October 29, 2020 – Morris Animal Foundation has funded seven decades of cat health research, recognizing the popularity of cats in our homes and the need to keep them healthy and purring. And we couldn’t do it without the dedication of cat researchers around the world who work tirelessly to provide better diagnostics, treatments and preventives for serious health concerns in cats.
Here are just a few ways our funded researchers have helped our feline friends live longer and healthier lives:
Feline leukemia virus is a highly infectious killer of cats. The virus weakens a cat’s immune defenses, making them susceptible to other diseases, including cancer. Like many of our projects, Morris Animal Foundation provided early funding that helped researchers figure out the biological mechanisms of this disease while characterizing its different strains. This new information contributed to the research push that led to the development of a vaccine. Almost three decades later, an effective vaccine and improved diagnostics for feline leukemia has saved the lives of thousands of cats.
Feline Infectious Peritonitis
Feline infectious peritonitis virus is a cat-specific coronavirus that causes feline infectious peritonitis, a heartbreaking disease that mostly affects kittens and young cats, often taking them quickly. Morris Animal Foundation has funded decades of work, helping researchers better understand how viral mutations occurring in a common, benign gastrointestinal virus causes deadly feline infectious peritonitis (FIP). Thanks to our funding of the basic biology of the disease, researchers now are working on better diagnostics and vaccines. We still have work ahead of us, but are hopeful solutions are within our grasp. Thanks to our funding, one group recently identified an effective antiviral (not on the market yet for North American cats, but getting a lot of attention for humans with another deadly coronavirus, COVID-19). Another group is working on developing a vaccine strategy to stop the less deadly gastrointestinal virus in its tracks, which in turn will prevent associated FIP.
Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) is one of the most common heart diseases in cats. Some cats with HCM remain asymptomatic and lead relatively healthy lives, while others experience devastating complications, including painful blood clots that result in loss of the use of their hind legs, organ damage and death. Catching heart disease earlier will help improve the management of HCM and save cats before life-threatening complications occur. Recently, our funded researchers developed a two-minute screening test strategy for cats with that is easy-to-use in a veterinary clinical setting as well as training videos for veterinarians. This new and simple screening tool may prove to be a game-changer in the fight against HCM.
A decade ago, Morris Animal Foundation made a concentrated effort to fund more research to help improve the health and wellness of shelter cats. This effort pushed science forward for FIP and other viral diseases commonly seen in shelters, including upper respiratory disease – a top reason for euthanasia of shelter cats. One research team found that reducing the incidence of upper respiratory disease could be as simple as changing the way we house cats in shelters. The team developed a new two-compartment housing unit that provided ample room for cats to hide, as well as separating their food and litter box areas. The team saw a drastic reduction of stress and upper respiratory infections in shelter cats housed in these new units. This new cage design has been adopted worldwide and has revolutionized how we house and care for cats not only in shelters, but in veterinary clinics, rescue group facilities and wherever cats are housed temporarily and close together.
Morris Animal Foundation recently funded researchers that developed a more efficient way to look for novel feline viruses, including those that contribute to cancer in cats. A key finding from this group was the discovery of a liver-related virus. The team currently is developing diagnostic tools to gauge the worldwide incidence of the virus and studying how this newly discovered virus contributes to disease in cats, including liver cancer.
We couldn’t do our work without the support and dedication of our cat researchers around the world and donors like you.
If you’d like to learn more, check out our Fresh Scoop podcasts featuring our researchers talking about chronic kidney disease, shelter medicine and hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, as well as its associated clotting complications.
Here’s to seven more decades of cat research and our ongoing effort to conquer feline diseases so cat lovers everywhere can spend more quality time with their pets and have the tools they need to keep them healthy.