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Q: Sparky, one of my cats, has been diagnosed with HCM heart disease (feline hypertrophic cardiomyopathy). I found these cats in my garage and raised them. I love them very much. I live alone now and am on Social Security. You wrote some time ago about a Winn Feline Foundation symposium at which heart disease was discussed, but I can’t find this information online. Is there anything I can do for Sparky, such as an herbal or homeopathic treatment, perhaps? My heart is breaking for him. – N.C., Chicago

A: I understand how you feel. I once had a cat diagnosed with this common heart disease. HCM is the most frequent cause of sudden death in cats. Our cat, Ricky, was stricken in 2002.

Sometimes cats with HCM “throw clots,” repeatedly suffering stroke-like events. This is painful for cats and emotionally draining on families (never mind the expense of veterinary treatment). Having said this, it’s important for you to know that many cats diagnosed with HCM never seem to know they have heart disease, and they can live long lives, ultimately succumbing to something unrelated. HCM is not always a death sentence.

In 2002, I initiated the Ricky Fund with the Winn Feline Foundation to raise money to help researchers better understand HCM, with the goal of ultimately finding an effective treatment. The good news is that through the Ricky Fund, gene defects responsible for HCM have been identified in Ragdoll and Maine Coon cats. With a simple and inexpensive cheek swab, breeders are in the process of lowering the odds of HCM occurring in these breeds.

Unfortunately, however, drugs are no more effective today than they were when Ricky was diagnosed.

If Sparky is having symptoms, this is a bad sign, and you should seek advice from a veterinary cardiologist. If your veterinarian picked up on a murmur or irregular heartbeat, the future is not certain one way or the other for your pet.

So far, no documented reports have confirmed an herbal or homeopathic effective treatment for HCM. Concerning cost, sometimes no medications are suggested for cats with heart disease. When recommended, heart drugs for cats are generally inexpensive. However, if the disease progresses to actual heart failure, treatment can be costly.

Using this link, you can hear for yourself, as veterinary cardiologist Dr. John Rush, associate department chairman at Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine, spoke at the Winn Feline Foundation symposium last year: http://winnfelinefoundation.libsyn.com/webpage/category/Feline%20Health%20and%20Research.

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Q: I took in a 3-week-old kitten I found under a viaduct. The kitten licks my arms, then bites down hard and won’t let go. How can I stop this behavior? – J.E., Zephyr Hills, Fla.

A: This kitten might be hungry and seeking a nipple, and when it receives no milk (from your arm), bites down even harder. You can certainly say “Ouch!,” but don’t punish the kitten. Remove her and give her a bottle or something (else) to suck on.

Orphaned kitties do sometimes have “bite” issues, because we’re not as adept at teaching them to inhibit bites as a mother cat or littermates. Be consistent and insist that no biting is allowed.

Congratulations on saving this kitty!

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Q: My dog jumps up and down – vertically – like a jumping bean when I come home from work. I’ve had dogs who wiggled their rear ends. Is this a Jack Russell version of the same thing? – B.G., Buffalo

A: It sure is. I don’t know why, but some Jack Russells literally will jump for joy like pogo sticks.

Steve Dale welcomes questions/comments from readers. Send email to petworld@steve dale.tv. Include your name, city and state.