Genetic mutation causing HCM in American Maine Coon cats not present in European cat population

Scientists screened 3757 cats from different cat breeds in America including 2744 Maine Coon cats for a genetic mutation called MYBPC3-A31P, which the scientists say has been identified in the USA in a colony of Maine Coon cats suffering from autosomal dominant hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM).

I'm not sure whether this is THE genetic mutation which causes HCM and Maine Coon cats. It probably isn't. The genetic mutations causing HCM in domestic cat is a complex subject. But let's say that this is at least one genetic mutation which alters the creation of muscle fibres in the heart causing the heart wall to thicken leading to this inherited health problem.

Young Maine Coon with human face
Young Maine Coon with human face. How healthy is she/he? Photo as per bottom-left on image. Note: I am not suggesting that this cat has HCM or has been poorly bred.

The results of the study pointed to the fact that this mutation is only found in Maine Coon cats with a prevalence of 41.5%. They found one exception which was one British longhair cat.

The state that this mutation carries with it a significant increased risk of HCM. They also state that the 'MYBPC3-A31P mutation is highly prevalent in Maine Coon cats in Europe and appears to be breed specific'. In other words, the mutation is only found in Maine Coon cats.

Despite not being a geneticist but being familiar with scientific studies on domestic cats, this is one study which points to the inevitable conclusion that cat breeders can do something about HCM in Maine Coon cats. But they won't do it. They need to eliminate from their breeding programs foundation cats which carry this genetic mutation.

RELATED: How healthy are the human-faced Maine Coons of this Russian breeder?

My understanding is that they won't do this because it means rebuilding breeding lines which will dramatically undermine the appearance of the cats that they create. They've spent years refining the appearance to meet with the breed standard and they don't want undo all the "good work". 

The problem is that it is not good work if they end up with a beautiful cat with an inherited health problem which shortens their lifespan. And in doing so they negatively impact the health and welfare of the individual cats concerned of which there are a substantial number.

I don't want to criticise Maine Coon cat breeders. However, the presence of any deeply embedded inherited health problem is a sign of failure in the cat fancy. The blame must be placed at the feet of the cat associations. 

RELATED: Half of flat-faced dogs require surgery to help them to breathe.

There are similar administrative issues in the world of dog breeds. They, too, create unhealthy dogs sometimes which also cause consternation in people who are more concerned with health and welfare than appearance. Ethically, health must always trump appearance.

The study is published in the Journal of Veterinary Cardiology (2010). It is called: Prevalence of the MYBPC3-A31P mutation in a large European feline population and association with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy in the Maine Coon breed.


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