2008: Year of the Cat
This may be the best year to be a cat. The push is on to ensure that America’s most popular furry pet finally receives long-overdue care and attention.
In sheer numbers, cats exceed dogs in American homes, 82 million to 72 million. In fact, the surplus of cats—10 million—roughly matches the number of people living in the state of Michigan. Yet when it comes to healthcare, dogs make twice as many visits to the veterinarian as cats.
Hopefully that disparity is about to change, thanks to major feline awareness campaigns now under way that are aimed at veterinarians and pet owners. Leaders of major companion animal organizations are informally declaring 2008 as the “Year of the Cat.”
Three major organizations—Morris Animal Foundation, the Winn Feline Foundation, and the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP)—are spearheading efforts that shine the spotlight on feline health. In addition, they plan to work together as a united force to tout the need to fund more feline research and to educate cat owners on how they can maximize health in their feline companions.
Patricia Olson, DVM, PhD, president and chief executive officer of the Morris Animal Foundation, called for a year-long feline affirmative action program for 2008. This Denver-based nonprofit organization is funding 16 feline studies this year. The studies focus on a wide range of cat-related issues, from examining the possible food link in developing hyperthyroidism to devising a diagnostic test that can detect kidney disease at its earliest stages to allow for quicker treatment.
“With the completion of the feline genome sequencing, we now have the genetic tools to allow us to look at the genetic, environmental, and dietary risk factors for diseases and be able to take more of a concerted approach,” says Dr. Olson. “I have never been more excited about the future for cats than right now.”
The AAFP launched a landmark event called the CATalyst Summit in early February in Palm Springs, California, where key leaders in the world of cat care assembled to produce a national initiative to champion the cat.
“As veterinarians who share a passion for providing the very best care for cats, it is ultimately our goal to do all things necessary to raise the status of the cat,” says Jane Brunt, DVM, chairperson for the summit and past president of the AAFP.
Among the attendees were Susan Little, DVM, president of the Winn Feline Foundation, a nonprofit group that has awarded more than $3 million in cat studies. She remains cautiously optimistic that 2008 will be a breakthrough year for cats. She says the challenge comes in getting scientists interested in focusing on feline research.
“We have a core group of universities strong in feline medicine, but we need to get more researchers thinking about feline care,” says Dr. Little, who is board certified in feline medicine and part-owner of two feline specialty clinics in Ottawa, Canada.
Recent studies have led to a new way to identify feline blood types in domestic cats. For the first time, a cat’s blood type can be verified as type A or B simply by collecting cheek cells using a cotton swab.
“Now, getting a cat’s blood type is easy and simple, and it becomes part of a cat’s medical record,” Dr. Little says. “If a cat needs a blood transfusion right away, her blood type is listed in the record. There are a number of diseases that cause anemia in cats and might require blood transfusions, and time is of the essence. This new test makes a difference in the lives of cats.
“We are also working hard to help the public understand that cats are masters of hiding their illnesses and to teach people how important feline wellness exams are,” she explains.
News of the cater-to-cats efforts earns applause from Arnold Plotnick, DVM, a veterinarian who is board certified in feline and internal medicine.
“I devote a lot of time to educating my clients about the need to bring in their cats for regular care,” says Dr. Plotnick, owner of Manhattan Cat Specialists in New York City and medical editor of Catnip, a national newsletter. “I encourage them to alert me if there are any changes in their cats’ behaviors or routines that may indicate early red flags about possible medical issues.”
Despite the fact that cats make up the largest pet population in the United States, feline health is often overlooked. You, too, can help overcome this disparity by joining the effort to promote the Year of the Cat: Show your cat you care by taking her to the veterinarian for a wellness exam.
SPOTLIGHT ON FELINE STUDIES
Here are highlights of four feline studies being sponsored by the Winn Feline Foundation and the Morris Animal Foundation:
- Contraceptive vaccine for feral cats. To control cat overpopulation, a team led by Julie Levy, DVM, PhD, from the University of Florida, is testing an injectable contraceptive vaccine that lasts a lifetime. In an effort to better provide for adoptable cats in shelters, the vaccine would be given to feral cats that are not suitable for residing with people.The vaccine could save time and money involved in trapping, spaying/neutering, and returning feral cats to their colonies.
- Heart condition. Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) ranks as the number one heart disease in cats. Kathryn Meurs, DVM, PhD, from Washington State University, recently discovered that HCM is associated with a gene mutation in two breeds, the ragdoll and Maine coon. She is now searching for mutations that cause this condition in other breeds.
- Kidney disease. Chronic kidney disease is a leading cause of death in older cats.This study is exploring how to develop an inexpensive test that would indicate first signs of the disease and that can be performed during a routine urinalysis.The lead researcher is Kay Rutherfurd-Markwick, DMV, PhD, from Massey University in New Zealand.
- Obesity. Around 25% to 40% of owned cats are overweight and at risk of being obese. Excess pounds put them at greater risk for developing arthritis, diabetes, and nonallergic skin conditions. A team of researchers, led by Ya-Xiong Tao, PhD, from Auburn University, is working on developing drugs that may reduce the fat content and body weight of cats.
A TOUCHING TRIBUTE
Pet owners are stepping forward to honor their departed cats by establishing scientific funds in their memory. For instance, the Winn Feline Foundation accepts donations for the Ricky Fund, named after a beloved Devon rex owned by pet radio show host Steve Dale of Chicago, to aid in the study of a heart condition known as feline hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.
Discover details of current feline studies and ways to donate by visiting the websites of these felinefriendly organizations: