While our General Fund is at the heart of Winn’s goal to “benefit every cat, every day,” each of our Special Funds focuses on specific, often critical feline health issues. Most were established in memory of a beloved pet to fund much-needed research into a particular condition or breed trait.
The Bria Fund for Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP) Research
In November 2005, Winn Feline Foundation announced the creation of The Bria Fund
to accept donations for feline infectious peritonitis (FIP) research. FIP is a fatal disease
seen primarily in kittens and young adult cats, with no cure and no effective treatment.
The fund was named after Bria, a nine-month old Birman kitten who died from FIP in
April 2005. Bria had the good fortune to live with Susan Gingrich and her husband,
James Shurskis, in Harrisburg, PA. Susan is a sister of Newt Gingrich, former
Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives and founder of the Center for Health
Transformation. The Center provided a generous contribution to establish The Bria
In 2008, the first Bria Fund projects were announced. You can help fight Feline Infectious Peritonitis today by
donating to The Bria Fund.
To find out more, read Bria’s Story.
© Susan Gingrich 2005
Bria was born on July 12, 2004. She was a Blue Lynx Point Birman, and she was gorgeous. Her registered name was Brieanna Jamie, Bria for short. Bria means "strong one" in Celtic. My husband Jim and I brought our little furry bundle of joy home the Friday before Thanksgiving. She fit in right away, as if she had always lived with the Gingrich-Shurskis household.
The first veterinary examination went well, and Bria was deemed very healthy. She was seen a few weeks later, along with her sisters, Angel and Sinta, because they all had upper respiratory infections. When Bria was six months old, she returned to the veterinarian to be spayed. Upon coming home, she resumed playing and eating as enthusiastically as ever.
About a month after the surgery, I noticed that Bria appeared to be breathing from her abdomen. Her energy level was greatly diminished, and she wasn't playing. Her appetite was still excellent. I mentioned my observations concerning Bria to the vet. She was concerned that the symptoms might be related to a diaphragmatic hernia. Bria was scheduled for x-rays and a barium study.
Following the tests, the call from my vet expressed great concern. Bria definitely didn't have a hernia. But, the studies detected a great deal of fluid in one side of Bria's chest cavity. With my permission, a fluid sample was extracted and sent to a lab for analysis. At that time, my vet relayed that she suspected that Bria may have Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP). It would take several days for the lab report. Somewhat in a daze, I brought Bria home that evening. How could this be happening to my healthy dear little baby? I knew nothing about FIP. For several days, Jim and I researched FIP, and the possibility of FIP was especially horrifying.
Early the next week, our vet called with the lab results. The fluid contained a great deal of protein. There is no totally accurate test for FIP, but the results were in line with a diagnosis of FIP. Our vet relayed that the prognosis for FIP was poor. There was no cure; cats with the wet form of FIP succumb to the illness quickly. Because Bria was still eating so well, I asked the doctor what we could do to give Bria quality of life for as long as possible. She suggested a consultation with a specialist in Internal Medicine.
During the consultation, the specialist suggested an additional test on the chest fluid, a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test. He said the test would probably be positive, but he advised testing her. A sample of the fluid was sent for a PCR analysis. Again we waited, anticipating the worse. To our utter amazement and delight, the PCR test came back negative for coronavirus!
Bria remained fairly inactive and continued breathing abnormally. Her appetite was decreasing, although she would eat with encouragement. Because of the conflicting findings concerning FIP, our vet suggested we take Bria to the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine for additional testing. We drove to Philadelphia and admitted her. During the next several days, Bria was the subject of many tests to determine the cause of her illness. After all the tests, enlarged kidneys, renal failure, anemia and fluid in the chest were confirmed. Feline infectious peritonitis was the tentative diagnosis causing the other problems. The veterinary resident assigned to Bria advised us to come pick up Bria as soon as possible, because she didn't have long to live. She knew Bria would be happier at home. We made the difficult decision to end Bria's suffering the following evening.
We spent the next day with Bria. We talked to her, and I sang to her and brushed her. Jim took a nap with her lying on his chest, and he took her outside in his arms to hear the birds and feel the breeze one more time. When it was time, we took her to the veterinary office, where our darling nine-month old kitten died a quiet and peaceful death. After a brief ceremony, we buried her in a place of honor in our yard. The stone marking her grave says "Beloved Bria So Small So Sweet So Soon". We didn't have her in our lives very long, but we treasured every minute with Bria. Close
The Ricky Fund for Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy (HCM) Research
In June 2002, Winn Feline Foundation announced the creation of The Ricky Fund.
This fund was established to accept donations specifically for feline hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) research.
Steve Dale, nationally syndicated pet columnist and radio show host, worked with Winn
to create this fund in memory of his Devon Rex cat, Ricky.
Learn more about Ricky’s story.
Ricky’s Story: Helping to fight HCM
Ricky was a musical prodigy. The piano-playing cat was featured on National Geographic Explorer, CNBC’s Pets: Part of the Family, on a Canadian TV show called The Pet Project, and on virtually every local TV station in Chicago. Ricky also jumped through hoops (literally), offered a high five (or four), and over a dozen more behaviors.
Owner Steve Dale says, “I taught Ricky these and other tricks to prove you can train a cat. And, in the process, Ricky taught me everything cats could be. Our bond was inseparable.”
During a routine physical examination, Ricky's veterinarian heard a heart murmur, and Ricky was eventually diagnosed with HCM. "The good news is that Ricky never realized he was sick,” says Steve. “We routinely returned to the cardiac veterinarian for ultrasound checks, and while the disease was progressing, it was a slow progression."
Sadly, Ricky died at age four. In one of his columns, Steve wrote, "Ricky was a very small cat, but the hole he left in our hearts is enormous. Our house seems empty without him. And at least for now, our lives seem empty, too." Close
Please help Steve fight HCM through your donation to The Ricky Fund.
Persian HCM Fund (designated for research)
Established in 2013 by Jeanne O'Donnell to honor her cat Ronan, this fund will be used
for research to find genetic markers for hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) in Persian
cats. Persian and Persian-derived breeds are believed predisposed to HCM, but no
genetic causation has been determined as it has in the Maine Coon and Ragdoll breeds. Visit the website Jeanne has established to raise awareness of HCM in this very popular breed of cats.
Knowing if a mutation is present can lead to a genetic test. Determining which cats are
carriers leads to better breeding programs and elimination of that trait in the breed,
similar to what is being accomplished with polycystic kidney disease (PKD) in Persians
and related breeds.
Read about Ronan's Big Heart
Ronan's Big Heart
Read the full story of Ronan's Big Heart
When I accepted the challenge in 1996 to breed for a show quality lilac point Himalayan, little did I know the roadblocks I would come across in my quest. Oh, I was educated about FIP (feline infectious peritonitis) and warned about ringworm. If you breed long enough, bring in new breeding cats, or simply attend a cat show, you will eventually meet the task of addressing these issues in your cattery. But it all seemed worthwhile to achieve a goal that few had attempted, and even fewer attained.
I have been breeding now for seventeen years, and throughout those years I never heard a Persian cat breeder speak of heart disease. So I assumed that it was an uncommon disease for cats. Well, you know what they say about assuming. It wasn’t that heart disease didn’t exist in Persian cats. It was that no one was revealing its existence. It could have been ignorance, but not for the experienced breeder. No, it was the Ostrich Syndrome.
There was no way to predict which cat would inherit the gene for HCM (hypertrophic cardiomyopathy). So no one talked about it. After all, HCM had the full attention of Maine Coon and Ragdoll breeders. It was “their” disease.
How prevalent is HCM in Persians? There are various estimates of the current penetration of the disease in this breed. My veterinarian, who has dealt with many breeders over her thirty plus years of practice, says she is seeing HCM by cardiac ultrasound at a rate of about 40% in Persians cats. FORTY PER CENT of Persians, at least within the realm of her practice, may carry the potential for having this disease; and they have a 50% possibility of passing a potential mutation to offspring from a breeding cat, even if they inherited the gene from only one parent. That sounds very similar to the characteristics of PKD, doesn’t it?
Do we continue to ignore the problem and hope it goes away, or do we do something about it, like we did with PKD? In my opinion, there is only one answer to this question. The work has already begun. Researchers had discovered the genetic marker for HCM in Maine Coons, so my hope was high. I even submitted an article to the Atlantic Himalayan Club, which they published in Cat Tracks, hoping that at least the Himalayan breeders would get involved. But I received no response.
The researcher was excited with my willingness to participate. And at roughly three years into our coalition, I finally had a diseased heart tissue to submit, a key to help in unlocking the genetic code. Ronan, my loving seal point Himalayan, who made it to thirteen years of age with his big heart, finally succumbed to multi-organ failure and donated his heart to this study. Sadly, it was at that point that I learned the study had stalled. There wasn’t sufficient help or funds to actively pursue it. What is even more disheartening is that the researcher is the one who now does the genetic testing for the CFA, and even the CFA was powerless to help.
My only hope was pleading with the Winn Feline Foundation after seeing grant after grant awarded for more PKD research, or even worse, HCM grants for other much smaller breeds. How could this happen? The Persian breed is the most popular of all purebred cats, so that means a greater number of “heart sick” cats being bred. And that grieves my heart deeply. It’s hard to imagine holding a two and a half year old female cat in your arms gasping for air until she dies from congestive heart failure. That was how I lost my beautiful tortie point, Foxy, the Himalayan who loved to shake the branches of my wintered-over hibiscus just to watch the leaves fall.
Here is my new challenge: It is long overdue for Persian breeders to pull their heads out of the sand and step up to the plate, the contribution plate that is. I have made arrangements with Winn Feline Foundation to set up a fund that is designated strictly for Persian HCM research. It is called the Persian HCM Research Fund.
This is my plea: I ask all Persian and Himalayan breeders and owners of these purebred cats to make a contribution to this fund. The researcher in pursuing this work, Dr. Gus Cothran, will submit a grant proposal to re-initiate this study. But he will only receive a grant if there is sufficient funding allocated in the Persian HCM Research Fund to do the work. Time is of the essence to reach our goal to fund a study.
Make the donation. And if you want to begin submitting DNA for this study, please call me and I will give you Dr. Cothran’s contact information. But we first need to raise adequate funding. This will likely be the most important endeavor you can make to the future of the Persian breed. It is far more important than producing that “perfect show cat.” So come on Persian and Himalayan breeders and cat owners. It’s time to do something really great for the breed.
If you wish to talk with me about this disease, I can be reached at 910-270-4787. I can call anywhere in the USA and Canada for free, so just leave me your name and phone number and the best time to call on my answering machine. Thanks for your support.
Jeanne O’Donnell (Donegal Cattery)
Norwegian Forest Cat HCM Research Fund
Norwegian Forest Cat breeders have banded together to raise funds to study HCM in
their breed. Genetic mutations for HCM have been identified in both the Maine Coon and
Ragdoll breeds, and researchers hope to soon identify a genetic basis for HCM in the
Norwegian Forest Cat.
In 2012, Winn renewed a separate fund to support research into Norwegian Forest
Cat HCM. By February 2013, due to the energetic fundraising support by Norwegian
Forest Cat Fanciers, a research project lead by Dr. Virginia Luis Fuentes of the Royal
Veterinary College of London was funded for $23,577. For more information, visit
Norwegian Forest Cat HCM DNA Research Project.
Birman Heart Disease Research Fund
Evidence indicates some Birman cats are known to have heart problems, particularly in
the form of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, restrictive cardiomyopathy and arrhythmogenic
right ventricular cardiomyopathy.
The Birman Heart Disease Research Fund was established in 2013 by the Birman Heart Foundation to fund research into the genetics of heart disease in Birman cats. Led by
Alwyn Hill and other volunteers in Europe, the fund hopes to create a DNA test designed
for breeders to manage the situation.
Lung Cancer Research Fund
In 2013, Dorothy Chao established a fund in memory of her cat, Kitty Dots, for research
into feline lung cancer. Many practicing veterinarians believe lung cancer in cats may
be more prevalent than currently diagnosed. Critical research is needed to improve
early detection, understand causes and seek out new treatments and possibly cures. In
addition to results found through research efforts for cats, Ms. Chao hopes a treatment
for human lung cancer will follow.
More information about lung cancer in cats can be found in our cat health library.
Learn more about Dorothy's Kitty Dots
Kitty Dots Chao – A Story of Love
A beautiful Snow Bengal with striking blue eyes and prominent snow leopard spots, Kitty Dots entered my heart in April of 1998. Until then, I was a dog person; after Kitty Dots, I will always be a cat lady. I adored her intelligence, strong will, determination and loving nature. She was not just another animal and she returned my love many times over. An unsurpassed mouser and hunter, she loved exploring and hunting in the garden and it was not unusual for her to remain nearly motionless for hours waiting to pounce. I miss my Kitty Dots more than I can say and there is a hole in my heart where she used to live.
My lovely Kitty Dots was first diagnosed with asthma when she was seven years old. My veterinarian prescribed standard asthma medication (prednisolone) during the outbreaks and it was generally successful for a time in keeping the attacks under control. Later, in 2008, she was treated for hyperthyroidism with radiation that required a 5 day stay at the hospital. Then in 2012 my dear Kitty Dots was diagnosed with kidney failure and later developed an extremely painful eye ulcer. I could tell the pain was excruciating. Both the doctor and hospital staff remarked several times during her many visits about how Kitty Dots was such a lovable, beautiful and brave kitty.
Later that year and into early 2013, while still on a low protein diet as part of her treatment for her kidney disease, she continued to lose weight, appetite and energy. Her asthma worsened and it became harder and harder for her to breathe. I decided to try acupuncture as an alternative medical treatment since regular medical care did not seem to solve her many issues. Unfortunately, her condition failed to improve. In fact, by August of 2013, she started coughing for extended periods of time on a daily basis. Neither the acupuncturist nor her regular veterinarian had any answers as her symptoms continued to worsen. During an extremely serious and prolonged coughing attack, I decided my precious Kitty Dots must have more than asthma and I rushed her to the local emergency animal hospital. She was diagnosed with feline lung cancer and was given a very poor prognosis. I was heartbroken.
Regardless of the prognosis, I was determined to give Kitty Dots whatever was needed to prolong her life, if possible. After further discussions with another veterinarian and several diagnostic tests including radiography, we decided on surgery in order to obtain a biopsy. According to the Doctor, surgery was required as the tumors were deep inside the lung lobe and couldn’t be reached without expensive and dangerous surgery. After the operation and biopsy, much to my dismay, the tumors were identified as very aggressive and malignant. My Kitty Dots did not fully recover from the surgery and died 41 days later. Her cancer had metastasized into her abdomen and stomach.
What did I learn and how can other cat lovers gain from my experience?
- Lung Cancer, while rare in cats, is a serious and obviously life threatening condition and is poorly understood and difficult to treat successfully. More life giving research is needed. Please give generously to the Lung Cancer Research Fund I established in Kitty Dots memory.
- In serious situations like my Kitty Dots, don’t hesitate to get a second, possibly even a third opinion and diagnosis.
- Do not rely only on acupuncture if the symptoms of a disease don’t improve. Acupuncture can be helpful but should be part of a complete diagnosis and ongoing assessment by a veterinarian.
- Looking back, I still miss my lovely and exotic Kitty Dots. I have, however, become much more aware of the potential for serious inbreeding and the potential for problems, especially in unusual breeds like Snow Bengals. If you desire to have a purebred cat, buy from only the most professional and knowledgeable breeder or for another better option if you want a wonderful and loving feline companion, I recommend visiting your local animal shelter or adoption agency.