New Bolton Center Kennett Square, PA
Emergencies & Appointments:
Ryan Hospital Philadelphia, PA
Senior Cat Triumphs Over Illness

The Cat Organ Donation Program

A Legacy of Hope & Love

One of history’s most celebrated writers, Charles Dickens, once said, “What greater gift than the love of a cat?” He even engraved his ivory letter opener to serve as a constant reminder of the passing of his favorite cat, Bob.

What Dickens realized is that the love between cat and owner is mutual and special. Ever since the first wild cats from the Fertile Crescent and the Nile River delta decided that us humans made good companions, cats have become integral members of our family and a part of who we are.

Saying Goodbye

When the day comes when we have to say goodbye to our cats, we are left with a feeling of overwhelming loss and heartbreak as we lose part of ourselves. In many instances, compassionate euthanasia of a sick or infirm cat is regarded as our last gift of love.

What you might not know is that your cat can continue a legacy of hope and love through organ donation for medical discovery. Discoveries made through organ donation can substantially improve the future health and well-being of cats and people.

Continuing a Legacy of Hope 

Many of us are familiar with the organ donation designation on our driver’s license and recognize that organ donation can serve as a source of a life-saving transplant for someone else’s loved one. Less appreciated is that donations of organs not suitable for transplant can still contribute to medical discovery. Thanks to the generous donations from human donors and their families, remarkable breakthroughs to save and prolong lives have been made from organs donated for medical discovery.

The Cat Organ Donation Program is the feline corollary to human organ donation for medical discovery. Organs donated for medical discovery have enormous potential to advance veterinary medicine and to help find cures and treatments for common diseases of cats, including heart disease or cardiomyopathy.

Furthermore, diseases such as cardiomyopathy are extremely similar between cats and people, and discoveries involving cats have enormous potential to advance the treatment of human heart disease. For these reasons, your cat’s legacy of hope and love can improve the lives of future generations of both cats and people.

  • How is organ donation for medical discovery different than compassionate euthanasia?

    In many ways, organ donation for medical discovery is similar to compassionate euthanasia. Cat owners often choose euthanasia when existing medical and surgical therapies can no longer improve the quality of life of their cat. Organ donation for medical discovery still provides the opportunity to say goodbye to your loved one with no pain or suffering involved. Compassionate euthanasia involves administration of an overdose of anesthetic drugs. Organ donation involves placing donors under a level of anesthesia that is used for surgery. After organs are carefully removed, the donor passes without any pain or suffering while remaining fully anesthetized. The organ donation procedure in cats is the same as in people and it preserves the organs in a way suitable for medical discovery. Following donation, remains are handled according to your wishes. 

  • How does my cat qualify?

    We are looking for cats who have existing heart muscle disease, or cardiomyopathy. We also accept cats who have other terminal illnesses with normal hearts. This allows us to study how diseased hearts are functionally different from normal ones. When it becomes time to finally say goodbye to your loved one and you would like to donate organs for medical discovery, you can contact us, and we can help make the final arrangements.

  • What is cardiomyopathy?

    Cardiomyopathy, or heart muscle disease, is the most common heart disease of cats, affecting one out of seven adult cats. It can lead to devastating consequences such as congestive heart failure, trouble breathing, sudden paralysis of the limbs, or sudden collapse and death. Many of the important causes and features of cardiomyopathy remain unknown in both cats and humans. Though there are some medical treatments for cardiomyopathies in humans, the conditions are often progressive and new therapies are clearly needed. Thus, cardiomyopathy in cats or humans and organ donation for medical discovery is critical in understanding cardiomyopathy and developing new therapies. Truly, each and every cat that donates has the potential to make a lasting legacy of hope and love.

    Up to one in every 500 people develop a cardiomyopathy. While people of all ages can be affected, nearly, 50 percent of patients dying suddenly in childhood or adolescence or undergoing cardiac transplantation are affected by cardiomyopathies. In both humans and cats, a sizable proportion of cardiomyopathies have a genetic basis and are inherited from one generation to another. Though the genetic origin cannot be corrected, in these cases and others, the initial cause of the cardiomyopathy often elicits other abnormalities that are more amenable to treatment. The goals of treatment are to slow down the disease, control symptoms, and prevent sudden death.

About Us

The Cat Organ Donation Program: A Legacy of Hope and Love is dedicated to finding cures and treatments for heart disease.  Our team includes veterinarians from PennVet and physicians and scientists from PennMedicine.

Penn Vet Ryan Hospital Cardiology

Mark Oyama, DVM

Dr. Mark Oyama, Penn VetDr. Oyama is professor of cardiology at Penn Vet. He fulfilled his dream of becoming a veterinarian in 1994 and has spent his career treating and studying heart disease in cats and dogs. Dr. Oyama is particularly involved in finding new treatments for heart disease based on how the diseased heart works differently than healthy hearts and his work is recognized internationally. Over the years, Dr. Oyama has had the privilege of owning many cats, the first one having been rescued from a garbage dumpster during Dr. Oyama’s childhood. Currently, his household is run by a particularly naughty cat named Henry. One of Dr. Oyama’s most favorite cats was a big orange and white stray male named Tumbleweed that he adopted from Penn Vet. Dr. Oyama thinks of Tumbleweed often and would argue that he was coolest cat that ever lived.

Weihow Hsue, DVM

Dr. Weihow Hsue, Penn VetDr. Hsue is cardiology research fellow interested in a career as a clinician-scientist. He recently completed is cardiology residency training and is exploring active collaborations between the clinic and research laboratories. He was inspired to pursue veterinary medicine when his first cat, Phil, succumbed to preventable diseases while living in Benin, West Africa, where veterinary services were limited. His most recent cat, Wasabi, was adopted when the original owner surrendered her because of severe congenital heart disease. Although her life was short, Wasabi spent quality time cuddling with a Chihuahua and ruling the house at 3am every night.

Erin Achilles, VMD

Erin-AchillesDr. Achilles is a cardiology research intern and future cardiology resident at PennVet. Following completion of her veterinary degree at Penn Vet in 2019, she pursued a clinical rotating internship at the Animal Medical Center in New York City. Prior to veterinary school, Dr. Achilles received a Master’s degree in anthropology and conducted field research on lemurs in Madagascar. Although she loves primates, cats are her true favorite animal. Her first cat at the age of four, lovingly named Fluffer Nutter, was adopted from a barn and ended up having six kittens, one of which she kept and named Bigfoot due to the extra toes on his front paws. She is currently in the market for a feline friend for her pet rabbit Sebastian.

Penn Medicine Cardiology Institute

Kenneth Margulies, MD

Kenneth Margulies, MD, Penn MedicineDr. Margulies is a professor of medicine and physiology and clinician-scientist at Penn Medicine.  He is a heart failure and transplant cardiologist and NIH-funded research scientist. His research focuses on cardiomyopathies and discovering mechanisms of heart failure that can be targeted with treatments. For over 25 years, Dr. Margulies has employed human heart tissue obtained via transplantation or organ donation in diverse research applications. On several occasions, his laboratory-based research has inspired clinical trials in patients with cardiomyopathies and heart failure.

Sharlene Day, MD

Sharlene Day, MD, Penn MedicineDr. Day is an associate professor of medicine and genetics and clinician scientist at Penn Medicine. She has specialized in treating patients with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy and other genetic heart conditions for the past 15 years. Her research program focuses primarily on hypertrophic cardiomyopathy and spans laboratory-based science to clinical observational studies and intervention trials in patients. Dr. Day does not own any cats (because her husband is allergic) but her chocolate lab, Jesse, is her ever faithful companion and running partner.

Kenneth Bedi, BSc

Kenneth Bedi, BSc, Penn MedicineMr. Bedi is a senior research scientist in the laboratory of Dr. Kenneth Margulies. His focus is on building a robust clinical data set with the ability to define the spectrum of hearts from donors and transplanted patients. In doing such he has defined key cardiometabolic changes in the heart from the healthy myocardium to end-stage disease. Mr. Bedi has completed rigorous training in cardiothoracic surgical techniques as well as procurement techniques that have fostered his work utilizing human heart tissue obtained via transplantation or organ donation in diverse research applications. On several occasions, the laboratory-based research has inspired clinical trials in patients with cardiomyopathies and heart failure, notably the role of ketones in heart failure and their potential utilization as a therapeutic. Ken has a 9-month old husky mix named Tucker who believes he is a cat, but has been told repeatedly that he is in fact a dog.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Who can become a donor?

    Any cat may be eligible to become an organ donor. We are specifically interested in cats with heart muscle disease, such as hypertrophic or restrictive cardiomyopathy, but cats without heart disease are also highly valued donors.

  • Can my cat’s organs be used in transplants?

    The Cat Organ Donor Program is a non-transplant program. Your pet’s organs will be used for medical discovery to investigate causes and treatments for both feline and human cardiomyopathy.

  • Does it cost money to be an organ donor?

    No, there is no cost associated with organ donation. As with compassionate euthanasia without organ donation, cat owners are responsible for costs related to cremation or private burial.

  • Does my cat being registered as an organ donor affect their treatment while alive?

    No, cats registered as non-transplant organ donors are treated in the same fashion and with the same care, procedures, and medications as cats that are not organ donators.

  • Is the organ donation procedure painful?

    No, your cat will be fully anesthetized as if undergoing surgery and will not feel any pain or suffer.

  • What options are available for handling of my pets remains?

    Following organ donation, options for handing of remains are the same as compassionate euthanasia without organ donation. You may choose to have your pet cremated and his or her ashes returned to you (private cremation). Alternatively, you may elect group cremation and would not have the ashes returned to you.