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Science Newsletter

In This Issue

Urinary Tract Disease – A Pandora’s Box?The Cat’s Amazing Built-in HairbrushEvaluating Your Cat’s Muscle MassWINNing CATS FELINE Education & Cat Show at the Maryland State Fairgrounds June 21-23What is Your Cat’s Social I.Q.?What Can a Genetic Test Tell You About Your Cat?Causes of Pleural Effusion in Cats

Urinary Tract Disease – A Pandora’s Box?

Pandoras BoxUrinary tract disease is one of the most frustrating conditions to diagnose and treat in cats. Urinary tract issues are usually grouped together under feline lower urinary tract disease or feline idiopathic cystitis (FIC)--"idiopathic" meaning of an unknown cause. It's long been thought that cats with chronic lower urinary tract symptoms have some type of bladder disease. Twenty-five years of research suggests that many of these cats actually have a complex, stress-responsive disease of the central nervous system which affects the bladder, and other organs, creating a "Pandora's Box" of feline health problems.

Thanks to research and studies over the last 40 years our knowledge about feline urinary health has evolved. In the 1990s veterinarians noticed similarities between feline urinary tract problems and interstitial cystitis in women, a condition of chronic bladder pain and an increased urge to urinate.

In 2011, a study conducted at the Ohio State University on 32 cats over a period of three years found that urinary tract disease is not all about the bladder but that stress has a significant impact on lower urinary tract health. The study's lead researcher, Tony Buffington, DVM, MS, PhD, DACVN, and guru of the feline lower urinary tract, coined the term, "Pandora Syndrome."

In his paper, “Idiopathic Cystitis in Domestic Cats — Beyond the Lower Urinary Tract,” published in the Journal of Feline Medicine, Dr. Buffington wrote, “A name like ‘Pandora’ Syndrome seems appropriate for at least two reasons. First, it does not identify any specific cause or organ, and second, it seems to capture the dismay and dispute associated with the identification of so many problems (‘evils’) outside the organ of interest of any particular sub-specialty.”

The Stress Link 
Dr. Buffington calls Pandora Syndrome and "anxiopathy," that is "a pathologic condition resulting from chronic activation of the central stress response system."

Both genders are equally susceptible to Pandora Syndrome. Affected cats experience variable combinations of a history of:

  • Early adverse life events (found as a stray, orphaned, bottle-fed, etc.), or severe stressful events such as trauma or environmental instability.
  • Concurrent health problems of affected organ systems including the skin, GI tract, lung, endocrine and behavioral.
  • Symptoms wax and wane triggered by stressful environmental events in the cat's life which could be moving to a new home, remodeling, addition of a new cat, person or other animal, and even seasonal weather changes.

There may also be a genetic component involved. Other associated factors include obesity, decreased activity, and indoor housing. The most significant trigger for stressful episodes appears to be inter-cat conflict.

Each individual cat responds to stressors differently and depends on the cat's experience during the socialization stage, early life experiences, and the severity and chronicity of the stressor.

Diagnosis, Treatment and Prevention of Pandora Syndrome
Since there isn't one single cause, diagnosing Pandora Syndrome is frustrating. It requires a thorough physical exam, urinalysis, bloodwork and behavioral assessment at the end of which may conclude with a tentative Pandora Syndrome diagnosis.

Benjamin Franklin's quote, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” is almost as if he wrote it with Pandora Syndrome in mind. There is no cure for Pandora Syndrome so the primary aim of treatment is to reduce environmental stress and provide pain relief.

Environmental enrichment is paramount in the prevention of stress and recurrences of Pandora Syndrome. What Dr. Buffington calls Multimodal Environmental Modification, or MEMO, significantly reduces all clinical signs of Pandora Syndrome. MEMO includes providing an abundance of:

  • All necessary resources (food, water, scrupulously clean litter boxes, toys, scratching posts, etc.).
  • Interactive play sessions.
  • Quality time with their people.
  • Ample space for climbing, hiding, resting--especially crucial in a multi-cat environment to reduce conflict.
  • The use of synthetic pheromone products in the home has also proven beneficial.

One more thing: These cats tend to be uber-sensitive in terms of stress response meaning they tend to be more easily startled, feel pain more intensely and, since cats in general tend to register human stress, they may be more be acutely aware of their owner's stress. A helpful reminder is to us to better manage our own stress levels.

Dr. Buffington advocates, "Effective enrichment is an animal husbandry principle to be applied to all cats, both to optimize their health and well-being, and to minimize the risk of sickness behaviors and illness."

Learn more at Ohio State University Indoor Pet Initiative. https://indoorpet.osu.edu/cats


C.A. Tony Buffington, DVM, PhD, DACVN. "Wellbeing and Health of Indoor Cats." From Portland Veterinary Medical Association Association 2015 Symposium.

Buffington, C A T. "Idiopathic Cystitis in Domestic Cats—Beyond the Lower Urinary Tract." Journal of veterinary internal medicine vol. 25,4 (2011): 784-96.

Buffington, C A T. "Feline Medicine Pandora Syndrome in Cats: Diagnosis and Treatment." Today's Veterinary Practice. https://todaysveterinarypractice.com/feline-medicine-pandora-syndrome-in-cats-diagnosis-and-treatment/

About the Author: Ramona D. Marek, MS Ed. is an award-winning writer and author of “Cats for the GENIUS” who writes about pet care, health and behavior, and cats in the arts.

Her work has been honored with prestigious awards including the Fear Free Pets Award sponsored by Fear Free, LLC; Good News for Pets Human-Animal Bond award; Purina One Health award; and several Cat Writers' Association MUSE Medallions.

Ramona is a professional member of the Cat Writers' Association and in 2016 she was invited to become a member of the the American Association of Feline Practitioners’ Cat Friendly Practice Advisory Council. She is also Fear Free certified.

You can read more about Ramona and her work at www.RamonaMarek.com.


Cat LickingThe Cat’s Amazing Built-in Hairbrush

The mechanism behind that sandpaper feel of a cat’s tongue on your skin is a wonder of physics, designed to clean fur in an amazingly efficient manner. Alexis C. Noela and David L. Hua of the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta have revealed the system by which the barbs on a cat’s tongue are used to groom fur. This unique design may inspire ways to clean complex surfaces, such as the novel brush they designed using this information, created with 3D-printed cat papillae on a silicone substrate. This brush is more efficient than a normal hairbrush and is easier to clean. Read the complete article here.


Kindered Video

Evaluating Your Cat’s Muscle Mass 

In a recent survey, only 14% of veterinarians said they perform feline muscle condition score (MCS) evaluations during physical exams. The survey was conducted with 111 veterinarians by Kindred Biosciences, a biopharmaceutical company, at the 2018 Veterinary Meeting and Expo (VMX).

In the survey, 59% of veterinarians said they captured body condition scores (BCS) during physical exams. BCS and MCS evaluations are a key part of a complete nutritional assessment for cats, says Christina Fernandez, DVM, DACVECC, MRCVS, senior manager, Veterinary Affairs, KindredBio.

“MCS evaluations are a relatively new practice but are increasingly recognized as a best practice in feline care,” Fernandez says. “BCS has been a standard practice for many practitioners, and there are multiple validated scoring systems. Most veterinarians perform a BCS during regular visits, but BCS only evaluates the animal’s body fat. MCS evaluations are easy to incorporate into the physical exam and provide extremely valuable information for trending patient body composition status over time. It helps veterinarians watch for any muscle loss over time to ensure our feline patients maintain a healthy body composition—and maybe even offer early warning signs of disease.”
Muscle loss can be a result of age, illness, and/or injury. No matter what the cause, muscle loss can make an animal weaker, depress immune function, and reduce the ability to recover from illness, surgery, or injury.

The MCS is determined by feeling the cat’s muscles over its back, head, shoulders and hips. Muscle loss contributes to weight loss and can occur in the absence of fat loss. Even an overweight animal can still have declining muscle condition.

“Including an MCS evaluation takes less than a minute to perform,” Fernandez notes. “It’s easy to make it a part of the routine during a regular physical exam, takes no additional equipment, and can be trending over time by recording it in the medical record along with the BCS. It’s a best practice that also provides an excellent opportunity to discuss the importance of overall body weight, body fat, and muscle condition with cat owners.” 

For more information, download the World Small Animal Veterinary Association’s nutrition toolkit. (PDF) here
Watch this video to learn how to perform a muscle condition score (MCS) evaluation.

1. Nutritional Assessment Survey. Veterinary Meeting & Expo (VMX). Feb. 3-7, 2018, Orlando, Florida. Data on file at KindredBio.
2. Freeman LM. What’s Your Pet’s Score? Assessing Muscle Condition. Cummings Veterinary Medical Center at Tufts University. Nov. 16, 2017. Accessed April 11, 2019. Available at: http://vetnutrition.tufts.edu/2017/11/mcs/


You’re Invited!
WINNing CATS FELINE Education & Cat Show at the Maryland State Fairgrounds June 21-23

Winning CatsTICA, CFA Exhibitors/breeders, Veterinarians, and Cat Lovers are invited to attend the Cat Health & Welfare Conference​ presented by Winn Feline Foundation, Dr. Elsey's Cat Products, TICA and CFA. Find out all the details here. 

For more information or to register for the conference click here or email Anthony Hutcherson at Jungletraxcats@gmail.com with a $20 donation made payable to via PayPal. Proceeds from the $30 Seminar registration fee will be donated to WINN to help fund future research into feline health.


Friday, June 21, 2019 from 3-8 PM in the “VISTA Room” at the Maryland State Fairgrounds

Saturday, June 22, 2019 from 3-5 PM in the show hall 

Speakers include:

  • Kate Muers DVM, PhD North Carolina State University Veterinary School
  • Katie Lytle, DVM Wisdom Health
  • Emily Graff, DVM, PhD Auburn University College of Veterinary Medicine
  • Drew Weigner, DVM President-Elect Winn Feline Foundation
  • Glenn Olah, PhD, DAVBP, President Winn Feline Foundation
  • Jody Gookin, DVM PhD North Carolina State University Veterinary School

This show is open to the public 9 am- 3 pm Saturday & 9 am - 4 pm Sunday.
Public Education about Cats, Breeds and Cat Health will be held both days

WINNing CATS FELINE Education & Cat Show, June 21-23, 2019 at the
Maryland State Fairgrounds in Timonium, MD. For more information, go to https://www.capitalcatclub.org/



What is Your Cat’s Social I.Q.?

As cat owners, we know our feline companions are tuned in to our emotions, but this phenomenon has been studied far less in cats than it has been in dogs. Cats are capable of complex communication with humans, as demonstrated by some simple tests of social intelligence you can perform at home with your pets. Learn more here in this article by Kristyn Vitale from Oregon State University.



Gene Microscope

What Can a Genetic Test Tell You About Your Cat?

With more commercial laboratories entering the genetic testing market, how do you choose between them? From colors and heritable diseases, to parentage and inbreeding estimates, each laboratory has its own strengths and weaknesses. Can a cheek swab sample tell you what breed your cat is?

Learn more here.



Causes of Pleural Effusion in Cats

Pleural effusion, the presence of excessive fluid around the lungs, is a common cause of breathing difficulties in cats. A study was performed of almost 400 cats to determine the relative frequency of the underlying cause of this serious, usually fatal, condition. Cats with congestive heart failure accounted for 41% of the cases. These cats had consistently lower body temperatures, while cats with FIP, trauma, other infections, or cancer had a higher average body temperature and were younger. Cancer was the underlying cause of 26% of cases. Diagnosis of this condition is performed with radiology or ultrasound, if the cat is stable enough, followed by aspirating a sample of the fluid through the chest wall and evaluation of the fluid for signs of infection, cancer, or the characteristic appearance of FIP. The SNAP Feline proBNP Test (Idexx) can be performed on the pleural effusion and can diagnosis heart disease in only a few minutes. To find out more click here.

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