture to say that breeders may have some real surprises in store years down the road, as the picture gradually becomes more and more clear.
Let’s all work together to support one another both personally and online, and instead, let’s beat up on HCM.
See Bengal cats on the Pictures of cats.org website