Blue eyes, blond hair and a friendly personality are among the defining traits of the ragdoll breed. These large, floppy kitties have a few genetic weaknesses though, including a high risk of developing hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM). Your vet can identify potential heart problems by listening for irregular sounds called murmurs.
Even if you enjoy laying with your ear to your cat's chest, you may never notice a subtle change in his heart sound. Abnormal heart noises are barely audible and your ragdoll's large body makes them even harder to hear without a stethoscope. No matter what breed of kitty you own, he should go in for a regular checkup twice every year. A heart sound examination is a fundamental of routine checkups, so you don't need to worry about missing a heart murmur. You might be a little spooked by the news that your cat's your cat's heartbeat isn't normal, but a heart murmur doesn't necessarily mean your kitty has a hereditary heart defect. Murmurs are vibrations from heart or nearby blood vessels, indicating abnormal blood flow, according to The Merck Veterinary Manual.
Cats of all breeds and ages can develop HCM, but the risk in some breeds is particularly high. Roughly 30 percent of ragdoll and Maine Coon cats inherit a mutant gene that leads to HCM, according to the Feline Advisory Bureau. Cats with this condition develop thickened walls in the left ventricle of their heart, which interferes with the muscle's constant contractions, according to University of London Royal Veterinary College. Not all cats with HCM develop heart murmurs and the presence of abnormal heart sounds isn't a definitive symptoms of HCM. Cats with advanced HCM have a hard time standing and walking. They may also struggle to catch their breath.
Even if your ragdoll has a heart murmur, it doesn't necessarily mean he has hereditary HCM. Your vet may run blood pressure and serum chemistry tests to make sure nothing is interfering with your kitty's heart function. Anemia, hyperthyroidism and high blood pressure are all possible suspects, according to Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine. Your vet may also take x-rays of your kitty's chest so he can see the heart first hand. This helps him make an accurate diagnosis, but it can increase the final bill by several hundred dollars.
Treatment and Prevention
Talk to your vet about treatment options to find the best solution for your kitty. Beta blockers, ACE inhibitors and diuretics are effective at slowing degradation of the heart muscle from HCM, according to Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine. Your cat may continue his life with little disruption, but HCM and other heart issues do reduce life expectancy. Heart surgery is expensive and dangerous, so many vets don't consider it as a viable option for cats. Ragdolls are people cats and enjoy hanging around the house. Too much rest might make your kitty a bit heavier than he should be though, so encourage him to play with toys and be active every day to prevent weight-related problems like high blood pressure. Ask your vet about appropriate daily activity for your cat if he was diagnosed with HCM.
Not every case of cardiomyopathy in a ragdoll is related to genetics, but it's a good idea to test your cat before breeding her due to the high risk of hereditary heart defects. Some organizations, like the Feline Advisory Bureau, keep a register of purebred cats that tested negative for the gene mutation. It's possible that your kitty's offspring will be fine even if she has the defective gene, but you can increase the overall health of the breed by not mating a cat that tested positive.
Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.
Quentin Coleman has written for various publications, including All Pet News and Safe to Work Australia. He spent more tan 10 years nursing kittens, treating sick animals and domesticating semi-feral cats for a local animal shelter. He graduated from the University of Delaware with a bachelor's degree in journalism.