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Science Newsletter

In This Issue

Does your Cat Like Her LitterpanUpdated Information on Feline VaccinationCreating a New Language For Modern GeneticsKeeping an Eye on EyesTaking the “Scary” out of Feeding Tubes 

Does Your Cat Like Her Litterpan?

Ultra ghosted CatinBoxFeline elimination habits are more complex than you think! Researchers at the Nestle’ Purina Research facility in Missouri have identified 39 distinct behaviors that can be used to characterize a visit to the litterbox. Tallying these behaviors was then used to determine if a cat was happy with their litterbox or not. The results of this study may surprise you.

In order to fully describe all cat behaviors associated with a litterbox visit, a list of 39 descriptions was developed of observations that could be made during elimination. These included the positioning and movement of the tail, ears, and whiskers; interaction with the substrate and litterpan; body movements such as steps, pivots, and paw shaking; and positioning within the litterpan. For example, tail position was described as an inverted U, erect, wagging, swishing, twitching, or “candy cane”, where a cat holds its tail out horizontally with the end of the tail curled upwards.


The cats were then presented with one of two litterpan scenarios and videotaped. Scenario one, called the “enriched environment”, was a 10’ x 12’ room with lots of toys, hiding places, beds, and shelves. In the middle of the room was a 3’ x 3’ sandbox filled with at least 2” of soft scoopable litter (such as Dr. Elsey’s Precious Cat clumping litter). In contrast, the second scenario, called the “clinic-like environment”, was a 2’ x 2.5’ x 2’ hospital cage with a resting shelf, a few toys, and a litterpan that was 12” x 16” and filled with non-absorbent ½” diameter plastic beads. 

Each elimination event was characterized using the behavior code and the location. Time of day, and number of events in each litterpan was tallied. 90% of the time cats either defecated or urinated when they visited the litterpan. Only 10% of the time did they do both in the same visit. The number of elimination events peaked between 7 and 8 AM. Cats in the enriched environment took less time to “do their business” than cats in the caged environment. Cats in the clinic-like environment pawed and sniffed at the litter and litterpan more both before and after elimination, moved around the litterpan more, and groomed more after elimination.

Most significantly, cats in the enriched environment used the litterpan more frequently, suggesting that enriched environments for cats may be important to prevent urinary problems caused by urine retention in cats faced with less preferred litterboxes. Interestingly, regardless of size, most mammals take 20 seconds to void their bladders. This was the average time for cats to urinate in the enriched environment in the current study. The average 52 seconds that cats in the clinic-like environment took is abnormal, and could theoretically contribute to urinary disease.

In addition, although no out-of-box eliminations were recorded for the enriched environment, a significant number of these occurred with the clinic-like environments.
Does your cat like her litterpan? Observe her behavior! Using the litterpan less often and for a longer duration may be signs that your cat is trying to tell you that an improvement is needed, such as a larger pan or softer, more absorbent litter.

View the complete journal article here.

Updated Information on Feline Vaccination

VetsWhen and how to vaccinate your cat can be a confusing issue. As knowledge about feline immunology and vaccine technology improves, many former recommendations have become obsolete. Read our article on the latest in vaccinating your cat.

There is no "one protocol fits all" when it comes to vaccinating your cats. Each home/cattery must be evaluated individually and vaccinated according to their past history of upper respiratory infections (URI) and current husbandry practices. Cats must be healthy to adequately respond to a vaccine. If a cat or kitten is running a fever, for example, vaccination failure may result. In addition, if a kitten still has circulating antibodies in its system from its mother, ingested during its first 18 hours of life, it will be unable to respond to an injected vaccine. Maternally derived protection generally does not last longer than five to six weeks for rhinotracheitis (herpesvirus), and seven to eight weeks for calicivirus. If a kitten does not nurse adequately during the first 18 hours or if the queen does not have an adequate immunity from her own vaccinations, this period of protection may be reduced.

In a small, closed cattery with no history of URI, kittens should be vaccinated with an injectable, modified live calici/rhinotraceitis/panelukopenia vaccine every 3-4 weeks starting at 8 weeks, for instance at 8, 12, 16, and 20 weeks. The addition of a vaccine at 20 weeks is due to recent evidence that as many as 1/3 of all cats may not be protected against panleukopenia if the vaccine series is stopped at 16 weeks. After a booster at 12 months, cats should be revaccinated no earlier than every three years. Due to their ability to cause feline vaccine-related fibrosarcoma, feline leukemia and rabies vaccines should only be used where a kitten or young cat has a chance of going outside or, in the case of rabies, where wildlife infection with rabies is present in the area or vaccination is required by law. Interestingly, cats contain genetic material from the feline leukemia virus in their own DNA. This results in cats “self-vaccinating” themselves as adults against this virus. Therefore, there is no benefit to vaccinating adult cats against FeLV. Rabies vaccines should be given in the right rear leg, as far from the body as possible.

Vaccinations against other infectious diseases, such as feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV), Chlamydia felis, and Bordetella bronchiseptica are considered “non-core” vaccines by the American Association of Feline Practioners. Vaccination against FIV will cause your cat to test positive for this disease in the future, which can cause confusion with diagnostics or even placement of the cat into a new home. The vaccine against chlamydia felis, an infectious disease treatable with antibiotics, has low efficacy, but a high incidence of side effects. It should only be considered in multiple cat situations where control of this disease has been unsuccessful. There is no effective vaccine against feline infectious peritonitis (FIP), unfortunately.

In breeding catteries with a history of respiratory illness, the normal protocols may need adjusting. Identifying virus shedders through PCR (genetic) testing can be helpful to identify if a dam is likely to infect her kittens. Kittens with waning maternal immunity are highly susceptible to these viruses and young kittens should be isolated with their queens to reduce the potential for infection during this sensitive transition period. Intranasal two-way vaccines for rhinotracheitis and calicivirus (without panleukopenia) can be used to protect kittens in the presence of viral shedders By stimulating a cell-mediated response in the mucous membranes, intranasal vaccines may even help protect kittens with circulating maternal immunity and anecdotal evidence has supported consideration of their use at an age earlier than label indications.

Never administer the panleukopenia vaccine to a pregnant cat or expose a pregnant cat to cats that have been recently vaccinated with modified live panleukopenia. Use of killed virus vaccines with adjuvant are no longer recommended, due to their ability to cause vaccine-related sarcomas. The use of multi-dose vaccine vials with killed virus, in particular, has been linked to this deadly form of cancer. Consider using newer non-adjuvanted vaccines, such as the Ultra Hybrid vaccines by Elanco or Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica which have a reduced vaccine volume and inactivated calici virus.
Vaccinating queens prior to breeding can help optimize antibody levels in the colostrum ingested by newborn kittens in their first 18 hours of life. For kittens that have not had an opportunity to nurse during this critical period, blood can be drawn from any blood-type compatible cat, centrifuged, and the serum (the liquid portion of the blood) injected subcutaneously or administered by mouth to the newborn kitten within the first few hours after birth. This simulates the queens colostrum and provides protective antibodies to the kitten. Kitten milk replacers that list “colostrum” as an ingredient are not effective for this purpose.

Vaccination Guidelines for Dogs and Cats, UC Davis Veterinary Hospital https://www.vetmed.ucdavis.edu/hospital/animal-health-topics/vaccination-guidelines

Lappin, M. R., et al. 2006b. Effects of a single dose of an intranasal feline herpesvirus 1, calicivirus, and
panleukopenia vaccine on clinical signs and virus shedding after challenge with virulent feline herpesvirus
1. Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery 8: 158.

Creating a New Language For Modern Genetics

Gene Microscope2Scientists call for unified standards in 3-D genome and epigenetic data in order to find a common language to share complex genetic data.

Genotypes are commonly presented as a string of letters representing the four nucleotides that comprise DNA. But this simplistic representation doesn’t reflect why certain genes are expressed in one cell, but not another, or why individuals with the same exact genetic sequence can express proteins in different ways. This broader science of genetics is called “epigenetics” and is the next new frontier of study in the heritability of traits, the mechanism of cancer, cell differentiation, and the interaction between organisms and their environment, to give a few examples.

A worldwide consortium of geneticists from France, the UK, the US, Italy, Germany, and Spain has been formed to develop new technologies toward understanding the dynamics of three-dimensional organization of the nucleus of cells and DNA within the nucleus. Through this work, they hope to develop standard ways of mapping the differences between cell types, expressing how gene expression actually works in health and disease states, and to better understand how DNA functions are achieved within each cell nucleus.

"We know that genome folding and its dynamics modulate gene expression and new technologies allow us to build 3-D models to study these changes, which is currently shaking up genome research and boosting our understanding of the cell nucleus complexity," explains Marc A. Marti-Renom, research professor at the Centre for Genomic Regulation (CRG) in Barcelona, Spain. "This is an absolutely promising field and we would like to call for standards since the rapid development of methods and the increasing complexity of data pose many challenges that must be addressed now.”


Keeping an Eye on Eyes

Hereditary Blindness in Cats by Lorraine Shelton

Look deeply into your cats eyes. Did you know that some forms of blindness can be very subtle? There are many heritable causes of eye disease that breeders should be aware.

Dr. Leslie Lyons brought me into a special room of the cat colony at UC Davis and asked me, “What is special about these cats”? I looked around the large room and saw the usual perching areas, cat beds, and toys of a modern research environment. I walked up to one of the friendly cats, who turned her head and reached towards me, looking for affection. Another cat nearby leapt onto a perch with confidence and precision. “Every cat in this room is blind,” she told me.

In developing a genetic test for progressive retinal atrophy (PRA) in Persian and Bengal cats, she stated that coming up with a diagnostic test for blindness was actually a challenge, as cats adapt very well to this deficit. They first tried dangling cotton balls on threads, but even the air currents generated by a light piece of cotton was enough for the cat’s whiskers to follow the movement. In the end, the red dot of a laser cat toy projected on a nearby surface proved to be the best tool for evaluating if a cat could see or not.

Could you have a blind cat and not know it? It is very possible. Early in the history of this project, it was discovered that a top show winning Persian was completely blind due to PRA, something that was not identified by any of the judges. PRA is caused when the cells at the back of the eye degenerate and lose their function. Some signs to look for are dilated pupils, clumsiness, or lack of response to a visual stimulus, such as the laser toy previously mentioned.

Although most feline eye disease and blindness is caused by infectious disease, such as inflammation of the inner structures of the eye (uveitis), damage to the outside front of the eyeball (corneal sequestrum), or inflammation of the supporting structures around the eye (conjunctivitis), blindness can also be caused by retinal detachment caused by high blood pressure, often due to kidney or thyroid disease, especially in older cats. Glaucoma, a condition marked by excessive fluid pressure within the eyeball that can cause it to harden, also occurs in cats.

But the two specific eye diseases that have been identified as being heritable in cats are retinal atrophy or dyslasia and cataracts, in which the lens gradually clouds up and prevents light from entering the eye. These include a late onset photoreceptor cell degeneration that typically occurs at 3-5 years of age (a recessive trait associated with the CEP290 gene), an early onset rod/cone retinal cell developmental dysplasia (a dominant trait, much lower in incidence, associated with the CRX gene), and an early onset photoreceptor degeneration (a recessive trait, referred to as the PRA-pd mutation), for which there are DNA tests. The CEP290 variant has been found in many breeds, including American Curl, American Wirehair, Bengal, the Siamese Breed Group, Cornish Rex, Munchkin, Peterbald, Singapura and Tonkinese. The CRX variant appears limited to Abyssinian and Somali cats. The PRA-pd mutation appears limited to the Persian Breed Group and breeds that have used these cats as outcrosses.

In addition, two forms of hereditary cataracts have been recently characterized. In a study of Russian Blue cats in Sweden, 1/3 of the 66 cats examined had cataracts by 14 months of age. Although the genetic cause has not yet been identified, pedigree analyses indicated a simple autosomal recessive mode of inheritance for this disease, although a dominant mode of inheritance with incomplete penetrance could not be excluded. The high prevalence suggests that Russian Blue breeders should have their cats examined by a veterinary ophthalmologist before breeding is considered. (Reference: http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1098612X17752197)

In addition, a non-progressive form of cataracts in Bengal Cats has been identified in France. Fifty‐one Bengal cats were examined to determine the incidence of cataracts in the breed, half were from six different catteries and half were individually owned cats. Cataracts were observed in 23 of 51 (45%) cats The average age at which cataracts were diagnosed was 2.3 years. Based on an analysis of pedigrees, a recessive mode of inheritance appears likely, although the genetic cause has not yet been determined. Luckily, the cataract changes were typically mild to moderate, did not get worse with time, and there was no clinical evidence of visual impairment. (Reference: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/vop.12470)

Look deeply into your cats eyes. Get that laser pointer out and play with your cats (making sure not to shine the light in your cats’ eyes!). If any of your cats don’t seem to participate in the game or you see any signs of cloudiness in their eyes, you may want to consult a veterinary ophthalmologist.

Taking the “Scary” out of Feeding Tubes

Orange smaller 73The news that your vet is recommending a feeding tube for your cat can be shocking and emotional for owners. Because cats decline rapidly if they do not eat, even small problems such as a dental abscess can lead to a need for a feeding tube to ensure that the cat will get adequate nutrition and hydration while recovering. In addition, many common cat illnesses such as diabetes, chronic kidney failure, and lymphoma can lead to longer-term inappetence and the need for a tube. If you own a cat, there is a good chance that you will be faced with this situation at some point, and it need not be a scary prospect if you are armed with knowledge; in fact, it may be the single most important factor in saving your cat’s life.

Consequences of Not Eating

Cats are unique among mammals not only in their protein requirements (being obligate carnivores) but also in how they react to fasting. As little as 24-48 hours of not eating can precipitate a life-threatening condition known as Feline Hepatic Lipidosis. For some reason, veterinarians and breeders tend not to mention this possibility to new cat owners and many cats’ lives could be saved if they did.

The disease begins when the cat stops eating from a loss of appetite for any reason, forcing the liver to convert body fat into usable energy. The cat liver, however, is poor at metabolizing fat, causing a buildup of fat in the cells of the liver, leading to fatty liver. Prognosis varies depending on the stage of the disease. Untreated, and without getting food into the cat, the mortality rate is extremely high. Fortunately, the disease is reversible through intense feeding-in other words, the cure is food!

Therefore, even if there is no other medical problem present, fasting alone can become deadly.

In addition to disease processes such as cancer, kidney disease, dental abscesses or mouth injuries, cats can stop eating for a variety of social and situational reasons. Common ones include a new cat in the household, boarding or staying in an unfamiliar place, anxiety regarding changes in the household such as a new baby, and a myriad of other reasons.

What about Assisted Feeding?

Assisted feeding is known as “force feeding” for a reason. The majority of cats do not like to be restrained, nor do they like their mouth touched. In many cases, the reason the cat may not be eating is that food does not smell/taste good at the moment, or there is nausea present.

By “forcing” the cat to eat, you can easily create a long-lasting aversion to food based on her aversion to the process.

In addition, a debilitated cat needs a significant amount of food; the Resting Energy Requirement (amount needed to sustain life with minimal activity) for an eight-pound cat is approximately 184 calories; the minimum per day with average activity would be 221 calories to maintain (not gain) weight. If a cat has lost weight and needs to regain it, she will need to eat the number of calories to achieve the desired (or former) weight. Thus, a normally ten-pound cat who has lost two pounds and now weighs eight pounds, would need to eat at least 267 calories per day. If a given food is 26 calories per ounce, the cat would need 10.3 ounces daily. This equates to 309cc, and at 5 cc per teaspoon, the cat would have to eat 62 teaspoons per day! This is a minimum to maintain adequate nutrition and would be even more volume if you dilute the food to help with hydration. Impractical, inefficient, and unpleasant for all concerned.

A more practical solution is to have an esophageal tube placed so that you can feed and medicate the cat without the need to “force” it.

What is an Esophageal tube?

Esophageal tubes (‘E’-tubes) are used for a variety of reasons in cats, from illnesses to mouth injuries. They allow owners to provide adequate fluid intake and good nutrition to a cat who is unwilling or unable to eat. Unlike in many cases of human medicine, ‘E’ tubes are less likely to be an ‘end-of-life’ or ‘last resort’ option in cats.

‘E’-tubes are placed in a brief surgical procedure and designed to be left in place as long as nutritional support is needed. The tube passes from the side of the neck directly into the esophagus and terminates at the beginning of the stomach. Food and medications that you introduce into the tube can then go directly to the stomach.

After insertion there is no pain from the site and most cats forget about it completely.

Why is the Esophageal Tube Better?

Benefits of esophageal feeding tube placement in cats:

  • Bypasses any painful or improperly functioning parts of the digestive tract (mouth, jaw, throat, upper esophagus)
  • Allows the most nutritious/prescription food to be fed, even if your cat would not normally like the taste
  • Supplies adequate fluids without having to use intravenous access/sub-Q fluids
  • Facilitates easy administration of medications (those that can be crushed or liquid) without having to restrain/stress your cat
  • Does not interfere with normal eating, allowing your cat’s favorite foods or snacks to be fed

With an ‘e’-tube in place, you no longer have to worry about your cat getting proper nutrition.

Care of the Tube and the Insertion Site

Once the decision is made to have a tube placed, you will be responsible for home care. While the entire process of what/how much/when to feed and how to care of the tube insertion site can seem daunting, it is relatively simple with a few essential tools.

We will discuss those questions as well as techniques, tips and tricks to make the process smooth for both you and your cat, in Part Two of this article in the next issue.

Donna Garrou is the creator of Kitty Kollar®, the complete, patented wrap solution that makes post-surgical management of esophageal tubes simpler, safer and more effective. Donna developed the product when her cat Quasimodo required an ‘e’-tube and she was dissatisfied with the traditional bandaging solution which allowed him to remove the tube. Her goal was to ensure that every pet, everywhere, received a Kitty Kollar at the time of ‘e’-tube surgery. Through the process of working with over 4000 pet owners and veterinarians around the world she has gleaned many tips and tricks for dealing with esophageal tubes and their care and seeks to offer this information as an adjunct and resource for both owners and veterinarians. www.KittyKollar.com.

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