How do I check if my Maine Coon has HCM?

I think this is a reasonable question. It would certainly concern me if I lived with a Maine Coon. I'd be watching out for signs that my cat had developed HCM which is a well-known inherited disease to which this breed is predisposed. Does it generally worry Maine Coon caregivers? It can start when a cat is quite young.

Blood test to check for HCM in Maine Coon
Blood test to check for HCM in Maine Coon. Image: MikeB from images in the public domain.

Update 24 hours after publishing this page: it has been seen by 2 people!! No one gives a damn if their MC has HCM. That must be the message. There is no point in my writing these sorts of articles.

So, you have possible signs that your cat has HCM. What to do? Only one thing: have some tests done at a good veterinarian who will do the following as I understand it:

  • A physical check-up - listening to the heart and lungs and checking blood pressure.
  • NT-proBNP – blood test that measures a heart stress hormone that can help detect heart disease.
  • Electrocardiogram (ECG) – to measure electrical activity of your cat’s heart to find heart rhythm problems.
  • Echocardiogram – ultrasound by a board-certified vet cardiologist to view your cat’s heart in great detail. This test is the gold standard for diagnosing heart disease in cats.

My thanks to CVCA Vets in America for the list. The blood test interests me. 

"B-type natriuretic peptide (BNP) is a hormone produced by your heart. N-terminal (NT)-pro hormone BNP (NT-proBNP) is a non-active prohormone that is released from the same molecule that produces BNP" (Cleveland Clinic discussing this test in relation to people). 

Both these substances are released when there are changes in the pressure inside the heart. And these changes can relate to heart failure and other heart disease problems. Their levels go up when heart failure develops and then go down when it is stable. In general, this clinic says that the substances are at a higher level in patients who suffer from heart disease.

For human health, doctors normally rely mostly on NT-proBNP testing to monitor patients with heart disease problems. 

So, this blood test is something that a veterinarian can do to check if a Maine Coon is developing heart disease. It's an example of how there is a big overlap in human and domestic cat anatomy and indeed the diseases from which they can suffer.

HCM can start young in MCs

Note: One breeder of the Maine Coon rather shockingly I've got to say states that the condition can develop in cats as young as six months of age but typically at around three years of age. They can develop as later in life is eight years old. 

Clearly, HCM is a major health problem that an owner must watch out for as about 30% of Maine Coon cats carry the genetic mutation that makes it likely that they will develop hypertrophic cardiomyopathy which as you probably know by now is a thickening of the muscle walls of the heart which leads to heart failure and other complications.

Insurance

One veterinary website, Vet Help Direct, rather disappointingly states that Maine Coon cats may be a breed that some insurers do not want to insure owing to the incidence of heart problems. It seems that some insurance companies are reluctant to insure, certain breeds of cat or they will issue a policy with heavy pre-defined restrictions which may make it less than useful.

They may be too negative. I have seen a quote of $25 per month for this breed but HCM can cost upwards of $20k to treat! A huge sum. Although I am seeing massive variations in premiums. A-Z Animals says that it costs $374 per month to insure a Maine Coon! Impossible price. It is like a house mortgage.

I would have thought that the best "policy" under the circumstances for the owner of a Maine Coon to save a predefined amount of money every month as soon as they adopt their cat companion and that goes into a ring-fenced pot to deal with health problems. This is in effect a "self-insurance" policy.

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