* Model helps identify drugs to treat cat eye infections

It’s a problem veterinarians see all the time, but there are few treatments. Feline herpes virus 1 (FHV-1) is a frequent cause of eye infections in cats, but the drugs available to treat these infections must be applied multiple times a day and there is scant scientific evidence to support their use.

Now scientists at the Baker Institute for Animal Health at Cornell’s College of Veterinary Medicine have developed a model system that can be used to test drugs for treating these eye infections, and early results have pointed to a new drug for treating FHV-1 that will soon head to clinical trials. The work is reported in the Journal of General Virology.

“Herpes-induced cornea infections are a big problem in cats,” says Dr. Gerlinde Van de Walle, who led the study. Cats infected with FHV-1 will blink continuously, squint and have a teary, sore-looking eye or eyes. “If not treated, FHV-1 infection can eventually lead to blindness,” she says.

“We wanted to develop a model system that could predict whether an antiviral drug would work against FHV-1 in cats,” says Van de Walle. They were also searching for an easy way to identify drugs that could be given only once every 24 hours, because, as vets and many cat owners know, giving medication to a cat multiple times a day can be a difficult, painful thing to accomplish. Smearing ointment in a cat’s eyes might be easy the first and second time, but once the cat learns what you’re up to with that little tube, she will most likely hide or fight.

Van de Walle and her team used tissues donated from cats that died of causes other than eye disease. The outer clear layer of the eye, called the cornea, is shaped like a contact lens but has the consistency of Jell-O. To maintain the natural, dome-shaped structure of these corneas under laboratory conditions, the team gently filled them with agarose, waited for the agarose to firm up, then turned them over and kept them in a liquid medium. The model better resembles what happens in the eyes of a cat compared with using a single layer of cells in a dish and can, therefore, better predict what to expect in the animal.

To use these petri plate corneas as a model of FHV-1 infection, they applied the virus to some of the corneas and left others uninfected. They then tested the effectiveness of two drugs that are used for topical treatment of FHV-1 eye infections in cats: cidofovir, which is frequently used in the clinic, and acyclovir, which has shown some activity when given frequently. Both drugs cleared the infection when applied every 12 hours, but cidofovir was more effective.

Taking it a step further, Van de Walle and her team used the model system to identify another drug for treating FHV-1 infections. The antiretroviral drug raltegravir is commonly used in humans to treat HIV infections, and although some reports indicated it could be effective against herpes viruses, it had never been used to treat FHV-1 in cats before.

“We found that it is very effective against FHV-1. It even worked when we applied the drug only once every 24 hours,” says Van de Walle. This means raltegravir could be just as efficient as the other drugs available for treating FHV-1 infections, but would only have to be administered once daily. Van de Walle says she hopes eventually to see the drug tested in a well-controlled clinical trial.  Science Daily Original web page at Science Daily


* The snow leopard — world’s most mysterious big cat — may be more common than thought

The snow leopard has long been one of the least studied — and therefore poorly understood — of the large cats. No longer.

Scientists studying snow leopards now say the big cats may be more common than previously thought. New estimates focused on areas described as ‘Snow Leopard Conservation Units,’ covering only 44 percent of the snow leopard’s extensive range (which extends over roughly 3 million km2 or 1,158,306 square miles) suggests that there may be between 4,678 and 8,745 snow leopards just in these units. This is higher than previous estimates for the entire global population, which had previously been thought to be only between 3,920 and 7,500.

The new census information appears in Snow Leopards, published by Elsevier Press and edited by Dr. Tom McCarthy and Dr. David Mallon. The book is an astonishingly comprehensive work on the biology, behavior and conservation status of these previously mysterious and enigmatic large carnivores. The book brings together the most current scientific knowledge, documents the most pressing conservation issues, and shares success stories in alleviating the broad threats that now jeopardize the long-term survival of this species.

The snow leopard (Panthera uncia) lives across the great mountain ranges of Asia, occurring in the highland regions of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bhutan, China, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Mongolia, Nepal, and Russia. The snow leopard is perfectly adapted for these high mountains with its powerful legs for jumping, thick fur for warmth, grayish-white color pattern for camouflage, and long tail for balance.

However, because of their remote and difficult habitat, shy behavior, and cryptic coloration, studying snow leopards has been extremely difficult.

“Only in recent years have advances such as satellite telemetry and compact camera traps capable of taking high-quality night shots while surviving extreme low temperatures allowed scientists to begin to unravel the mysteries behind the snow leopard’s life,” said WCS scientist and veterinarian Dr. Stephane Ostrowski.

Said Peter Zahler, Coordinator for the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Snow Leopard Program: “This is an incredibly important book. It has collected virtually all the most recent research and information from all 12 range states, covering biology, behavior, threats, and conservation activities for this mysterious and elusive big cat and for the ‘mountain monarchs’ — Asia’s wild mountain goats and sheep — that are their main prey. This book will serve as the go-to reference work on snow leopards for decades to come.”

WCS affiliates and staff authored or co-authored nine chapters in the book, covering such topics as biogeography and status; community governance; transboundary initiatives; disease; resource extraction and linear infrastructure; rescue, rehabilitation, translocation, reintroduction, and captive rearing; the role of snow leopards as zoo ambassadors; status and conservation in Afghanistan; and global strategies for snow leopard conservation.

WCS authors included Peter Zahler, Richard Paley, Stephane Ostrowski, Dale Miquelle, Patrick Thomas, Eric Sanderson, Kim Fisher, Zalmai Moheb, Anthony Simms, and Martin Gilbert, as well as a forward by WCS Senior Conservationist George Schaller.

Despite the good news about snow leopard numbers, the species still faces multiple pressures.

Said Richard Paley, Director of the WCS Afghanistan Program: “Snow leopards are still regularly poached for their beautiful fur. They are also killed in retaliation for taking herder’s livestock. With the decline in their wild prey from overhunting, snow leopards may find themselves forced to take more livestock, which leads to a vicious cycle that snow leopards often lose.”

Said Dale Miquelle, WCS Big Cat expert: “We have lost over 90 percent of the world’s wild tigers in the last 100 years, and we have lost over 40 percent of African lions in the last 20 years. Big cats around the world are in danger of extinction. While it is great news to discover that there are more snow leopards than we thought, there is also a good chance that this situation might not last.”

“The protection of snow leopards, their prey, and their unique high-mountain landscapes must continue to be a priority for the global community,” said Zahler. “Because of the low human density in these mountains there is still extensive habitat for snow leopards. But with growing pressures — hunting, mining, roads, and even climate change — our window for ensuring long-term protection of these big cats will close fast.” Science Daily  Original web page at Science Daily


Cats seem to grasp the laws of physics

Cats understand the principle of cause and effect as well as some elements of physics. Combining these abilities with their keen sense of hearing, they can predict where possible prey hides. These are the findings of researchers from Kyoto University in Japan, led by Saho Takagi and published in Springer’s journal Animal Cognition.

Previous work conducted by the Japanese team established that cats predict the presence of invisible objects based on what they hear. In the present study, the researchers wanted to find out if cats use a causal rule to infer if a container holds an object, based on whether it is shaken along with a sound or not. The team also wanted to establish if cats expect an object to fall out or not, once the container is turned over.

Thirty domestic cats were videotaped while an experimenter shook a container. In some cases this action went along with a rattling sound. In others it did not, to simulate that the vessel was empty. After the shaking phase, the container was turned over, either with an object dropping down or not.

Two experimental conditions were congruent with physical laws, where shaking was accompanied by a (no) sound and an (no) object to fall out of the container. The other two conditions were incongruent to the laws of physics. Either a rattling sound was followed by no object dropping out of the container or no sound while shaking led to a falling object.

The cats looked longer at the containers which were shaken together with a noise. This suggests that cats used a physical law to infer the existence (or absence) of objects based on whether they heard a rattle (or not). This helped them predict whether an object would appear (or not) once the container was overturned.

The animals also stared longer at containers in incongruent conditions, meaning an object dropped despite its having been shaken noiselessly or the other way around. It is as if the cats realized that such conditions did not fit into their grasp of causal logic.

“Cats use a causal-logical understanding of noise or sounds to predict the appearance of invisible objects,” says Takagi.

Researchers suggest that species’ surroundings influence their ability to find out information based on what they hear. The ecology of cats’ natural hunting style may therefore also favor the ability for inference on the basis of sounds. Takagi explains that hunting cats often need to infer the location or the distance of their prey from sounds alone because they stake out places of poor visibility. Further research is needed to find out exactly what cats see in their mind’s eye when they pick up noises, and if they can extract information such as quantity and size from what they hear. Science Daily  Original web page at Science Daily


* Reintroduction of lynx requires larger numbers to avoid genetic depletion

For successful reintroduction of lynx into the wild, the number of released animals is crucial. If only a few lynx are reintroduced to found a population, the genetic diversity is too low to ensure their long-term sustainability. An international research team has recently published these findings in the scientific journal Conservation Genetics. The researchers highlight the need to strengthen newly established European lynx populations by additional translocations of lynx as well as other conservation measures.

Scientists of the German Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (IZW), the Bavarian Forest National Park (Germany), the Polish Academy of Sciences (Poland) and the Russian Academy of Sciences (Russia) investigated the genetic status of two lynx populations in the Bohemian-Bavarian and Vosges-Palatinian forests in central Europe.

The Eurasian lynx (Lynx lynx) is the largest European cat species and has been protected in the EU since 1992. Originally spread throughout all of Europe, the species is now mainly limited to protected areas such as national parks. Current populations only exist because countries have invested a considerable effort to protect lynx in Europe or to reintroduced them to suitable habitat in its former range. Reintroduced populations face some specific challenges: “Our results show that these reintroduced populations usually consist of too few individuals to be self-sustaining. Small populations are highly vulnerable to loss of genetic variation because each individual represents a high percentage of the population’s gene pool,” explains Daniel Förster, geneticist at the IZW.

The population in the Bohemian-Bavarian forest was founded by introducing 5 to 10 lynxes in the 1970s and later supplementing them with 18 additional individuals. The population in the Vosges-Palatinian forest was founded by 21 lynxes released between 1983 and 1993. From this already limited number of founders, only some individuals actually produced offspring. “From a genetic point of view this means that the few founder animals represented little genetic variation,” says Jörns Fickel, coauthor of the study and also a geneticist at the IZW. To assess the effect of the reintroduction on the genetic status of these two lynx populations, the scientists compared their genetic diversity with those of naturally occurring lynx populations in Eastern Europe. For this purpose they analysed molecular markers in lynx DNA obtained from fecal, blood, and tissue samples.

The study showed that these two populations displayed very low genetic diversity in comparison with other European lynx populations, with far fewer genetic variants present in the new populations than in the naturally occurring populations. A previous study on a reintroduced lynx population in Slovenia and Croatia already indicated that small reintroduced populations suffer from low genetic diversity. The current study now confirms these findings and thus points towards a more general pattern: Small populations are unlikely to survive in the long term. According to the authors of the study, it is well justified to classify the Bohemian-Bavarian population as “endangered” and the Vosges-Palatinian population as “critically endangered” as is currently done by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN Red List). Thus, suitable measures for their ‘genetic reinforcement’ and conservation need to be taken.

Especially for small populations it is crucial that not a single individual dies before it has reproduced — be it of natural causes or poaching. “It is therefore really important to reduce the illegal killing of lynx to establish and maintain a long-term viable population” emphasizes Förster. He and his colleagues also advocate the reintroduction of more lynxes to directly strengthen the genetic variability of the populations. Indirect conservation measures such as setting up wildlife corridors can further facilitate the genetic exchange between neighbouring populations and thus contribute to the strengthening of the overall lynx population as well.  Science Daily  Original web page at Science Daily


New guidelines explain how to monitor and treat hyperthyroid cats

Over the last 30+ years, veterinary professionals’ understanding of clinical feline hyperthyroidism (FHT) has evolved tremendously. Initially FHT cats were referred to a specialist and now primary practitioners routinely manage these cases. The disease reportedly affects from 1.5-11.4% of cats around the world and is the most common endocrine disease of cats over 10 years of age in the US. The Guidelines for the Management of Feline Hyperthyroidism, from the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP), are published today in the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery.

The new Guidelines explain FHT as a primary disease process with compounding factors and also provide a concise explanation of what veterinary professionals know to be true about the etiology and pathogenesis of the disease. Specifically, the Guidelines:

  • Distill the current research literature into simple recommendations for testing sequences that will avoid misdiagnosis and separate a FHT diagnosis into six clinical categories with associated management strategies.
  • Emphasize the importance of treating all hyperthyroid cats, regardless of comorbidities, and outline the currently available treatments for the disease.
  • Explain how to monitor the treated cat to help avoid exacerbating comorbid diseases.
  • Dispel some of the myths surrounding certain aspects of FHT and replace them with an evidence-based narrative that veterinarians and their practice teams can apply to feline patients and communicate to their owners.

“Our hope is that by using these Guidelines, veterinary professionals will be able to diagnose FHT long before the cat becomes the classic scrawny, unkempt patient with a mass on its neck,” said Cynthia Ward, VMD, PhD, DACVIM, and AAFP Advisory Panel Co-Chair. “With newer clinical presentations, the Guidelines explain how a cat can fall into one of six categories, and include a diagnostic and management strategy for each.”

“The Guidelines provide guidance on how to recognize the health significance of early presentations of the disease, how to treat the disease, and recommend treatment for all hyperthyroid cats with management of any comorbidity,” explains Hazel Carney, DVM, MS, DABVP (Canine & Feline), and AAFP Advisory Panel Co-Chair.

A client brochure outlining signs and symptoms of FHT, treatment options and management goals is also available, together with a chart comparing the four principal methods of FHT treatment.  Science Daily Original web page at Science Daily


Evolution of the Javan leopard

An international team of researchers from Germany and Indonesia has discovered new insights into the evolutionary history of the Javan leopard. The results of the study confirm that Javan leopards are clearly distinct from Asian leopards and probably colonised Java around 600,000 years ago via a land bridge from mainland Asia. The study, published in the scientific journal Journal of Zoology, highlights the urgent need for concerted conservation efforts to preserve the Javan leopard from extinction.

Scientists from the German Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (IZW), Tierpark Berlin (Germany), Taman Safari Indonesia, Potsdam University (Germany) and Conservation International Indonesia (Indonesia) worked in close collaboration to answer the question whether the Javan leopard is a separate subspecies of the leopard, as this would heighten the need for efforts to improve its viability through active conservation measures. The results show that Javan leopards diverged from mainland Asian leopards in the Middle Pleistocene approximately 600,000 years ago and have already reached a degree of genetic distinctiveness which clearly warrants the classification of Javan leopards as a subspecies (Panthera pardus melas) of the leopard (Panthera pardus).

Leopards likely migrated from mainland Asia to Java during a prolonged period of low sea levels via a Malaya-Java land bridge that by-passed the island of Sumatra. This might be one reason why leopards exist on mainland Asia and on Java today, but do not occur on Sumatra or Borneo. However, fossils show that leopards occurred at least in some parts of Sumatra during the Pleistocene. “We assume that leopards became extinct on this island after the massive eruption of the Toba volcano about 74,000 years ago. On Java, the impact of this eruption was minor, allowing leopards to survive there,” explains Andreas Wilting, scientist at the IZW and lead author of the study.

The scientists reconstructed the evolutionary history of the Javan leopard using mitochondrial DNA sequenced from museum specimens of leopards from Java and compared this genetic information to leopard sequences from Asian mainland and Africa. The potential historical distribution was reconstructed using species distribution models with environmental data from the Last Glacial Maximum and the Mid-Holocene.

The Javan leopard is the last big cat still roaming on Java after the Sunda clouded leopard (in the Holocene) and the Javan tiger (in the early 1980s) went extinct. Subjected to anthropogenic pressures such as deforestation, the subspecies has dwindled significantly and is now listed as critically endangered in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. With only a few hundred individuals still existing in the wild and 52 living in captivity, the Javan leopard is one of the most threatened subspecies of big cats.

“The data presented in our study highlight the urgent need for concerted conservation efforts for this unique and distinctive subspecies,” emphasizes Anton Ario from Conservation International Indonesia. Conservation measures need to combine numerous management activities guided by a One Plan Approach, such as protecting leopard habitats, raising awareness in communities and establishing a coordinated breeding programme for Javan leopards in captivity. A first step for such an integrated approach was established in 2014: an international studbook was established, coordinated by Taman Safari Indonesia and Tierpark Berlin. Now additional measures are required and further conservation actions for the remaining fragmented wild Javan leopard populations are needed to ensure that the last big cats on Java will continue to roam the island for the foreseeable future.  Science Daily  Original web page at Science Daily


* Surface mutation lets canine parvovirus jump to other species

Canine parvovirus, or CPV, emerged as a deadly threat to dogs in the late 1970s, most likely the result of the direct transfer of feline panleukopenia or a similar virus from domesticated cats.

CPV has since spread to wild forest-dwelling animals, including raccoons, and the transfer of the virus from domesticated to wild carnivores has been something of a mystery.

“The underlying issue is, how do viruses jump from one animal to another and what controls viral host range?” said Colin Parrish, the John M. Olin Professor of Virology and director of the Baker Institute for Animal Health at Cornell University.

Parrish co-authored a research paper, published in the Journal of Virology, with Susan Daniel, associate professor in Cornell’s Robert Frederick Smith School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, which contends that a key mutation in the protein shell of CPV — a single amino acid substitution — plays a major role in the virus’ ability to infect hosts of different species.

That was a critical step,” he said. “It took a lot of changes to allow that to happen.”

He said another key factor in CPV’s infectivity is adhesion strengthening during TfR binding.

“There’s an initial attachment, which is probably relatively weak,” he said. “The thing just grabs on and holds on a little bit, sort of like using your fingertips. And then it looks like there’s a second attachment that is much stronger, where it’s like you grab on and hold on with both hands and won’t let go.”

“We think that the second event, this structural interaction that occurs in a small proportion of the binding cases, seems to be critical,” he said. “We think that it actually causes a change in the virus, that it triggers a small shift in the virus that actually makes it able to infect successfully.”

One of Daniel’s specialties is the investigation of chemically patterned surfaces that interact with soft matter, including biological materials such as cells, viruses, proteins and lipids. Her lab has pioneered a method called single-particle tracking — placing artificial cell membranes into microfluidics devices, fabricated at the CNF, to study the effect of single virus particles on a variety of membrane host receptors, in this case from both dogs and raccoons.

“The nice thing about these materials is that we can design them to have all different kinds of chemistries,” she said. “So in this particular study, we can put the receptor of interest in there, isolated from everything else so we can look at the specific effect of that receptor on a particular virus interaction.”

Daniel’s lab also developed the precision imaging devices used in the study. “Another piece of this paper is how the parvovirus actually sits down and binds even stronger over time with that receptor,” Daniel said. “That was kind of a new result that came out of the technique itself, being able to look at individual binding events.”

“When this virus infects a young animal, it can be fatal,” Parrish said. “It’s very unpleasant, and if you own a puppy or a kitten, that’s why you should vaccinate.”  Science Daily  Original web page at Science Daily


* Much longer survival for heart transplants across species

A new immune-suppressing therapy has led to the longest survival yet for a cross-species heart transplant, according to new research conducted in part by researchers at the University of Maryland School of Medicine (UM SOM).

The study involved transplanting pig hearts into baboons. The results could lead to increased use of xenotransplantation, the transplantation of organs from one species to another. Researchers hope this approach could eventually be used in humans, helping the severe organ shortage among patients awaiting transplantation.

The study, which was conducted at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), part of the National Institutes of Health, was published yesterday in Nature Communications.

A key problem with using xenotransplantion with humans is that the immune system reacts very strongly, which can cause organ rejection. Scientists have tried modifying the organ donor’s genes and developing novel immune-suppressing drugs for the organ recipients.

In the current study, scientists developed a novel immune-suppressing drug regimen that includes a key antibody, called anti-CD40 antibody, which may help the organ resist the immune system response. The researchers used pigs that had been genetically modified to have high immune system tolerance and then transplanted hearts from these animals into a group of five baboons. The pig heart did not replace the baboon heart, but was an additional organ. Both the new and original hearts continued to pump blood.

With the new immune-suppressing drugs, the pig hearts survived for up to 945 days in the baboons — much longer than previous pig-to-primate heart transplants. The immune-suppressing drugs played a key role in this.

“This has the potential to really move the field forward,” said Richard Pierson, a professor of surgery at UM SOM, one of the co-authors. He has studied xenotransplantation for three decades. “This new approach clearly made a difference. We obviously have a lot more work to do, but I’m confident that eventually this will be useful to human patients.”

The study’s lead author was Muhammad Mohiuddin, MD, chief of the transplantation section in the Cardiothoracic Surgery Research Program at the NHLBI.  Science Daily  Original web page at Science Daily


* Chronic kidney disease in cats: Expert guidance on a quality of life issue

Chronic kidney disease (CKD) is a common, complex and progressive disease that is estimated to affect more than a third of cats over 10 years of age. Affected cats often present with a variety of clinical signs and complications including inappetence, nausea, vomiting, anemia, hypertension and urinary tract infections — as such, the disease can severely compromise quality of life if inadequately managed.

However, the diagnosis of CKD is not always straightforward. Presenting signs can vary between individual cats, and renal function tests can sometimes be problematic to interpret. Furthermore, peer-reviewed published data to support many of the potential therapeutic interventions for feline CKD are lacking. This creates challenges for veterinarians attempting to slow the progression of disease and improve quality of life for their patients.

To address these challenges and guide in the management of CKD, the International Society of Feline Medicine (ISFM), the veterinary division of International Cat Care, has convened an expert panel of veterinary clinicians and academics to produce a critical and practical overview of current diagnostic and treatment options. The resulting ISFM Consensus Guidelines on the Diagnosis and Management of Feline Chronic Kidney Disease are published this month in the ISFM’s flagship Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery.

In making their recommendations, the panelists — gathered from the UK, France, Australia and North America — have considered various management approaches and graded the quality of the available published evidence with respect to their impact on quality of life and longevity.

Dietary management is a mainstay therapy that is supported by good evidence. Notably, specific commercial renal diets have been shown to significantly prolong longevity and improve quality of life. A common problem, however, is poor acceptance of these diets, which are generally less palatable than maintenance diets, and the guidelines include a number of recommendations to assist in transitioning cats to a new diet.

Other interventions with good supportive evidence are routine assessment of blood pressure in cats with CKD, and use of antihypertensive medications (when indicated) to help protect organs at particular risk of damage, such as the eyes and heart.

Given the chronic nature of CKD, the guidelines, which are free to access and download, emphasize how vital it is for the veterinary clinic to establish a good relationship with the cat’s owner. This will facilitate treatment plans to be created that take into consideration the wishes and ability of the owner, as well as the needs of the individual cat.  Science Daily  Original web page at Science Daily


HIV vaccine candidate confirms promise in preclinical study

Mymetics Corporation (OTCQB: MYMX), a pioneer in the research and development of virosome-based vaccines to prevent transmission of human infectious diseases across mucosal membranes, has announced that its innovative HIV vaccine candidate has shown to generate significant protection in groups of twelve female monkeys against repeated AIDS virus exposures during part of the preclinical study.

The blinded study was led by Dr. Ruth Ruprecht, Scientist & Director of the Texas Biomed AIDS Research Program and was funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates foundation. During the first part of the study the Mymetics’ two-component virosome-based HIV vaccine was able to show significant efficacy of 87% in delaying the time to persistent infection versus the control group after 7 intravaginal virus challenges. The study aimed to mimic the exposure of women to semen from HIV-infected men, although the viral dose of each of these 7 animal challenges represented about 70,000 times the average human HIV dose passed during sexual intercourse from an HIV-infected male to an uninfected female.

During the second part of the study the animal viral challenge dose was increased by 50% starting from the 8th challenge onward, reaching more than 100,000 times the average amount of virus passed from an infected man to a female partner. At this virus dose, the vaccine did not show significant protection in the animals as the immune system was overloaded.

Dr. Ruth Ruprecht said, “We are encouraged by the initial strong protection provided by the vaccine candidate, which is in line with the results from an earlier primate study performed in China that we were asked to repeat. The fact that the vaccine-induced immune defenses were eventually overcome requires a careful analysis to understand the mechanisms of the initial vaccine action and to learn what other immune defenses can be enlisted to yield even more potent antiviral action.”

Sylvain Fleury, CSO of Mymetics, commented, “We are pleased that Mymetics HIV virosome-based vaccine could strongly prevent virus transmission under conditions that mimic male-to female sexual transmission. Especially as these protection results are coming from two studies conducted in two different countries, with two different sub-species of macaques, with different vaccine lots and without an adjuvant. The observed protection in genetically different animals raised in different housing and environmental conditions gives more weight to these observations.”

Ronald Kempers, CEO of Mymetics, “We were very impressed with the professional and thorough work delivered by Dr. Ruprecht’s team, including Dr. Samir Lakhashe, Staff Scientist at Texas Biomed, and look forward to understanding the mechanisms of action of our vaccine. This study proves that our HIV vaccine candidate can protect in very realistic settings and it provides a strong indication to possibly protect women against sexually transmitted HIV and come closer to an effective HIV vaccine in the future. Virosomes have a strong safety profile in children and adults and our virosome construct can easily be combined with other vaccine candidates and treatments, therefore we are hopeful that we can attract funding for the clinical development and move a step closer to an HIV vaccine.”

The study involved 36 Indian origin rhesus macaques (monkeys) with 12 animals per group for more statistical power, compared two antigen vaccination regimens with placebo and was followed by intra-vaginal heterologous challenges with live virus.

This study was designed to replicate a successfully completed smaller study at the Institute of Laboratory Animal Science (ILAS) in Beijing, China in which the two-component vaccine protected all Chinese rhesus macaque monkeys against repeated virus exposures from persistent infection — an unprecedented result. One of the vaccine components further showed a strong safety and tolerance profile in a Phase I clinical trial in human volunteers.

With its HIV-1 (human immunodeficiency virus type 1) vaccine candidate, produced through its proprietary virosome technology, Mymetics aims to provide both a first line of defense through mucosal protection as well as a second line of defense against infection through the generation of blood antibodies. Mymetics has produced the tested HIV vaccine construct for clinical trials in liquid form and, since last year, is developing a new generation of needle-free and cold chain independent virosomal vaccine construct with the support of the European Horizon 2020 Program (MACIVIVA Project no. 646122), which would be very suitable for developing countries. Science Daily  Original web page at Science Daily


Zika researchers release real-time data on viral infection study in monkeys

Researchers in the United States who have infected monkeys with Zika virus made their first data public last week.  But instead  of publishing them in a journal, they have released them online for anyone to view- and are updating their results day by day.

The team is posting raw data on the amount of virus detected in the blood, saliva and urine of three Indian rhesus macaques, which they injected with Zika on 15 February. “This is the first time Researchers in the United States who have infected monkeys with Zika virus made their first data public last week. But instead of publishing them in a journal, they have released them online for anyone to view — and are updating their results day by day.

that our group has made data available in real time,” says David O’Connor, a virologist at the University of Wisconsin–Madison and a leader of the project, whose scientists have dubbed themselves ZEST (the Zika experimental-science team). He hopes that releasing the data will help to speed up research into the nature of the virus that has spread across the Americas.

Although a few teams have begun to share genomic data online during disease outbreaks, instant open-data release remains the exception rather than the rule, particularly in clinical research. O’Connor says that he was inspired by researchers during the Ebola epidemic who rapidly published genomic-sequencing data online and encouraged others to re-analyse them. At the time, O’Connor’s group downloaded raw data shared by a team led by Pardis Sabeti, a computational geneticist at the Broad Institute and Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts; it immediately helped to advance their own Ebola research, he says, and led to a collaboration with Sabeti’s group.

“O’Connor’s team is to be lauded for their efforts to make their Zika virus data publicly available as soon as possible,” says Nathan Yozwiak, a senior scientist in Sabeti’s laboratory. “Distributing up-to-date information — in this case, animal model data — as widely and openly as possible is critical during emergencies such as Zika, where relatively little is known about its pathogenesis, yet public concerns and attention are so high.”

“This is exemplary for research,” agrees Koen Van Rompay, a specialist in non-human primate models of HIV infection at the California National Primate Research Center at the University of California, Davis. Van Rompay is part of a consortium that plans to inject pregnant macaques with Zika. He says that his team will also share data openly in real time.

David O’Connor, whose ‘ZEST’ team at the University of Wisconsin-Madison are releasing Zika data in real time. O’Connor’s team seems to be the first to have detailed information from macaques infected with Zika virus, so the rapid data release will enable other researchers planning similar experiments to take the work into account, saving time and resources, Van Rompay adds. “This is such an urgent public-health emergency that this should not be a race of scientists competing against each other. We’re in a race against the Zika virus, a race against time,” he says.

Like other researchers, the ZEST team wants to understand when a developing fetus might be at risk of birth defects from Zika. Typically, the virus gives rise to no or mild symptoms — but scientists are urgently working to estimate the strength of any association between Zika infection and an apparent rise in the number of babies born with microcephaly (abnormally small heads and brains) in northeastern Brazil.

If the virus behaves the same way in macaques that it does in humans, O’Connor says, researchers will be able to glean information by infecting monkeys with varying doses of Zika — data that would be impossible to gain rapidly or ethically from people. Scientists could repeatedly sample amniotic fluid in pregnant macaques, for example, to determine whether, and how quickly, the virus can infect a fetus.

The team is starting with male monkeys to get information on how the virus behaves in macaques and determine which dose would be most suitable for later experiments. They have already shown that Zika can infect macaques and that it is detectable not only in blood, but also in cerebrospinal fluid and urine. They will follow up their work with experiments in macaques at different stages of pregnancy, checking for the virus’s presence in a wide range of tissues and organs.

Even if a link to birth defects is proven, it may still be that very few Zika infections during pregnancy lead to microcephaly, O’Connor says. But he thinks that even with a small number of animals, the team can assess important questions such as whether fetuses become infected with Zika virus and whether they develop abnormalities as a result.

Pregnant rhesus macaques have been used in past to study congenital birth defects, O’Connor adds. Research on the effects of cytomegalovirus or Listeria, for example, have revealed that the diseases produce similar effects in macaques and in humans. The team also hopes to carry out Zika studies in marmosets, which are native to northeastern Brazil and smaller than macaques, making them easier to work with in the lab. If it is possible for the virus to infect marmosets, this might also suggest that the animals are involved in Zika transmission in Brazil, O’Connor says.

It was easy for the ZEST members to make their online lab notebook open to all, O’Connor says. The team uses the biomedical-research collaboration system LabKey Server, as does the Wisconsin National Primate Research Center in Madison, which is where many of the ZEST collaborators work and which (along with the US National Institutes of Health) is supporting the research. Researchers created a study to store and update their data, and simply had to switch permissions to allow anyone to view it. Meanwhile, regulatory agencies at the University of Wisconsin–Madison understood that the work was time-sensitive and expedited approvals for animal care and biosafety (without reducing scrutiny, O’Connor adds).

On 10 February, dozens of major funders, government agencies and journals released a statement supporting open-data sharing — even before publication — during public-health emergencies such as the Zika and Ebola epidemic. “In the context of a public-health emergency of international concern, there is an imperative on all parties to make any information available that might have value in combatting the crisis,” it concluded.

Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust in London – one of the research funders that signed the statement – says he welcomes the “increasing commitment” of scientists to sharing information during public health emergencies. “The world is changing and all of us involved need to encourage, facilitate and give thanks and credit to these teams and the approach they are taking,” he says.

“I hope that even those who disagree in principle with animals in research realize that making data available publicly works towards a common goal,” O’Connor adds. “Fewer animals will be used in research if groups know what others are doing, and the information that is gained from each animal is maximized.”

Nature doi:10.1038/nature.2016.19438  Nature  Original web page at Nature


Cats domesticated in China earlier than 3000 BC

Were domestic cats brought to China over 5,000 years ago? Or were small cats domesticated in China at that time? There was no way of deciding between these two hypotheses until a team from the ‘Archéozoologie, Archéobotanique: Sociétés, Pratiques et Environnements’ laboratory (CNRS/MNHN), in collaboration with colleagues from the UK and China, succeeded in determining the species corresponding to cat remains found in agricultural settlements in China, dating from around 3500 BC. All the bones belong to the leopard cat, a distant relation of the western wildcat, from which all modern domestic cats are descended. The scientists have thus provided evidence that cats began to be domesticated in China earlier than 3,000 BC. This scenario is comparable to that which took place in the Near East and Egypt, where a relationship between humans and cats developed following the birth of agriculture. Their findings are published on 22 January 2016 in the journal PLOS ONE.

The cat is the most common domestic animal in the world today, with over 500 million individuals. All of today’s domestic cats descend from the African and Near Eastern form of the wildcat (Felis silvestris lybica). According to work published in 2004, humans and cats first started to form a close relationship in the Near East from 9000 to 7000 BC, following the birth of agriculture.

In 2001, researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing discovered cat bones in agricultural settlements in northern China (Shaanxi province) dating from around 3500 BC. Was this evidence of a relationship between small Chinese cats and humans in the fourth millennium BC in China? Or was it the result of the arrival in China of the first domestic cats from the Near East? There was no way of deciding between these two hypotheses without identifying the species to which the bones belonged. Although there are no less than four different forms of small cat in China, the subspecies from which modern cats are descended (Felis silvestris lybica) has never been recorded there.

To try to settle the question, a collaboration of scientists principally from CNRS, the French Natural History Museum (MNHN), the University of Aberdeen, the Chinese Academy of Social Science and the Shaanxi Provincial Institute of Archaeology undertook a geometric morphometric analysis, which, in the absence of ancient DNA, is the only way of differentiating the bones of such small cats, which have very similar morphologies whose differences are often imperceptible using conventional techniques. The scientists analyzed the mandibles of five cats from Shaanxi and Henan dating from 3500 to 2900 BC. Their work clearly determined that the bones all belonged to the leopard cat (Prionailurus bengalensis). Still very widespread in Eastern Asia today, this wildcat, which is a distant relation of the western wildcat (Felis silvestris lybica), is well-known for its propensity to frequent areas with a strong human presence. Just as in the Near East and Egypt, leopard cats were probably attracted into Chinese settlements by the proliferation of rodents who took advantage of grain stores.

These conclusions show that a process comparable to the one that took place in the Near East and in Egypt developed independently in China following the birth of agriculture in the eighth millennium BC. In China it was the leopard cat (P. bengalensis) and not the western wildcat (F. silvestris) that started to form a relationship with humans. Cat domestication was, at least in three regions of the world, therefore closely connected to the beginnings of agriculture.

Nevertheless, domestic cats in China today are not descended from the leopard cat but rather from its relation F. silvestris lybica. The latter therefore replaced the leopard cat in Chinese settlements after the end of the Neolithic. Did it arrive in China with the opening of the Silk Road, when the Roman and Han empires began to establish tenuous links between East and West? This is the next question that needs to be answered.  Science Daily  Original web page at Science Daily


Feral cats: Computational study looks at how best to fix the nuisance

Working with faculty members in mathematics and biology, a Duquesne University undergraduate has created the first computational model to track the size, location and nuisance of feral cat colonies. This issue concerns communities nationwide that hold some 70 to 100 million unhoused cats and kittens.

By the nuisance criteria, the traditional Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) method that diminishes hormone production and mating behaviors wins, hands down, over the Trap-Vasectomy-Hysterectomy-Return (TVHR) method that leaves hormone production intact, said Dr. Rachael Neilan, Duquesne assistant professor of mathematics.

Like other researchers, math, computer science and physics major Timothy Ireland started with a mathematical model based on differential equations, then developed an even more complex, agent-based computational program. This program allows for detailed inputs, such as ages and locations of individual cats, environmental conditions, newly abandoned felines and the use of TNR or TVHR. Each cat in the model has its own identity and behaviors, and the program unfolds something like a video game for felines.

Because of his unique approach, Ireland presented his work at the Nov. 21 National Institute of Mathematical and Biological Synthesis undergraduate research symposium in Knoxville, Tenn. Ireland’s agent-based model, a cutting-edge technique in applied mathematics, drew much attention.

Ireland and Neilan worked closely with Dr. Becky Morrow, a veterinarian and assistant professor of biological sciences, and Dr. Lisa Ludvico, a DNA specialist and assistant professor of biological sciences, in the Bayer School of Natural and Environmental Sciences, who sought a scientific model for the most effective control strategies and provided the modelers with field-tested assumptions.

“You have to know the responses of feral cats to different environment cues — and how the cats interact with each other,” said Neilan, who received a Duquesne Faculty Development grant for the project. “The model is an elaborate computational and mathematical system built on biological assumptions and provides answers to important questions.”

The project started with community engagement as part of a class in differential equations. Students fed off the practical challenge of the project, Neilan said.

“This project illustrates the importance of studying math and how math can be used to solve a real-life problem,” Neilan said. “Students are excited to see their work result in something with practical meaning, especially when the results impact the local community.”  Science Daily  Original web page at Science Daily


Levetiracetam shows promise for treatment of feline audiogenic reflex seizures

A group of UK-based investigators from Davies Veterinary Group and the UCL School of Pharmacy, who recently engaged the veterinary world with an article defining the previously undocumented syndrome of feline audiogenic reflex seizures (FARS), have published follow-up findings about the treatment of the condition. Their paper, ‘Levetiracetam in the management of feline audiogenic reflex seizures: a randomised, controlled, open label study’, appears in the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery.

FARS is a problem of older cats, which typically exhibit myoclonic seizures (brief, shock-like jerks of a muscle or a group of muscles) in response to certain high-pitched sounds. Both non-pedigree and pedigree cats (in particular, Birmans) may be affected. A range of sound stimuli has been reported, including the crinkling of tin foil and a metal spoon dropping into a ceramic feeding bowl, through to firewood spitting and even texting on a phone. It was this bizarre collection of triggers that captured the imagination of media around the world, which dubbed the condition ‘Tom and Jerry syndrome’, and spread the story far and wide.

While avoiding the triggering sounds can reduce the incidence of seizures, this is not always practical and so this latest research potentially spells good news for owners of affected cats.

The study compared the efficacy of two antiepileptic drugs, levetiracetam (a relatively novel medication that has proven effective in studies of people with generalised epilepsies that experience myoclonic seizures) and the much older first generation drug phenobarbital, in 57 cats diagnosed with FARS. Cats were treated with one or other drug over a 12 week period; and owners were asked to record the date, number and type of seizures, any signs of illness, side effects and changes in activity or attitude, as well as whether they thought their cat’s quality of life had improved, remained the same or deteriorated since starting the medication.

All cats receiving levetiracetam showed a reduction in the number of days that they experienced myoclonic seizures by at least half. In comparison, only 3% of cats showed the same reduction when treated with phenobarbital. The majority of reported side effects, such as lethargy and inappetence, were mild to moderate in both groups and these resolved after about 2 weeks in the cats treated with levetiracetam; in the phenobarbital group, however, side effects were relatively persistent. Owners of cats treated with phenobarbital perceived no benefit from using the medication; in contrast, all of the owners of cats treated with levetiracetam commented that their cat appeared brighter and more responsive after the first couple of weeks of treatment. Moreover, five cats treated with phenobarbital were switched to levetiracetam after the study, as their owners desired improved seizure control.

Having established that levetiracetam is an effective and well-tolerated treatment for cats with hallmark myoclonic seizures, the next step is to identify whether levetiracetam will also prevent so-called generalised tonic-clonic seizures. This is another seizure type seen in cats with FARS, and is what most people think of as a ‘seizure’, with the cat losing consciousness and its body stiffening and jerking, often for several minutes.

Lead author on the paper, Mark Lowrie, says, ‘It is great to find a medication that works so well at controlling these seizures. Levetiracetam is not licensed in cats but it has proven to be a very safe drug. For affected cats to benefit, it is important that vets recognise the signs as this newly defined syndrome of FARS and that this medication is used in preference to other, less efficacious, anti-epileptic drugs.’  Science Daily  Original web page at Science Daily


Cats retain multiple functional bitter taste receptors

The bitter truth: Kitty’s picky eating habits further unravelled. According to new research from the Monell Center, cats have at least seven functional bitter taste receptors. Further, a comparison of cat to related species with differing dietary habits reveals that there does not appear to be a strong relationship between the number of bitter receptors and the extent to which a species consumed plants in its diet. The findings question the common hypothesis that bitter taste developed primarily to protect animals from ingesting poisonous plant compounds.

“Alternate physiological roles for bitter receptors may be an important driving force molding bitter receptor number and function. For example, recent Monell-related findings show that bitter receptors also are involved in protecting us against internal toxins, including bacteria related to respiratory diseases,” said study author Gary Beauchamp, PhD, a behavioral biologist at Monell.

Scientists speculate that the sense of taste evolved so animals could make the critical decision of whether a potential food is nutritionally advantageous or possibly harmful. For example, sweet taste is believed to signal the presence of sugars, an important source of energy. Similarly, scientists have long assumed that bitter taste evolved as a defense mechanism to detect potentially harmful toxins commonly found in plants.

In support of the sweet taste hypothesis, Monell scientists previously found that both domestic and wild cats are unable to taste sweet compounds. This inability reflects damage to an underlying gene for the sweet taste receptor. The researchers theorized that the strictly meat-eating cats lost their ability to taste sweetness because they have no need to detect sugars.

Additional findings from Monell revealed that other exclusively carnivorous mammals, including sea lions and spotted hyenas, also have lost the ability to detect sweet taste.

The current study, published in the open access journal PLOS ONE, used a similar rationale to ask whether cats, which typically do not eat plants, have maintained the ability to detect bitter taste.

Unlike sweet taste, which has only one or perhaps two different receptor types, the number of functional bitter taste receptor types — those that are able to respond to bitter compounds — varies greatly across species.

If bitter detection evolved to detect plant toxins, the scientists expected to find fewer functional bitter receptors in strictly carnivorous animals like cats and more functional bitter receptors in related species that eat more plants.

In the study, the researchers first examined DNA from domestic cats and identified 12 different genes for cat bitter receptors.

The Monell scientists next evaluated whether these genes encode functional bitter receptors. To do this, they incorporated the gene sequence of each receptor into cultured cells and then probed the cells to determine if they were activated by one or more of 25 different bitter-tasting chemicals.

Using this method, the researchers confirmed that at least seven of the 12 identified cat bitter receptor genes are functional, meaning that they have the ability to detect at least one bitter chemical. The remaining five bitter receptors may respond to bitter compounds not tested, so it is not possible to determine their functional status without additional studies.

To provide a comparative perspective on the relationship between diet and bitter receptor function, the researchers used previously published data to compare the number of bitter receptor types in cats to that of related species. Relative to the 12 receptors identified in cat, dog (15 receptors), ferret (14), giant panda (16), and polar bear (13) all had a similar number of bitter receptors. Like cats, these species all belong to the order Carnivora. However, they differ considerably with regard to diet, ranging from strictly carnivorous (cat) to omnivorous (dog) to exclusive plant eaters (giant panda).

Thus, unlike sweet receptors, which seem to be non-functional in many exclusively meat-eating Carnivora species, there does not appear to be a strong relationship between the number of bitter receptors and the extent to which a Carnivora species consumed plants in its diet.

However, it remains possible that bitter taste could have a protective function related to feeding behavior. “For example, bitter taste could exist to minimize intake of toxic compounds from skin and other components of certain prey species, such as invertebrates, reptiles and amphibians,” says Beauchamp

On a positive note, the bitter results from the current study could have a pleasurable effect for the family cat. “Cats are known as picky eaters,” said Monell molecular biologist and study lead author Peihua Jiang, PhD. “Now that we know that they can taste different bitters, our work may lead to better formulations of cat food that eliminate the bitter off-taste associated with certain flavors and nutrients.”  Science Daily  Original web page at Science Daily


Meet the first Iberian lynx on the Iberian Peninsula

The remains of an Iberian lynx specimen which lived 1.6 million years ago — the oldest ever discovered — were found resting in a cave in Barcelona (Spain). This discovery not only allows us to shed light on the origins of one of the world’s most endangered feline species, but it also means that the emergence of this species on the Iberian Peninsula dates back half a million years earlier than what was originally believed.

This newly discovered specimen was 10 to 20 centimetres larger and around 10 kilograms heavier than the Iberian lynx that currently inhabits Doñana National Park in Spain. Its coat was also longer than it is today in order to withstand continuous near-freezing temperatures. This description of the feline was formulated after a study was carried out on one of the first Iberian lynxes that ever lived in Spain.

Part of a cranial fossil belonging to an Iberian lynx (Lynx pardinus) was uncovered among the horse, goat, deer, woolly mammoth, fox and wolf bones preserved in the Avenc Marcel Cave located in the Garraf massif of Barcelona. This is the oldest Iberian lynx that has been found on the Iberian Peninsula to date and it was discovered by the scientist Manel Llenas in 2003.

The fossil remains of this feline are proof of its presence on the Iberian Peninsula as early as 1.6 to 1.7 million years ago. Up until now scientists had dated the appearance of the Iberian lynx to between 1 and 1.1 million years ago. Thus, this discovery means that the emergence of this feline on the Iberian Peninsula actually dates back 500,000 years earlier than what scientists originally thought.

“We have confirmed this earlier appearance of the Iberian lynx based on initial molecular studies that estimate the emergence of this feline during the Early Pleistocene in the Iberian Peninsula,” asserts Alberto Boscaini, a researcher at the Miquel Crusafont Catalan Institute of Palaeontology (ICP) and the main author of this study published by Quaternary Science Reviews.

In order to understand the origins of the Iberian Peninsula’s most emblematic species and one of the world’s most endangered felines according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (UICN), we must first go back in time.

The common ancestor of all the species belonging to the Lynx genus, Lynx issiodorensis, first appeared in North America about four million years ago before spreading to the continents of Asia and Europe where it persisted throughout time. These species underwent few changes, with the most evident being a decrease in size.

The first species of lynx to evolve was Lynx rufus about 2.5 million years ago when it scattered across North America. In Asia Lynx lynx emerged, the species that would later spread across Europe. This feline also spread across North America about 200,000 years ago, thus giving rise to Lynx canadensis which displaced Lynx rufus towards the south.

The European population of L. issiodorensis led to the appearance of Lynx pardinus one and half million years ago. Since then, this species has endured few changes to its genetics and continues to inhabit the Iberian Peninsula today. According to scientists, this evolution may have taken place when the Iberian Peninsula became isolated due to one or several consecutive glacial periods.

The new date provided by the study -1.6 million years ago- lines up with the period of time when all of southern Europe, especially the Iberian Peninsula, became a refuge from the Quaternary glaciation.

Glacial periods alternated with interglacial periods that “greatly influenced wildlife, especially mammals, in that habitat,” the expert adds.

This refuge was also home to the European rabbit (Oryctolagus cunilus), the Iberian lynx’s primary prey more than 75% of the time. The morphological analyses carried out on the cranium found in Catalonia confirm the type of diet consumed by this feline.

“Other cranial features — such as those related to this carnivore’s diet — are proof that the Iberian lynx hunted small-sized prey such as lagomorphs and rodents which had a great presence during that time period,” the researcher states.

According to the study, speciation of the Iberian lynx could therefore be related to the special diet still followed by these specimens inhabiting our planet today, including the rabbit as their primary prey.  Science Daily Original web page at Science Daily


Standing on their own four feet: Why cats are more independent than dogs

Domestic cats do not generally see their owners as a focus of safety and security in the same way that dogs do, according to new research.

The study by animal behaviour specialists at the University of Lincoln, UK, shows that while dogs perceive their owners as a safe base, the relationship between people and their feline friends appears to be quite different.

While it is increasingly recognised that cats are more social and more capable of shared relationships than traditionally thought, this latest research shows that adult cats appear to be more autonomous — even in their social relationships — and not necessarily dependent on others to provide a sense of protection.

The research, published in the scientific journal PLOS ONE, was led by Professor Daniel Mills, Professor of Veterinary Behavioural Medicine at the University of Lincoln’s School of Life Sciences, along with Alice Potter — who studied as a postgraduate at Lincoln and now works with the Companion Animals Science Group at the RSPCA.

Professor Mills said: “The domestic cat has recently passed the dog as the most popular companion animal in Europe, with many seeing a cat as an ideal pet for owners who work long hours. Previous research has suggested that some cats show signs of separation anxiety when left alone by their owners, in the same way that dogs do, but the results of our study show that they are in fact much more independent than canine companions. It seems that what we interpret as separation anxiety might actually be signs of frustration.”

The Lincoln researchers carefully adapted the Ainsworth Strange Situation Test (SST), which has been widely used to demonstrate that the bond between young children or pet dogs with their primary carer can be categorised as a ‘secure attachment’ — where the carer is seen as a focus of safety and security in potentially threatening (or unfamiliar) environments.

The study observed the relationships between a number of cats and their owners, placing the pets in an unfamiliar environment together with their owner, with a stranger and also on their own. In varying scenarios, it assessed three different characteristics of attachment; the amount of contact sought by the cat, the level of passive behaviour, and signs of distress caused by the absence of the owner.

“Although our cats were more vocal when the owner rather than the stranger left them with the other individual, we didn’t see any additional evidence to suggest that the bond between a cat and its owner is one of secure attachment. This vocalisation might simply be a sign of frustration or learned response, since no other signs of attachment were reliably seen. In strange situations, attached individuals seek to stay close to their carer, show signs of distress when they are separated and demonstrate pleasure when their attachment figure returns, but these trends weren’t apparent during our research,” said Professor Mills.

“For pet dogs, their owners often represent a specific safe haven; however it is clear that domestic cats are much more autonomous when it comes to coping with unusual situations. Our findings don’t disagree with the notion that cats develop social preferences or close relationships, but they do show that these relationships do not appear to be typically based on a need for safety and security. As far as we could tell, the cats of owners who considered them to be highly attached did not differ from the others in this regard.”

The results of the study reveal that while cats might prefer to interact with their owner, they do not rely on them for reassurance when in an unfamiliar environment, and the researchers believe this is because of the nature of the species as a largely independent and solitary hunter.  Science Daily  Original web page at Science Daily


Dogs, cats, and big-wave surfers: Healthy heart lessons from animals and athletes

Heart rates of big-wave surfers are among the surprises from 30 years of studying exercise physiology in people, wild animals. For over 30 years, Terrie Williams has been studying exercise physiology in wild animals: African lions and wild dogs, dolphins and whales, coyotes and mountain lions, as well as a few human athletes. She has put mountain lions on treadmills and strapped heart-rate monitors onto big-wave surfers at Mavericks.

These studies have given Williams, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at UC Santa Cruz, a unique perspective on exercise and health, which she presents in an article titled “The Healthy Heart: Lessons from Nature’s Elite Athletes,” published in the September issue of the journal Physiology.

Of course, you already know the bottom line: Most people should get more exercise. Here are “Six amazing heart findings” to contemplate during your next workout:

  • One of the highest prolonged heart-rate levels ever recorded was for a professional big-wave surfer riding the monstrous swells at Mavericks: more than 180 beats per minute for three hours, with peaks of 200 beats per minute during rides.
  • Dogs and cats are opposites in terms of aerobic capacity and maximum heart rate, and humans are more like dogs, adapted for endurance exercise (chasing down prey), while cats are built for the short bursts of speed used in stalk-and-pounce hunting. This difference is reflected in heart size relative to total body mass (larger hearts in dogs and humans, smaller hearts in cats).
  • The hearts of marathon runners are 10 to 33 percent larger than those of more sedentary people.
  • Heart disease is exceedingly rare in wild animals, but it is the leading cause of death in humans worldwide. There are many plausible explanations for this, but one factor stands out above all others: the difference in daily activity levels. “We just don’t ask our hearts to do very much on a daily basis,” Williams said.
  • The mammalian dive response, automatically triggered by cold water contacting the face, involves an immediate slowing of heart rate and constriction of peripheral blood vessels to maximize blood and oxygen in the core. The mammalian exercise response has the opposite effect, increasing heart rate and metabolism. Thus, marine mammals chasing prey at depth have to balance opposing cardiovascular demands, and Williams found they can experience cardiac arrhythmias during dives.
  • Heart rate can be consciously controlled, and not just by meditating yogis. A California sea lion was trained to lower its heart rate on command while sitting out of water.

For Williams, the main reason to study exercise physiology in animals is to better understand how much energy they have to expend to live in their environments, and how they might be affected by environmental changes and human activities. Williams is also an athlete herself and has competed in a number of triathlons, so she has always been interested in what humans can learn from nature’s elite athletes. “The big difference between wild animals and humans is that they’re out there exercising for hours at a time, from the day they’re born to the day they die,” she said. “My own activity level is pretty pathetic relative to even a lion, and they’re not the most active animals. I take a lot out of these lessons from animals in terms of how much and what kinds of exercise I try to do. Mixing it up with both sprints and low-intensity exercise is the secret.”

Looking at heart rates in humans, Williams has been struck by the influence of psychological factors, as seen most dramatically in the big-wave surfers. Their high prolonged heart rates (90 percent of maximum based on treadmill tests) are induced by adrenaline, not exercise. “Just sitting on the beach before they entered the water caused the heart rates of surfers to reach almost 180 beats per minute,” Williams said.

The same phenomenon is seen in other thrill-seeking sports. Formula race car drivers and motocross racers have also been found to maintain heart rates at 90 percent of maximum for prolonged periods, though not for as long as the surfers. “The psychological component has tended to be overlooked, but you can really see it in surfers. People do these thrill-seeking sports for the adrenaline rush, and that affects the heart,” Williams said.

Is it healthy? “They’re in amazing shape overall, and I’ve never heard of any problems from a prolonged high heart rate unless there’s a pre-existing condition. But they can be exhausted for a week after battling the big waves,” she said.

Unlike human surfers, dolphins’ heart rates go down when they’re riding waves. When Williams was trying to measure heart rates of swimming dolphins, she couldn’t keep them from riding her boat’s bow wave. “They’re not doing it for the thrill; they’re just saving energy by taking the easy way out,” she said.

The discovery of cardiac arrhythmias in deep-diving marine mammals got Williams thinking about the fact that the swimming segment of triathlons accounts for over 90 percent of race day deaths, especially in cold water venues. The combination of high heart rates at the start of the race (Williams said she knows from experience that the adrenaline is flowing as racers charge into the water) and sudden immersion in cold water is an extreme challenge for the heart. It can be overwhelming for people with pre-existing cardiac conditions, she said. In response, the USA Triathlon organization issued new water temperature guidelines in 2013 for sanctioned events.  Science Daily  Original web page at Science Daily


In the spotlight: X chromosome inactivation

A nice example of X inactivation can be observed in the fur of tortoiseshell and calico cats. The gene for fur coloration resides on the X chromosome, while each of the two X chromosomes codes for a different color: black or orange. In an orange ‘patch’, only the X chromosome encoding the orange color is active, while in the black ‘patches’, only the X chromosome encoding the black color is active.

Each cell in a woman’s body contains two X chromosomes. One of these chromosomes is switched off, because nobody can live with two active X chromosomes. Hendrik Marks and Henk Stunnenberg, molecular biologists at Radboud University Nijmegen, have shown the mechanism of spreading of this inactivation over the X chromosome, together with the group of Joost Gribnau from Erasmus MC in Rotterdam. The scientific journal Genome Biology will publish the results.

In terms of sex chromosomes, men have a single X chromosome as well as an Y chromosome, whereas women have two copies of the X chromosome. A process called X inactivation makes sure that one of these X chromosomes becomes inactivated in females during early embryonic development. A random process determines which of the two is switched off.

During normal embryo development, X inactivation in females takes place at a very early stage. Others had already discovered that the molecule ‘Xist’ is key during X inactivation. In order to further study this process, Marks and his colleagues used embryonic stem cells as a model system to study X inactivation. With the latest technology, they were able to keep the two X chromosomes apart and measure one of them — with its 166 million base pairs — in detail. Every day they checked which parts of the chromosome had been switched off. “The whole process took about eight days,” Marks explains “and the inactivation spreads out from the centre of the X chromosome towards the ends. That doesn’t happen gradually but moves jumpwise from domain to domain.”

“Domains are long pieces of DNA that cluster together in knots. As X inactivation jumps from domain to domain, we now know that these domains are co-regulated. It is very likely that diseases that are linked to incorrect inactivation of the X chromosome are due to improper spreading across domains.”

After one of the X chromosomes has been inactivated, it will stay inactive forever. In the future, Marks hopes to discover why sometimes the one while in other cases the other X chromosome is inactivated during development. That could help in treating X-linked diseases — like Rett syndrome and fragile X syndrome. “Reactivating (part of) the ‘right’ X chromosome could be a potential treatment for these diseases. So the next step is to figure out how to do that.”  Science Daily  Original web page at Science Daily


* Countering pet obesity by rethinking feeding habits

In America, 190 million people share the luxuries of human life with their pets. Giving dogs and cats a place in human homes, beds and–sometimes even, their wills–comes with the family member package

Amongst these shared human-pet comforts is the unique luxury to overeat. As a result, the most common form of malnutrition for Americans and their companion animals results not from the underconsumption, but the overconsumption of food. The obesity epidemic also causes a similar array of diseases in people and pets: diabetes, hyperlipidemia and cancer.

During this year’s ADSA-ASAS Joint Annual Meeting, five companion animal nutrition experts from around the world further examined the implications of over- or inaccurately feeding cats and dogs. “Companion Animal Symposium: Bioenergetics of pet food” was a part of the Companion Animal Science Program, an event sponsored annually by the George Fahey Appreciation Club.

Bioenergetics concern energy flow through living systems. Since obesity results from an imbalance of energy use and intake, bioenergetics help scientists understand the correlation between overweight animals and the food they consume.

The most definitive player in pet health is the owner. Dr. Kelly Swanson, Professor of Animal and Nutritional Sciences at the University of Illinois, says the first step in combating pet obesity is simply realizing that an animal is overweight.

“Owners need to actually recognize that their pet is obese, and is not just a funny, pudgy animal that looks cute,” said Swanson. “Lean, healthy pets not only live longer, but more importantly, have a better quality of life.”

In fact, some lifelong studies show that maintaining a lean body condition score (BCS 4 or 5) adds an average of 1.8 years to dogs’ lives. Preserving steady body conditions requires owners to not just read pet food labels, but to actually understand and apply the feeding directions.

Food types and feeding frequencies also need to vary from animal to animal. Dr. Dennis Jewell, Research Scientist at Hill’s Pet Nutrition, emphasized the customization of feeding programs to fit each individual.

“Each pet has unique genetics that determine, for example, if they’re going to use more calories to maintain their body weight than other animals,” said Jewell. “We can design feeding programs for specific pet populations — based on factors like age, size, et cetera — but feeding regimens still come down to the individual pet.”

For example, weight-loss regimens equate to the feeding of less energy-dense and more fiber-dense diets. Increased fiber intake results in less ad-libitum food consumption.

One overlooked feeding strategy may lie in the nature of the food itself. According to Dr. Katherine Kerr, Post-Doctoral Research Fellow at the University of Florida, raw and whole-prey diets may provide a viable alternative to extruded ones. Her projects primarily focus on the eating patterns and nutritional health of African wildcats.

“While observing feeding behaviors, we soon recognized that felines aren’t physiologically made to chew,” said Kerr. “When feeding whole prey, they basically just crush the skull and swallow it whole.”

The diets of wild-type cats include the hide, hair and bones of prey. When used in addition to other plant and animal fibers, these have a positive impact on energy metabolism and gut microbial populations. Meat-based and whole prey diets in domestic pets could yield similar results.

Kerr says that these types of diets are undervalued and under-researched nutritional therapy options. She believes they can play an essential role in health maintenance, and disease, allergy and obesity mitigation. “The question, ‘Should we mimic nature?’ is often controversial,” said Kerr. “We need to explore these diets more to find out the answer.  Science Daily  Original web page at Science Daily


Competition from cats drove extinction of many species of ancient dogs

Competition played a more important role in the evolution of the dog family (wolves, foxes, and their relatives) than climate change, shows a new international study published in PNAS.

An international team including scientists from the Universities of Gothenburg (Sweden), São Paulo (Brazil) and Lausanne (Switzerland) analyzed over 2000 fossils and revealed that the arrival of felids to North America from Asia had a deadly impact on the diversity of the dog family, contributing to the extinction of as many as 40 of their species.

“We usually expect climate changes to play an overwhelming role in the evolution of biodiversity. Instead, competition among different carnivore species proved to be even more important for canids” says leading author Daniele Silvestro at the Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences, University of Gothenburg.

The dog family originated in North America about 40 million of years ago and reached a maximum diversity around 22 million of years ago, when more than 30 species inhabited the continent. Today, only 9 species of the dog family live in North America. They progressively increased in body size and specialized into becoming large predators. Some of them exceeded 30 Kg (66 pounds) and were among the largest carnivores on the North American continent. Although several large carnivores today face a higher extinction risk than smaller species, the authors of the study found no evidence of a similar pattern in ancient canid species.

The evolutionary success of carnivorous animals is inevitably linked to their ability to obtain food. The limited amount of resources (preys) imposes strong competition among carnivores sharing the same geographic range. For instance African carnivores such as wild dogs, hyenas, lions and other felids are constantly competing with each other for food. North American carnivores in the past might have followed similar dynamics and much of the competition is found among species of the dog family and from ancient felids and dogs. Interestingly, while felids appeared to have a strongly negative impact on the survival of ancient dogs, the opposite is not true. This suggests that felids must have been more efficient predators than most of the extinct species in the dog family.  Science Daily  Original web page at Science Daily


Fateful instinct: Open windows can be dangerous for cats

The summer months are dangerous for indoor cats. A large number of cats have accidents every year when they fall out of open windows or from balconies. Every year the University Clinic for Small Animals at the Vetmeduni Vienna treats about 70 to 80 cats that suffer from bone fractures or internal injuries after such accidents. These days, vets strongly recommend to keep windows closed or to secure windows in an appropriate way.

Cats have a very strong hunting instinct. Flying birds or insects outside an apartment can provoke a leap out of the window or the balcony. But also noise can frighten the animals and make them flee through the window. In some cases the animals slip off the window sill or lose balance. “Sometimes such a plunge has no consequences for the cats. But often they suffer serious injuries,” says Roswitha Steinbacher, vet at the Clinical Department for Anaesthesiology and Perioperative Intensive-Care Medicine at the Vetmeduni Vienna

“It’s not totally correct that cats always land on their feet,” says Steinbacher. “It mainly depends on the height of fall. If it is too low, the animals often hit the ground on the side of their body. When cats fall from very high, they can correct their body position and land on their feet, but often their legs can’t hold the bounce. Their joints are heavily bended, single bones break and the cat’s head and thorax hit the ground.”

The consequences of such a bounce can be significant. The cats often suffer lung injuries such as lung bleedings or bursting of lung tissue where the air leaks into the thorax. This life-threatening situation requires quick action. Other frequent injuries are broken legs, pelvis, jawbones and rips or traumatic brain injuries.

Even if there are no visible injuries after a plunge out of the window, the cat should undergo a check by a vet. Internal injuries can lead to a life-threatening situation even hours or days after the accident.

“Bone fractures and dislocations cause a severe pain for the animals. As a consequence, one or several surgeries can be necessary which might cause quite high costs for the keepers,” says Steinbacher.

According to a study by the Clinical Unit of Small Animal Surgery at the Vetmeduni Vienna in 2010, accidents are on average more frequent among younger cats than among older ones. Furthermore, male cats fall more often from very high. The study found that statistically June, July and August are the most dangerous months. The most frequent fractures are broken pelvis as well as broken forefoot and midfoot bones

Some patients get trapped in a tilted window. These dramatic situations often happen in the summer months. Cats slip into the window gap and get stuck while trying to reach the outside. Most of the time the animals get stuck with the back of their bodies. When trying to free themselves they slip even deeper into the gap. The blood supply in their rear legs gets clamped and vital organs are crushed. “Depending on the duration, being stuck in the window gap can lead to a life-threatening situation for cats,” Steinbacher explains

From about the second floor upwards, a plunge is dangerous for cats. Cat keepers in Austria are legally bound to protect their pets from a possible plunge out of windows or from balconies. There are suitable safeguards such as nets or grilles. Steinbacher emphasises: “Do not leave your cats alone when windows are tilted or open without appropriate safeguard. If an animal is injured after a plunge, see a vet immediately.  Science Daily  Original web page at Science Daily


* Cat pheromones may cause increased scratching, focus on scratching devices

A study by animal behavior expert John McGlone theorizes cats scratch more due to pheromones left behind from previous cat scratching.

Cats have long been some of the most independent and unpredictable animals on the planet. They were revered by Egyptian pharaohs and have been used as symbols by many cultures for their grace, elegance and demeanor. Predicting their behavior, however, has long been a mystery, one which scholars throughout the ages have studied. Figuring out what a cat wants, when it wants it and how it wants it has led to numerous theories and studies.

Now, one professor in the Texas Tech University College of Agricultural Sciences & Natural Resources may have unlocked the answer to at least part of what a cat is thinking when it comes to what that cat prefers to scratch.

John McGlone, a professor of animal welfare and animal behavior in the Department of Animal and Food Sciences, presented this week his study on cat scratchers, which scratchers cats preferred and why. His research was delivered during the 2015 Joint Annual Meeting (JAM) of the American Dairy Science Association (ASDA) and the American Society of Animal Science (ASAS) in Orlando, Florida.

Using kittens due to their playful nature more than adult cats, McGlone and his research team tested various cat scratchers to determine which one cats preferred. Knowing which cat scratcher kittens prefer will help people select effective cat scratchers. Cat owners want to direct cat scratching towards selected objects rather than having them scratch furniture, drapes and carpet.

The team then used that preferred scratcher to determine what causes kittens to spend more time scratching. The experimental evidence suggested kittens deposit pheromones from scratching and from their fur. The thinking is cats are attracted by pheromones, chemicals excreted or secreted by animals that trigger a social response in members of the same species.

“We are hypothesizing that kittens are responding to pheromones on the cardboard scratchers and the next kitten that comes in experiences the scratcher smell of other kittens’ odor and it makes them scratch more,” McGlone said. “We will be able to direct cat scratching towards preferred objects and away from household objects like furniture.”

Before McGlone and his team could get to why cats scratch certain scratchers more, they had to go back further to determine which scratchers cats preferred in the first place. A walk through the local pet store will reveal dozens of products for cats. The only problem is there is no real research or consumer-driven information that indicates which product is the best buy.

“If you’re buying a car, you can look up how it performs in fair government tests, what the miles per gallon is for any car,” McGlone said. “If that’s your criteria for buying a car, you can get one with really good gas mileage. If you pick up a piece of food at the store you can see what’s in it. But you go to a pet store, you can hardly get any information on anything they are selling. So we began to evaluate this in our study to see if we could increase or decrease cat scratching.”

McGlone purchased several types of scratchers — flat, rope, hemp and tower scratchers as well as making some of their own, utilizing cardboard, carpet and bubble wrap. Some scratchers were vertical, some were horizontal on the ground and some were on raised platforms. The idea was to test as many types of scratchers as possible.

An evaluation also had to be done on which cats to use, adult or kittens. Kittens, unsurprisingly, were more playful and active than adult cats. While it is thought that adult cats can be manipulated to become more playful when fed dried catnip, as sold in stores, they determined catnip applied to the scratchers did not change the rate of scratching.

From there, kittens were placed into a controlled environment with different types of scratchers and observed to determine which scratcher they preferred. After all the testing was done, the results showed kittens preferred the cardboard scratcher in the shape of an ‘S’ over all other scratchers.

“Nobody’s done any sort of official approval for cat scratchers,” McGlone said. “This was an opportunity to answer these questions and help people and animals.” Now that McGlone had the right type of scratcher and the right kittens, he tested what made cats use the scratcher longer.

“We do know when a cat grooms itself, it licks the hair all over its body, its paws included,” McGlone said. “We know a cat is continually applying its scent on itself, and cat hair is a much more potent stimulator of scratching than is catnip, for example. That cat hair contains pheromones.”

One at a time, kittens were placed in a controlled environment meant to simulate a normal living room, with a couch, drapes, carpet and the ‘S’ scratcher along with a human being to both record the kitten’s activity and place the kitten on the scratcher if it wandered off. The first test determined that kittens preferred an older ‘S’ scratcher to a newer one, which strengthened the hypothesis regarding cat hair and pheromones. But it didn’t completely validate the hypothesis.

In the next test, researchers applied different objects to the scratchers to see if they induced scratching. The researchers used hair from an adult cat, ground catnip and catnip oil, applying each to a separate scratcher.

Catnip oil had some effect, but overwhelmingly, kittens preferred the scratcher with cat hair on it. Also, researchers discovered that a kitten will scratch a new scratcher for a certain amount of time, then each subsequent kitten that scratches that scratcher will do so for increasing time lengths.

McGlone said the theory of cats being territorial doesn’t hold up because kittens have no sense of territory. They’re just playing. “Odors do strange things to animals,” McGlone said. “It makes them eat more, it makes them more sexually active and it makes them play more.”

The next step, McGlone said, is determining exactly which pheromone affects behavior. They are doing organic chemistry and animal behavior work to identify the molecules involved, and once that is determined, that pheromone can be applied to scratchers to induce play and keep drapes and furniture safe.

“Kittens might stay away from an adult male cat,” McGlone said. “Maybe we can use pheromones to stop cats from scratching the couch, or maybe if they’re so interested in the cat scratcher they’ll forget about the couch. There’s more than one way to get this goal accomplished.” Science Daily Original web page at Science Daily


* Pet owners reluctant to face up to their cats’ kill count

Pet owners are reluctant to face up to their cats’ kill count, a new study suggests. Cat owners fail to realize the impact of their cat on wildlife according to new research.

Cats are increasingly earning themselves a reputation as wildlife killers with estimates of animals killed every year by domestic cats in the UK numbering into the millions. This new study on the attitudes of cat owners suggests that proposals to keep cats indoors in order to preserve wildlife would not be well received.

The researchers studied cats from two UK villages, Mawnan Smith in Cornwall and Thornhill near Stirling. They found that although cat owners were broadly aware of whether their cat was predatory or not, those with a predatory cat had little idea of how many prey items it typically caught.

Regardless of the amount of prey returned by their cats, the majority of cat owners did not agree that cats are harmful to wildlife and were against suggestions that they should keep their cat inside as a control measure. They were however willing to consider neutering which is generally associated with cat welfare. The results, which are published in Ecology and Evolution, indicate that management options to control cat predation are likely to be unsuccessful unless they focus on cat welfare.

Dr Jenni McDonald from the Centre for Ecology and Conservation at the University of Exeter’s Penryn Campus in Cornwall said: “Our study shows that cat owners do not accept that cats are a threat to wildlife, and oppose management strategies with the exception of neutering. There is a clear need to directly address the perceptions and opinions of cat owners. “If we are to successfully reduce the number of wildlife deaths caused by domestic cats, the study suggests that we should use cat welfare as a method of encouraging cat owners to get involved.”

Co-author Professor Matthew Evans, Professor of Ecology at Queen Mary University of London, said: “In this paper we examined how aware cat owners were of the predatory behaviour of their pet. Owners proved to be remarkably unaware of the predatory behaviour of their cat, they also did not agree with any measures that might limit the impact that cats have on local wildlife. This study illustrates how difficult it would be to change the behaviour of cat owners if they are both unaware of how many animals are killed by their pet and resistant to control measures. This presents conservationists who might be attempting to reduce cat predation with serious difficulties, as owners disassociate themselves from any conservation impacts of their cat and take the view that cat predation is a natural part of the ecosystem.”

A total of 58 households, with 86 cats, took part in the study. Owners’ views regarding their cats’ predatory behaviour was assessed by comparing predictions of the number of prey their cat returns with the actual numbers bought home. A questionnaire was given to 45 owners at Mawnan Smith to determine whether the predatory behaviour of cats influences the attitudes of their owners.

In the UK, 23% of households share a population of over ten million domestic cats. Previous studies have shown that although the majority of cats only return a small amount of prey, one or two items per month, it is the cumulative effect of high densities of cats that is likely to have an overall negative effect on the environment.  Science Daily  Original web page at Science Daily


Stress in pet cats. How it manifests and how to manage it

A variety of day-to-day events — from conflicts with other cats to changes in their daily routine — can cause cats to become stressed. This can trigger a number of behavioural changes and be detrimental to their welfare.

A group of veterinarians from the Autonomous University of Barcelona, in Spain, have published a review in the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery that discusses how stress manifests in cats and describes strategies that can be used to prevent or reduce it.

Stress can lead to a range of behavioural changes. In some cats, stress inhibits normal behaviour; for example, reducing exploratory behaviour or affiliative behaviours such as social grooming (allogrooming). Such cats may hide away for long periods of time and the owners may be unaware that their cat is stressed. Other cats may show more obvious signs of stress, such as increased urine marking and compulsive disorders such as over-grooming. Behavioural problems such as these can negatively affect the human-cat relationship, potentially leading to the relinquishment or euthanasia of a cat. Regardless of how cats display signs of stress, it has a detrimental effect on their welfare and can also increase the incidence of disease. Minimising or eliminating stress is thus important.

There is a range of strategies that can help to prevent or reduce stress. Within the review, a three-phase reintroduction protocol for reducing conflict between cats in a household is described; examples of environmental enrichment for improving welfare by increasing the physical, social and temporal complexity of the environment are provided; and the use of a synthetic analogue of the feline facial pheromone is recommended. As stress is also dependent on the temperament of a cat, breeding and husbandry strategies that help a cat to develop a well-balanced temperament are also suggested to be very useful.  Science Daily  Original web page at Science Daily


* Gold standard management of the diabetic cat

An expert panel of veterinary clinicians and academics has been convened to produce practical guidance to help veterinary teams deliver optimal management for the increasing numbers of diabetic cats that are presenting to practices. The International Society of Feline Medicine (ISFM), the veterinary division of International Cat Care, has convened an expert panel of veterinary clinicians and academics to produce practical guidance to help veterinary teams deliver optimal management for the increasing numbers of diabetic cats that are presenting to practices.

Similar to type 2 (or adult-onset) diabetes in humans, there is thought to be a link between the increasing prevalence of diabetes mellitus in cats and rising levels of obesity, although other factors such as certain drug therapies and concurrent disease can also contribute to the problem of insulin resistance in cats. While generally straightforward to diagnose, feline diabetes can be challenging to manage.

The panel, which carefully reviewed clinical research studies to collate the best available evidence, has published its advice, ISFM Consensus Guidelines on the Practical Management of Diabetes Mellitus in Cats, in the March 2015 issue of the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery (JFMS).

The guidelines, which are free to access and download, focus on the most important aspects of managing diabetic cats including weight control, use of an appropriate diet, insulin therapy (highlighting the value of longer acting insulin preparations) and close monitoring of blood glucose concentrations (including in the home environment). Good diabetic control requires a long-term commitment and one of the keys to success is finding a treatment protocol that best fits in with owners’ daily lives. The panel recognises all too well that owners may give up on treatment, or even elect for euthanasia of the cat, if the disease impacts too negatively on them and their relationship with their cat. Moreover, with appropriate support and guidance from their veterinary practice, an owner can play an invaluable role in managing diabetes. A well-regulated cat will have a better prognosis and may also be more likely to go into diabetic remission, no longer requiring ongoing insulin therapy.  Science Daily  Original web page at Science Daily


* High-pitched sounds cause seizures in old cats: Certain breeds more susceptible

When the charity International Cat Care asked veterinary neurologists at Davies Veterinary Specialists, UK, for help with several enquiries it had received regarding cats having seizures, seemingly in response to certain high-pitched sounds, the answer was that the problem was not documented and little, if anything, was known about it.

Mark Lowrie and Laurent Garosi from Davies Veterinary Specialists and Robert Harvey from the UCL School of Pharmacy, London, decided to investigate, and compiled a questionnaire for owners to complete. Working with International Cat Care, and using the interest generated by the media, the story went worldwide (dubbed ‘Tom and Jerry syndrome’ after the cartoon character Tom who has a strong startle reflex and often reacts with involuntary jerks to sound stimuli). They received hundreds of replies from across the globe from people who had noticed the same problem in their cats in response to certain types of sound. These owners had also found that their local vets had no information at all about it, and often did not believe that a sound had triggered the seizure!

Now the resulting paper, entitled ‘Audiogenic reflex seizures in cats’, has been published in the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery and has pulled together information from 96 of these cats, looking at the type and duration of seizure and the triggering sound. It reveals that some cats do indeed suffer from audiogenic reflex seizures — those which are consistently caused by sounds (this is also recognised in people). Certain sounds induced ‘absences’ (non-convulsive seizures), myoclonic seizures (brief, shock-like jerks of a muscle or a group of muscles), or generalised tonic-clonic seizures. This last category is what most people think of as a ‘seizure’, with the cat losing consciousness and its body stiffening and jerking, often for several minutes. The new syndrome has been termed feline audiogenic reflex seizures (FARS). The investigation found that FARS occurred in pedigree and non-pedigree cats, but that among the pedigrees, the Birman breed was over-represented. This is also a problem of older cats — the average age of seizure onset was 15 years, with cats ranging in age from 10 to 19 years.

The most commonly reported triggers for FARS were the sound of crinkling tin foil (82 cats), a metal spoon clanging in a ceramic feeding bowl (79 cats), chinking or tapping of glass (72 cats), crinkling of paper or plastic bags (71 cats), tapping on a computer keyboard or clicking of a mouse (61), clinking of coins or keys (59), hammering of a nail (38) and even the clicking of an owner’s tongue (24). Other, less common triggers were the sound of breaking the tin foil from packaging, mobile phone texting and ringing, digital alarms, Velcro, stove igniting ticks, running water, a dog jangling its collar as it scratched, computer printer, firewood splitting, wooden blocks being knocked together, walking across a wooden floor with bare feet or squeaky shoes and, in one case, the short, sharp scream of a young child.

Avoiding the sounds could reduce the seizures, although owners reported that it was sometimes difficult to avoid certain sounds, and the loudness of the sound also seemed to increase the severity of seizures. This study has defined a previously unreported syndrome by using a carefully screened questionnaire and medical records. The geriatric nature of this condition is such that it may be overlooked in older cats, which may potentially suffer from other concurrent conditions. The hope is that publication of the paper will raise awareness among vets in practice about this syndrome. Meanwhile, work is ongoing to identify the genetic basis of this disorder and the team is now also working on a paper about treatment of these cases.

Lead author, Mark Lowrie, says: ‘We have been overwhelmed by the response to our work. A second study is soon to be published suggesting that levetiracetam is an excellent choice of medication in managing this condition. Our experience is that it can completely rid a cat of these sound-induced seizures, including the myoclonic twitches — one owner reported that levetiracetam had ‘truly been a miracle drug for my cat”. Claire Bessant, Chief Executive of International Cat Care, summed up: ‘How wonderful to be able to go back to those worried owners who came to us for help with a problem previously unrecognised by the veterinary profession with not only an explanation for their cats’ behaviours, but a way to help them as well.’  Science Daily  Original web page at Science Daily


Cats relax to the sound of music

According to research published today in the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery by veterinary clinicians at the University of Lisbon and a clinic in the nearby town of Barreiro in Portugal, music is likewise beneficial for cats in the surgical environment. But not all music is equal in this respect — cats, it seems, benefit most from classical music. Lead author, Miguel Carreira, explains: ‘In the surgical theatres at the faculty where I teach and at the private veterinary medical centre where I spend my time operating, environmental music is always present, and is an important element in promoting a sense of wellbeing in the team, the animals, and their owners. Different music genres affect individuals in different ways. During consultations I have noticed, for example, that most cats like classical music, particularly George Handel compositions, and become more calm, confident and tolerant throughout the clinical evaluation. After reading about the influence of music on physiological parameters in humans, I decided to design a study protocol to investigate whether music could have any physiological effects on my surgical patients.’

The clinicians studied 12 female pet cats undergoing surgery for neutering, and recorded their respiratory rate and pupil diameter at various points to gauge their depth of anaesthesia. The cats, which had been fitted with headphones, were meanwhile exposed to 2 minutes of silence (as a control), followed randomly by 2 minutes each of Barber’s ‘Adagio for Strings (Opus 11)’, Natalie Imbruglia’s ‘Thorn’ and AC/DC’s ‘Thunderstruck’. The results showed that the cats were in a more relaxed state (as determined by their lower values for respiratory rate and pupil diameter) under the influence of classical music, with the pop music producing intermediate values. By contrast, the heavy metal music produced the highest values, indicating ‘a more stressful situation’. The clinicians conclude that the use of certain music genres in the surgical theatre may allow a decrease in the dose of anaesthetic agent required, in turn reducing the risk of undesirable side effects and thus promoting patient safety. Science Daily Original web page at Science Daily


Habitat loss threatens the world’s felids

Despite conservation efforts, news on how Iberian lynx (Lynx pardinus) are hit by vehicles on Spanish roads has been reported. The status of the most endangered felid in the world is hardly improved by the continual ‘incursions’ into its territory.. Ever-shrinking and broken-up habitats affect the future of the lynx. To assess the situation of the Iberian lynx and other felid species that live in the wild on our planet, a team of Brazilian and Spanish scientists has reviewed the scientific literature that exists on the main threat for these mammals: the loss and fragmentation of their habitats. The results have been published in the scientific journal Oryx. Although many scientific studies are produced (last January, for example, 60,000 scientific articles were published), researchers could only find a total of 162 studies which evaluated threats affecting felids.

“These figures clearly indicate that in general there is a lack of knowledge on this topic, which especially affects felid conservation. Without proper scientific knowledge it is hard to set up effective conservation strategies,” declares Francisco Palomares, one of the authors of the study and researcher for the department of Conservation Biology at the Doñana Biological Station (CSIC). According to the new study, the main reasons for the limited information on the effect of habitat loss and fragmentation for felid conservation are “the lack of both financing for research and communication between managers and researchers,” highlights Palomares.

North America and Europe generate the greatest amount of research on the effect of habitat loss on felids. However, in view of the lack of research in certain countries with less economic resources, the real effect of this threat is still unknown for 16 species of felids. This is the case for the Andean mountain cat (Leopardus jacobita), the Bornean bay cat (Pardofelis badia), the flat-headed cat (Prionailurus planiceps), and the fishing cat (Prionailurus viverrinus), in danger of extinction and for whom there are very few studies and conservation measures. Among those on which there is little scientific information is the Iberian lynx, the most threatened felid, and which is considered critically endangered according to the Red List of Threatened Species of the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

“However, in accordance with our review of scientific literature, it is a model species and exemplary in evaluating the effect of habitat loss and fragmentation,” the researcher points out, who adds that there is scientific data to help to develop successful conservation plans for the species. As the Iberian lynx lives in the Mediterranean scrubland, its habitat needs protecting. “As well as suitable vegetation, there must be significant rabbit populations,” adds Palomares. The lynx’s conservation strategy consists of connecting isolated populations through ecological corridors, but the information provided through local and regional population viability models for short and longer time periods also helps. The team of researchers highlights the need to tackle at least the following three areas of research for the rest of the felids: differentiating habitat loss from the effects of fragmentation using theoretical scenarios; selecting priority areas for conservation, and analysing the consequences of habitat loss. “Felid conservationists must start to design more theoretical projects and apply the new tools and methodologies available in research on landscape and wildlife,” concludes the study. Science Daily  Original web page at Science Daily


* Cats put sight over smell in finding food

Felines have a tremendous sense of smell and vision, but the new study by researchers at the University of Lincoln, UK, has for the first time investigated which sense they prefer to use under test conditions — and suggested sight may be more important than smell. A group of six cats were placed in a maze which had ‘decision’ points — and the cats had to choose which avenue they took based on their preference for using images or smell. They were simultaneously presented with two squares of paper, each containing a different visual and odour cue. One combination of stimuli indicated they would receive a food reward, whereas the other led to no reward. Once the cats had learned the rules of the game and received food rewards for correctly choosing either the visual stimulus or the olfactory stimulus, the researchers separated the cues (visual versus olfactory) to investigate whether the cats were using their eyes or nose to solve the task.

Four out of the six cats picked the visual cue, over the odour cue, to receive their food reward with only one cat preferring to use its nose and the sixth showing no preference. So it seems that when they had the choice, cats simply preferred the visual signals over the olfactory ones. The findings have now been published by the international journal Applied Animal Behaviour Science. Evy Mayes carried out the research at the University of Lincoln while she was studying for her Masters degree in feline behaviour and welfare. Evy, who is now working at Battersea Dogs & Cats Home, explained: “Up until now we really thought that the sense of smell would dominate how cats view their world, but we are now reconsidering this and also the implications of how we manage them. At Battersea Dogs & Cats Home we make sure that our cats are housed in the best possible environment — one that respects the cat and provides each individual with whatever it needs in order to help it adapt to a rehoming environment.

I was also particularly surprised by the speed at which the cats learned how to solve the task, which is very encouraging for future cat behaviour studies.” Professor Daniel Mills, who supervised the study and is based in the University of Lincoln’s School of Life Sciences, added: “We live in a complex world and use all of our senses to make sense of it. This is the first time we have asked cats how they operate rather than assumed this from what we know about their senses. Another important finding from this work is the individual variability — different cats had quite fixed preferences, and this may have important implications for their welfare. If there is a cat which has a strong preference for using its nose then simple changes in the smell of the environment might have a big impact on it, whereas, for others it may be insignificant. This work provides a unique insight into the important principles of attending to the needs of the individual rather than the population in general for good welfare.” Due to the small sample size, further investigation is required to infer a general preference for cats to use visual over olfactory stimuli when learning the location of food.  Science Daily  Original web page at Science Daily