Updated June 1, 2023 – If you’ve ever taken your cat to the veterinary clinic for an annual exam or for a health emergency, chances are your pet has benefited from work supported by Morris Animal Foundation. The Foundation has funded more than 440 feline health studies, investing just over $18.7 million to improve the health and well-being of cats everywhere. For 75 years, our funded research has helped improve diagnostics, treatments and preventives for our feline friends.
Here are just a few examples of how our research has made a difference in the lives of cats:
- Our funding helped support foundational studies that led to the development of the first feline leukemia vaccine, which has saved countless cat lives.
- We supported research that led to the development of antiviral drugs for a deadly coronavirus in cats.
- Our funded researchers have helped improve heart screening and continue to look for new ways to conquer devastating clotting complications associated with heart disease.
- We provide shelter veterinarians with the tools they need to improve the health of shelter animals, so more cats can find their forever homes.
- Our funded researchers recently generated a detailed cat genome, a valuable research tool for the discovery of the genetic causes of cat diseases.
We are proud of the work we have done to improve the lives of cats, and we are committed to continuing our research to make even more progress in the years to come.
Feline Infectious Peritonitis
Feline leukemia is a highly contagious viral disease with no known cure that has been linked to lymphoma and other fatal illnesses in cats. We provided early funding that helped researchers figure out the biological mechanisms of feline leukemia virus while characterizing different strains. This new information contributed to the research push that led to the development of a vaccine. Decades later, an effective vaccine and improved diagnostics for feline leukemia has saved the lives of millions of cats.
Feline infectious peritonitis (FIP) virus is a cat-specific coronavirus and the cause of a heartbreaking, almost 100% fatal disease that mostly affects kittens and young cats. Morris Animal Foundation has funded decades of work, helping researchers better understand how viral mutations occurring in a common, benign gastrointestinal virus causes deadly FIP in cats.
We still have work ahead of us, but solutions are within our grasp. Thanks to our funding, one group developed the first effective antiviral drug (not yet on the market for North American cats) that can cure some cats of FIP, a stunning development. Work from this study also provided key information early in the COVID-19 pandemic to help get the first approved antiviral drugs for humans to market – a great example of how helping our furry friends can sometimes help us.
Ongoing Foundation-funded FIP studies are focused on different vaccine strategies to prevent FIP in cats. One project focused on developing an oral vaccine strategy to stop the less deadly gastrointestinal virus in its tracks, which in turn will prevent associated FIP. This would be particularly useful for shelters or other places where cats live closely together.
Another team is using lessons learned from the development of mRNA vaccines for human coronaviruses as first steps toward creating a similarly-designed vaccine for FIP in cats. We believe with continued investment in FIP research, veterinarians will one day have effective ways to treat and prevent this devastating and deadly virus in young cats.
Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) is the most common feline heart disease. Some cats with HCM remain asymptomatic and lead relatively healthy lives, while others experience devastating complications, including painful blood clots that result in paralysis of the 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.
In one recent study, our funded researchers developed a two-minute screening test strategy for cats that is easy to use in a veterinary clinical setting. This new and simple screening tool could prove to be a game changer in the fight against HCM, providing opportunities to manage the disease earlier.
Ongoing Foundation-funded studies are looking at the genetics of HCM and the deadly clotting complicationsassociated with this heart disease. Researchers hope their findings will help inform the development of new screening tests and the discovery of novel drug targets and therapies.
For many years, Morris Animal Foundation has made a concentrated effort to fund more research to 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.
In addition to supporting the development of novel, cost-effective treatments for upper respiratory disease, our funding supported key research into how changing shelter housing can save lives and reduce disease in shelter cats. Our funded researchers 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.
We’re also partnering with the Denver Dumb Friends League and EveryCat Health Foundation to test if the addition of a cat den within a larger holding kennel improves health outcomes for cats in a shelter environment.
In other studies, researchers are working on noninvasive contraceptive strategies to help reduce free-roaming cat populations that contribute to overcrowded shelter facilities. While trap-neuter-release programs are effective, many communities do not have the resources to successfully run these types of programs. An easier, noninvasive solution would greatly help improve the welfare of cats on a global scale.
Researchers recently completed the first, highly-detailed cat genome for a domestic cat and a wild felid, comparable in quality to the human genome. These new genetic resources provide unprecedented opportunities for discovering genetic traits and disease-causing genetic variation in cats and their wild relatives. A complete cat reference genome also will help inform the design of new diagnostic and genetic tests and provide a foundation for future gene therapies for feline diseases.
Our pets are living longer than ever, thanks in part to better nutrition and health care. One area of interest for the Foundation is helping improve the health and welfare of our pets as they age, especially for cats experiencing cognitive decline – an understudied area of research.
Recent surveys of cat owners indicate approximately 28% of cats aged 11 to 14 years old develop signs of behavior and cognitive decline, with prevalence increasing to over 50% in cats aged 15 years or older. Our funded researchers want to know if low-grade chronic inflammation (as measured by specific blood markers and physical changes) affects the quality of life and cognitive performance of older cats. The team hopes their findings will help educate cat owners on the relationship between physical, cognitive and behavioral health to help improve the quality of life for their aging pets.
Another area of concern for aging cats is cancer. As cats age, their risk of developing some form of cancer increases as well. The Foundation has a long history in funding cat cancer research, including an oral cancer called squamous cell carcinoma that is challenging to treat. Ongoing studies are assessing the potential of new nanobody-targeted therapies that target oral cancer tumors directly, sparing surrounding healthy tissues. Our funded researchers hope their findings will improve overall survival and quality of life for cats affected by this devastating and painful cancer.
Here's How You Can Help
Follow us to learn more about how these new areas of research and other funded animal health research is helping cats live longer and healthier lives.
Or create your own fundraiser to honor a beloved pet while raising funds for critical health studies to benefit animals everywhere.