Winter 2009 Newsletter

Cat Chat

Feline Foundations Help Cats

By Nancy Marano

No matter where you stand on the purebred vs. mixed breed debate, it is important to realize mixed breed cats owe a tremendous amount to the large purebred cat registries such as the Cat Fanciers Association (CFA) and The International Cat Association (TICA) and the foundations they have endowed. Feline health research is undertaken primarily with foundation backing. Such funding of new research studies in feline health has led to discoveries that benefit all cats.

More than 80,000,000 cats currently live in homes as companion animals. Despite the large number of companion cats, advances in feline health are relatively recent. CFA started what would become the Winn Feline Foundation in 1968 "to promote the health and welfare of cats by developing or participating in projects for their betterment, including the contribution of funds for research and education."

On the 40th anniversary of this Foundation, it seems appropriate to re-visit some milestone research funded by Winn.

  • Most cat caretakers are familiar with feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV), a virus similar to human HIV. This virus was not recognized until 1982. Due to research done by Dr. Niels Pedersen, DVM, PhD, Janet Yamamoto, PhD and their colleagues at the University of California - Davis this virus was discovered and the first FIV vaccine released in 1992.
  • Taurine is an essential amino acid. It is a vital element in a cat's diet. Lack of taurine causes blindness from retina damage. But it wasn't known that taurine deficient diets could lead to dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM), a disease that presents with an enlarged, inefficient heart muscle. In 1987, Paul Pion, DVM, DACVIM, published his research on taurine deficiency and DCM. The result was pet food manufacturers added more taurine to their cat foods. Now DCM is a rare disease.
  • Feline leukemia virus (FeLV) has been the bane of multi-cat living since the 1960's. Much has been learned about its transmission since then. Researchers, funded by Winn, developed an easy test to screen cats for FeLV in a veterinary clinic. This testing now allows multi-cat facilities to be FeLV free.
  • Conventional wisdom held that kittens shouldn't be spayed or neutered before six months of age. But, as we all know, kittens often become mothers in six months. Research done in the early 1990s, included health and behavioral studies on kittens neutered at seven weeks and seven months. The research proved early spay/neuter was safe. These studies led to further studies establishing anesthesia and surgical practices for kittens. Now early spay/neuter provides shelters with a way to reduce cat overpopulation.
  • Many cats are affected by diabetes mellitus. Until 2003 it was believed cats should be treated with high-fiber diets, as were people and dogs with diabetes. Then Deborah Greco, DVM, PhD, DACVIM and her colleagues at Colorado State University found that a low-carbohydrate/high-protein diet can be a good alternative for some cats. This program works because cats are obligate carnivores who need meat in their diet. Even if a cat still requires insulin, it can be at a lower dose. This is considered one of the most promising advances in treating diabetes mellitus in cats..
  • Asthma is common respiratory problem in cats. It is often the cause of lower-respiratory tract disease. Giving cats accurate doses of medication was difficult and led to poor control of the disease. In 2004, Rhonda Schulman, DVM, DACVIM, and her colleagues at the University of Illinois, Urbana, found medication could be delivered to the lower respiratory airways in therapeutic doses. This revolutionized the treatment of asthmatic cats at home through the use of metered dose inhalers using a facemask system designed for cats.
  • Hypertropic cardiomyopathy (HCM) is one of the most common heart diseases in cats. It was suspected this disease ran in families. Mark Kittleson, DVM, PhD, DACVIM, at the University of California, Davis, found HCM was an inherited disease in Maine Coon Cats. In 2004, Kathryn Meurs, DVM, PhD, DACVIM, at Washington State University, discovered the first genetic mutation causing HCM in Maine Coon Cats. In 2007 Meurs discovered a different mutation causing HCM in Ragdoll cats. Now a simple DNA test using a cheek swab is available for both breeds. Further progress in HCM research is being funded through The Ricky Fund, begun in honor of columnist and TV host, Steve Dale's cat, Ricky, who died of HCM. Winn allows the establishment of individual funds for research into particular diseases.

These are a few of the outstanding achievements resulting from Winn Feline Foundation funding that has brought help and health to cats.

TICA started The International Feline Foundation (TIFF) in 1995 with an intent similar to Winn's. Their mission is three-pronged. "Promote, support and encourage scientific research programs relating to feline diseases and health. Disseminate information relating to feline health and welfare and promote the welfare of domestic felines."

They are now in their third funding cycle of research studies. One study determined the effects of second-hand smoke on cats. Their 2008 $10,000 grant was awarded to Dr. David Twedt of Colorado State University, in partnership with Dr. Kenneth Simpson of Cornell University, for a project studying the role of bacteria in pancreatitis. Pancreatitis occurs in 1.3% of cats with 2/3 of the afflicted cats having the chronic form. Diabetes mellitus and pancreatic insufficiency may result. The cause of pancreatitis is unknown and previous treatments were ineffective.

The next TIFF grant will be announced in February 2009. A volunteer committee of cat fanciers, scientists and researchers reviews the applications and reports their recommendations to the TICA Board of Directors for the final choice.

All cats benefit from the research done with funding from these foundations. Diseases that show up in controlled groups of purebred cats can be isolated genetically but the results of the research help veterinarians treat all of our cats. The next time you hear a discussion on why breeders shouldn't be allowed to breed cats remember that without cat fanciers, their love of cats and their desire to help rid cats of pernicious diseases, all cats would be a lot less healthy, Certainly cat fanciers and cat rescue workers can agree on their love of cats and their desire to make the world a better place for all of them.

For more information on this subject click here.

Nancy Marano is an award-winning author who is owned by two cats, Sammy and Rocky, and a Westie named Maggie May.

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