Thursday, June 15, 2017

Good News for Cats' Health

Good News for Cats' Health

It's unfortunate that funding for studies of cats' health lags far behind that for dogs'. Many diseases that are fatal or untreatable for cats would have been cured long ago if they afflicted canines.

Fortunately, there are organizations like The Winn Feline Foundation, which provides funding for research to improve cat health. Winn has funded almost $6 million in feline health research. Eleven studies are being funded this year. If successful, new treatments and procedures could soon be available for these feline health issues:

Feline Diabetes

A study at Louisiana State University will examine using stem cells to make pancreatic cells and produce insulin in cats. If this works, diabetes in cats could be cured!

If you've ever had to test a cat's blood sugar daily or give regular insulin injections, you're well aware of what this could mean for improving the lives of cats who are diabetic...and their caregivers! A cure for diabetes can also improve adoption rates for diabetic cats who find themselves in shelters and were previously deemed "unadoptable" because of their condition.

Feline Heart Disease

Researchers from the Royal Veterinary College, The Animal Health Trust, and Imperial College London will be growing feline heart muscle cells in a dish to test treatments for feline hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM).

HCM can be genetic in certain purebred cats, but can affect any cat in middle age. We took an in-depth look at HCM in this post on the OMCL blog.

Fatty Liver Disease in Cats

Utrecht University in The Netherlands will be studying new treatments for feline hepatic lipidosis using research from a previous study that developed functional liver cells that can be used in these types of tests without the need for testing on live animals.

A fatty liver can result from a cat who is malnourished or starving. This may be due to a lack of food or from feeding an improper diet, such as a vegetarian diet. Cats are obligate carnivores and must eat meat to remain healthy. Fatty liver disease causes a cat's liver to swell and turn yellow, and it is unable to process red blood cells as normal. If left untreated, the condition can be fatal.

Other than malnutrition, various illnesses, stress, diabetes, kidney disease, or cancer can result in fatty liver in cats. It's currently treatable if caught early enough, but can be very expensive to treat. Being able to test more easily without subjecting live animals to the condition will make this study more humane and also expands the capability to conduct more tests for treatments.

Feline Cancer

Researchers at the University of Sydney will be exploring a possible viral cause for feline lymphoma. This study will build on an earlier study that discovered a gammaherpes virus in cats and attempt to determine whether there is a link between this virus and lymphoma.

The most common type of malignant cancer diagnosed in cats, lymphoma is on the rise. With other studies linking infection to the cause of approximately 1/5 of human cancers, if a similar link can be found for this most common of feline cancers, a vaccination may possibly be developed to prevent them.

Feline Digestive Ailments

Researchers at the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine will be studying the effectiveness of famotidine (Pepcid) in treating chronic stomach ailments in cats. Long-term use of this drug appears to diminish its effectiveness, so this study will examine varying dosage to improve the drug's success.

By reducing the amount of acid in the stomach, famotidine has been used in cats to treat stomach or esophogeal ulcers, esophogeal reflux, and gastritis. Some cats in kidney failure experience inflammation of the stomach, and famotidine can help with this. It has also been used to treat mast cell tumors.

A joint study between the University of Tennessee and North Carolina State University will examine whether or not probiotics are effective in treating a common cause of chronic diarrhea in cats. Tritrichomonas foetus is a protozoan that is quite difficult to treat, but the hypothesis is that probiotics may offer hope.

Cats who spend time in a shelter or cattery are more susceptible to infection from T. foetus, which gives them very smelly diarrhea. Just as in humans, probiotics help restore the natural balance in a cat's gastrointestinal tract. A natural remedy, they have less side effects than manmade drugs.

Untreatable Feline Diseases

The University of California, Davis will be studying why stem cells derived from fat can have anti-inflammatory effects, and how this can be put to use in treating feline diseases that have formerly been incurable.

In addition to conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease, inflammation has been linked to many other diseases and conditions in the body. These include feline infectious peritonitis (FIP, a fatal disease), feline interstitial cystitis (FIC, bladder problem that leads to lower urinary tract disesase), and cholangitis (bile ducts). Inflammation can affect a cat's nose, sinus cavities, pancreas, abdominal cavity, or brain.

Feline Blood Transfusions

Purdue University will be studying whether methods of extending the shelf life of human blood can also be applied to storage of feline blood for transfusions. This could improve the supply of feline blood available for transfusions in cases of severe injury, surgery, or treatment of certain diseases.

Blood transfusions provide immediate support to a critically ill or injured cat by supplying the body with red blood cells to carry oxygen throughout the body, plasma to regulate the body's fluids, clotting, and inflammation, and platelets that help control bleeding. This can make the difference between life and death.

Just as in humans, cats have different blood types of A, B, and AB. A cat must receive a transfusion from a compatible donor. But instead of an Rh factor as in humans (the + or - portion of a person's blood type), cats have an Mik factor that should also be compatible. Without a compatible live donor handy, a reliable blood supply from a feline blood bank is essential. Improving the availability of stored feline donor blood will save lives.

Cats as Therapy Animals

The University of Missouri will be studying the effects and benefits of shelter cats as therapy animals for children with autism. The study will also assess the stress level on the cats used in such therapy programs. Such information can play a big role in both helping autistic children and saving more feline lives.

While several other studies have proven the effectiveness of cats as therapy pets for autistic children, less of them have focused on the effect of such relationships on the cat's well-being. Are cats as willing as dogs to participate in such relationships? Is there symbiosis there? This study will examine those questions.

Environmental Enrichment for Indoor Cats

The University of California, Davis will be studying the effectiveness of food puzzles in stimulating indoor cats' natural hunting instinct, and the effect this has on the cats' behavior and health.

Cats are highly intelligent animals. They get bored when left indoors, especially if their owners are away at work and the cat has nothing to stimulate the intellect. To avoid destructive behavior that can sometimes result from such circumstances, the value of environmental enrichment has long been known. This study will deepen the depth of knowledge about specific tools for feline environmental enrichment.

Call for Additional Feline Research on FIP

Thanks to The Winn Feline Foundation's generosity, all of these studies will soon be underway! The foundation is currently seeking to fund additional studies in the following areas related to feline infectious peritonitis (FIP):
  • FIP genetics
  • FIP molecular biology
  • FIP prevention
  • Novel FIP diagnostics
  • Safe and effective FIP treatments
These studies are funded through the foundation's George Sydney and Phyllis Redman Miller Trust and the Bria Fund for FIP Research. Organizations seeking funding for such research have until August 7, 2017 to apply for grants up to $35,000 here.

Anyone can donate to the Winn Feline Foundation to support similar studies to further our knowledge about cat health. For details on how you can help, click here. The foundation will hold its 39th annual Symposium on Feline Health in Chicago on July 29. 

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