2008-12-03 / Columnists

Pets, Pets, Pets

by Joanne Anderson

'Tis the season to be jolly. Cats finally have a reason to kick up their heels. (Do cats have heels?) Sparked by a $1 million donation from Hill's Pet Nutrition, Morris Animal Foundation (MAF) has launched the Happy Healthy Cat Campaign to help eliminate suffering and premature death in cats.

Despite the fact that cats are the most popular American pet with more than 82 million cats (as opposed to 72 million dogs) in US households, cats receive less veterinary care and research funds than dogs, and fewer scientists are exploring feline health issues. Thanks to the MAF campaign, our feline friends will get their fair share of medical attention.

The MAF Happy Healthy Cat Campaign is multipronged approach to improving the quality of life for cats. First there is a dedicated website, www. research4cats.org, which includes info on feline diseases and symptoms, previous MAF research success stories (like a promising new vaccine that seems to control fertility in ferals) and resources for cat owners. There's also a fun, interactive quiz, plus blog entries from prominent cat writers.

Established 60 years ago the Morris Animal Foundation, headquartered in Denver, is now the world's largest non-profit dedicated to funding health research that treats, protects, and cures companion animals and wildlife. MAF is always on the forefront of cutting edge discoveries. The foundation serves as "research glue" uniting many of the most prestigious veterinary schools, scientists and donors. With this new Campaign the spotlight is on cats. MAF wants to provide veterinarians with better tools to help cats.

Diseases are more successfully treated if caught early but, sadly for a variety of reasons including Whiskers' reluctance to enter the dreaded carrier; cats visit clinics less often than dogs. According to the American Veterinary Association, the average cat-owning family sees the vet 1.7 times a year compared to 2.6 times for the dog-owning family. Owners tend to spend more time with dogs and view them more often as family members. Alas, cats and their air of independence can be partly to blame. Cats are also masters at hiding illness so they are less apt to visit the doctor for exams. Therefore, the MAF online initative clues owners into warning signs of illness.

MAF will also focus on improving feline diagnostics and treatments. Part of the Hill's donation will be used to establish an international coalition for feline genome research which will advise MAF on the potential use of genetic tools to determine causes and cures for common cat health maladies like cancer, diabetes, and kidney/bladder disease. Certain genetic mutations have been linked to feline diseases, such as polycystic kidney disease (PKD) in Persians.

Since each year millions of cats are surrendered to shelters because of preventable behavior problems, MAF set up the R.K. Anderson Animal Behavior Research Endowment which in part will support studies that help unravel the mysteries of feline behavior and strengthen the human-cat bond. On an individual level, the Cat Campaign directs frustrated owners to links for guidance from animal behaviorists and feline experts.

The following is a sampling of some MAF-funded cat success stories: * Development of the first feline leukemia vaccine. * As mentioned above, Dr. Julie Levy at the University of Florida tested a contraceptive vaccine that targets a hormone so a cat doesn't produce estrogen or testosterone. Over the 2 year study, a single vaccine prevented pregnancy in 73% of the female cats, offering a promising nonsurgical solution to curbing the staggering US feral population, estimated at 70 million cats.

* Pain management in pets is now a priority. Vets realize that cats react to medications differently. A recent study evaluated the effects of morphine on cats when given as an epidural. Results will help convalescing cats experience less discomfort.

* Shelter medicine is a new exciting veterinary field. Fighting infectious diseases with an ever changing shelter population is a huge challenge, and upper respiratory infections (URIs) can run rampant in crowded cat rooms. Treatment takes time and money, both precious commodities at shelters. Some cats succumb because they are sick; others are put down so they do not spread URIs to others. Dr. Aki Tanaka at the University of California-Davis is studying environmental and group risk factors that make shelter cats vulnerable to URIs to help devise disease prevention and treatment strategies that may someday benefit all shelter cats.

*Chronic renal disease is a leading cause of death in senior cats, but signs are so subtle that the condition is often discovered too late. Currently a simple urine test that measures a compound called felinine is being evaluated as a new diagnostic tool that may detect the problem earlier so cats can live longer, fuller lives.

I am a huge fan of MAF which will be funding 200 studies in 2009. The Happy Healthy Cat Campaign is just one of the foundations unprecedented global efforts to improve animal well-being. Read "Pets" archives 3/9/06 for an MAF overview or 6/14/07 to learn about the ongoing Canine Cancer Campaign. This holiday season, rather than buying something frivolous, consider honoring a beloved pet or animal loving friend by donating to MAF. Your gift contributes to a legacy of love for all creatures. For more information, call 800-243-2345 or visit MorrisAnimalFoundation.org.

Poster Pets for Adoption: I'd like to stray from Oyster Bay Shelter this week to feature 2 special pets needing homes. "Rolo", a Min Pin about 8 years old, originally at Hempstead Shelter, has been in a Last Hope foster home since July. He had successful surgery for bladder stones and is on meds for a chronic thyroid condition. Despite his medical woes, now under control, "Rolo" is a happy fellow who likes other dogs, but not cats. Call 631-957-0023.

"Ms. Mitts" this precious polydactyl calico kitten is technically my niece. On Halloween a family member found a litter of 5 babies that had been born in her work place parking lot. "Ms. Mitts" is the purrfect kitten and will be spayed as soon as she tips the scales at 2 pounds. Call 516-799-1735.

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