Top Bengal Cat Health Issues – As Reported by a Bengal Cat Breeder
When you’re looking for a new furry friend to add to your family, one of the most important things to keep in mind is health. The top benefit of buying from a breeder is that you know your cat’s genetic health history. At Buckaroo Bengals, we screen all of our breeding cats for common genetic health issues. But what are some of the Bengal cat health issues that you should be aware of?
What is HCM in Cats? And Does it Affect the Bengal Breed?
“Feline Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy (HCM) is a condition that causes the muscular walls of a cat’s heart to thicken, decreasing the heart’s efficiency and sometimes creating symptoms in other parts of the body.”1
One of your first questions may be — is HCM in cats hereditary? HCM is believed to have a genetic component to it. But not enough research has been completed for us to understand why cats get HCM.
Let’s talk about HCM and the Bengal Breed.
How Common is HCM in Bengal Cats?
HCM is tricky to diagnose. It often doesn’t show up in a cat until 8 years old. This makes it hard to breed away from, as breeding cats are generally retired well before this age. And often not tested past their breeding years. This is why knowing the pedigree and utilizing the health database is so important for a breeder. According to a recent study, 16.7% of Bengal cats are estimated to have HCM.2
So how do you screen a breeder for HCM before you adopt from them? The best way is to ask them for their HCM screening records. Breeders should regularly screen their breeding cats every 1-2 years. Ideally, they will test them well into adulthood.
The only way to test for HCM is through a board-certified cardiologist. These appointments are pricy. And sometimes hard to find if you don’t live near a big city. This can contribute to the overall cost of your Bengal Kitten.
But how do you know for sure if your cat is affected?
Signs Your Bengal Cat Has HCM
The first sign that your Bengal Cat or Kitten may have HCM is a heart murmur. When you take your new Bengal kitten in for a check-up it is not uncommon for them to have a heart murmur. They are still growing and developing.
A Grade 1 or Grade 2 heart murmur is generally nothing to worry about. However, if the murmur is Grade 3 or above. Or if it persists after their first year of life. Then it is time to find one of those board-certified cardiologists yourself.
The cardiologist will take an ultrasound of your cat’s heart. It only takes a couple of minutes. And they will be able to tell you if there is anything abnormal with the whole structure of the heart.
Sometimes a cat with HCM will show no signs. But sometimes you will see:
- Labored breathing
- Open-mouthed breathing
- Rapid breathing
- Sleeping a lot
Cats with HCM are also very prone to blood clots.
Ok, your cat has been diagnosed, but what does this mean for you and your furry friend?
HCM in Cats Life Expectancy – Can HCM be Reversed?
HCM is treatable but not curable. You are treating the symptoms, not the cause. There are medications to prevent blood clots, control the heart rate, and ease lung congestion. Which can be administered orally and via injection.
Depending on the severity of symptoms, Bengal cats with HCM can live a long life. And be only mildly affected — some even not at all. But if they display many symptoms even with medication they will likely have a much shorter life.
We’ve talked about HCM, but what are some other Genetic health conditions that Bengal cats can be prone to?
What is Progressive Retinol Atrophy (PRA–b)?
“PRA-b is a recessive genetic disease that causes a loss of photoreceptors in the eye. And ultimately blindness in the Bengal cat.”3 Typically PRA-b is diagnosable between 8-20 weeks. And even better, there is a genetic test for it involving a cheek swab that you mail in.
Reputable Bengal cat breeder will test their breeding cats. They need to either make sure their cats aren’t carriers or make sure that they don’t breed two carriers together. Completely eradicating the gene entirely is not a good idea as it would shrink the gene pool too drastically. But responsibly pairing cats is so important to the breed’s overall health.
Because you can test for PRA-b, there is no excuse for a breeder to produce kittens that have this disease. It is a one-time test that can be completed any time after a kitten is four weeks of age. As long as one (or both) parents are clear, there is no need to test the kittens. It is when both parents carry the recessive gene that kittens are at risk.
What should you do if you think your Bengal cat has PRA-b?
Symptoms and Treatment of PRA–b
The main symptom of PRA-b is blindness. Unless it is caused by an accident, this is not life-threatening to your cat. However, it will likely have an impact on their personality. And will definitely impact their quality of life.
Bengals with PRA-b can often be more vocal, more attached to their owners, and have larger pupils. They will have to use their whiskers, even more, to help them move around. As a result, they often carry their whiskers further forward.
Bengal cats with PRA-b will suffer from this disease their whole life. There is currently no treatment or cure.
Now let’s talk about the second Bengal cat health issue that is very avoidable. When the Bengal cat breeder uses responsible breeding practices.
PK Def in Bengal Cats (Erythrocyte Pyruvate Kinase Deficiency)
Yet another genetic disease that is easily tested for. “A deficiency in the enzyme Pyruvate Kinase (PK) impairs the red blood cells (RBCs) ability to metabolize, which in turn may cause anemia and other blood-related issues.”1
PK def can be tested using the same test that you use for PRA-b. All Bengal cat breeders should be screening for PK Def. It is a recessive gene. As long as your kitten only carries one copy PK Def will not affect their life.
PK Deficiency in Cats Treatment and Symptoms
You might be able to tell that your Bengal cat has PK def if they suffer from:
- Muscle wasting
- Fast heart rate
- Jaundice (not always present)
Once your cat is diagnosed, the only treatment available is a bone marrow transplant. Not only is this treatment pricey, but it can also be fatal. With the transplant, your Bengal could live a normal life span. Without it, you may have four years.
These diseases are the number one reason that you should look for a responsible breeder. Cheap kittens can mean big vet bills.
Responsible Bengal Cat Breeders and How to Find Them
Two of these three diseases are so preventable with responsible breeding practices. Make sure you find a Bengal cat breeder who tests their breeding cats with genetic health tests. It typically costs a little over $100 from either UC Davis or Wisdom Panel. It is a one-time test and can help a breeder avoid 40+ genetic diseases (and counting).
You can find responsible Bengal breeders in a couple of different places. The International Cat Association (TICA) website or the Cat Fancier Association Website are a good place to start. Breeders listed on these websites are registered. It is up to you to ask them if they are health-testing their cats properly.
How We Avoid Bengal Cat Health Issues at Buckaroo Bengals
At Buckaroo Bengals, we choose our breeding cats with genetic health in mind. All of our cats come from lines that aren’t known to suffer from HCM. However, we also test our breeding cats after they turn one.
We make sure we test our cats at least every two years. We want to make sure we are doing our due diligence to produce healthy kittens. Our goal is always happy healthy babies ready for your home!
HCM isn’t the only health condition we screen for. We also test our breeding cats through Wisdom Panel for 40+ genetic diseases. All of our Bengal cats test Negative (N/N) for PRA-b and PK def.
Your Bengal Kitten’s health is of the utmost importance. Making sure they have the best shot at a long, healthy life is the very least we can do as responsible breeders. Bengal cat health issues shouldn’t hold your Bengal cat back from a long and happy life.
Check out our available kittens, and learn some of the best ways to start your kitten off right in your home.