Home Veterinary medicine researchers awarded grant to study heart disease in cats

Veterinary medicine researchers awarded grant to study heart disease in cats

Rebecca Barnabi
Ashely Wilkinson and Giulio Menciotti have been chosen to receive grant funding for research on heart disease in cats. Courtesy of Virginia Tech Media.

The most common form of heart disease in cats is Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM), which affects up to 15 percent of cats.

Certain cat breeds are predisposed to HCM, including the sphynx, Maine Coon, and ragdoll.

HCM creates thickening and stiffening of the heart walls, which leads to impairment of the cardiac muscle’s ability to relax and accept blood. When this happens, some cardiac chambers can become severely enlarged. Many cats will show no clinical signs of HCM, but the disease can lead to congestive heart failure or feline arterial thromboembolism (FATE).

Giulio Menciotti, assistant professor of cardiology, and Ashley Wilkinson, assistant professor of small animal internal medicine at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine have been awarded an EveryCat Health Foundation grant to study coagulation in cats with HCM using thromboelastography (TEG).

According to a press release, EveryCat Health Foundation is a nonprofit that focuses exclusively on feline health research. Previously known as the CFA Foundation and the Winn Feline Foundation, EveryCat was established in 1968 and has awarded more than $8 million to researchers to study feline health.

Cats with enlarged heart chambers, the press release stated, are predisposed to blood clots that can dislodge from the heart and block the blood supply to parts of the body. Feline arterial thromboembolism happens when a blood clot obstructs blood flow to a part of the body, usually the hind legs. The cat’s hind legs will become paralyzed and the cat will experience severe pain. Limited treatment options means that cats with HCM and FATE are often euthanized.

“In practice, I’ve seen how cats suffer quite a bit. I’ve always found it frustrating to treat, because if they do throw a blood clot, their outcome is poor in a lot of cases. Practice really sparked my interest in this subject,” Wilkinson said in the press release.

The causes of FATE are still not fully understood by veterinarians. Menciotti and Wilkinson want to change that with their research. Their testing method, thromboelastography is used to determine whether patients are predisposed to bleeding excessively or clotting excessively. The researchers will investigate if cats with advanced HCM and heart chamber enlargement have similar thromboelastography parameters as cats with HCM and no heart chamber enlargement.

“The ideal result is that we find that these cats are indeed hypercoagulable and TEG helps us identify them, so we can think of a better or earlier way to treat or prevent this from happening. This will add an important piece to the puzzle,” Menciotti said in the press release.

With improved knowledge, veterinarians can better treat cats with heart disease and determine which cats should receive anticoagulant drugs, or if another medication is a better treatment for a cat’s particular circumstance.

“Thromboelastography gives you a global perspective of coagulation, but depending on which variables are abnormal, it can also tell you which aspect of coagulation is primarily affected,” Wilkinson said.

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca J. Barnabi is the national editor of Augusta Free Press. A graduate of the University of Mary Washington, she began her journalism career at The Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star. In 2013, she was awarded first place for feature writing in the Maryland, Delaware, District of Columbia Awards Program, and was honored by the Virginia School Boards Association’s 2019 Media Honor Roll Program for her coverage of Waynesboro Schools. Her background in newspapers includes writing about features, local government, education and the arts.