Pet Connection by Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker

50 Years for Winn

Better health and care for cats is a lodestar for Winn Feline Foundation

By Kim Campbell Thornton

Andrews McMeel Syndication

When you feed your cat; purchase a Maine coon or ragdoll kitten who doesn’t have a mutation for hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, the most commonly diagnosed form of heart disease in cats; or have your cat’s diabetes reversed through a change in diet, you’re benefiting from research funded by the Winn Feline Foundation (winnfelinefoundation.org), which is celebrating its golden anniversary of helping cats.

The organization, founded in December 1968 with a $125 donation from the Cat Fanciers Association, has grown into an internationally recognized force for feline health research and education. More than $6 million later, Winn has supported scientists studying chronic kidney disease in cats, feline infectious peritonitis and stem cell therapy for managing inflammatory conditions such as chronic gingival stomatitis. Its successes are well-known to informed cat lovers.

“Their work on kidney atrophy and disease in Persians and exotics is important and gives me hope that there will be a cure someday for polycystic kidney disease (PKD),” says Dee Dee Drake, executive director of Calaveras Humane Society in California.

Discoveries by Winn-funded researchers now allow cat breeders to test for PKD and breed away from it in their lines. Testing also allows the disease to be identified earlier in a cat’s life. The disease can’t be halted, but early identification means cats can be treated for loss of kidney function at an earlier stage of disease. And because Persians have been used in breeding programs for other breeds, such as exotics -- the Persian’s shorthaired cousin -- those breeds benefit as well.

Cat breeder Lorraine Shelton cites evidence-based research showing that early-age spay and neuter surgery is safe in cats. While there is evidence in dogs that early-age spay and neuter poses health risks, studies in cats have not uncovered negative side effects.

But for many cat owners, the word most associated with Winn is "taurine." In 1987, the organization took a chance on veterinary cardiologist Paul Pion’s hypothesis that a deficiency of taurine in cat foods was linked to the high incidence of dilated cardiomyopathy and funded his research on an emergency basis. He was correct, and now cat foods are formulated to meet the feline need for taurine. Today, most veterinarians don’t see cats with dilated cardiomyopathy except in unusual situations, says Vicki Thayer, DVM, Winn’s executive director.

Pain relief and the effects of stress on cats are also important to feline health and welfare. At Colorado State University College of Veterinary Medicine, Elena Contreras, DVM, and Michael Lappin, DVM, are studying whether concentrations of cortisol -- one of the “stress” hormones -- in fur and nails can provide veterinarians with a simple, accurate way to measure and diagnose chronic stress in cats.

And at North Carolina State University, Santosh Mishra, Ph.D., and Duncan Lascelles, Ph.D., MRCVS, are using a grant from Winn to study degenerative joint disease-associated pain and hypersensitivity in cats. Much of Dr. Lascelles’ research focuses on ways veterinarians can recognize and manage pain in cats.

“These types of studies are critical to veterinarians who want to reduce the stress cats experience in the exam room as well as provide better pain relief for cats with osteoarthritis, which is a more common problem than people realize,” says Marty Becker, DVM, founder of the Fear Free organization, which has the goal of reducing fear, anxiety and stress associated with pet health care.

Starting this month, Winn begins a focus on raising money for research into chronic kidney disease, a common problem in aging cats.

“A lot of people have shown that they are concerned about chronic kidney disease in cats, so we want to do a matching fund to see if we can support more kidney-disease research,” Dr. Thayer says.

Q&A

What causes dog

to lick legs, feet?

Q: I have a dog who licks her feet and legs too much. She is groomed every month, and I give her daily dietary supplements. Her vet says she might have back leg problems. Is she in pain?

A: Dogs lick themselves for lots of reasons. Sometimes it’s a result of being anxious, stressed or bored. Dogs with separation anxiety may lick themselves because the behavior releases soothing endorphins that help the dog feel calm. Conflicts with other animals or changes in household routine may also cause “stress-relief” licking. Some dogs lick their paws because they don’t have anything better to do.

Your veterinarian is correct that licking can also be a sign of an underlying health problem. It’s not unusual for dogs to lick areas of the body that are itchy or painful. Dogs who lick their paws and legs may be attempting to relieve the awful itch of skin allergies or bacterial or fungal infections or the joint pain from arthritis, which can settle in the carpus (wrist), stifle (knee), elbows, hips and lower back.

Anytime a dog licks excessively, he should be seen by the veterinarian to rule out a health problem, such as one of the many itchy skin diseases or a painful condition such as arthritis. Be prepared to tell your vet about the food and supplements your dog receives, his daily routine and the detergents and household cleaners you use. The vet may run diagnostic tests that include skin scrapings, a fungal culture or blood work.

If a thorough history and physical exam don’t turn up any cause for the licking, consider your dog’s lifestyle. Does he need more physical and mental stimulation? Consider taking him on walks in new areas, letting him take his time sniffing instead of rushing him along, introducing him to a fun dog sport such as nose work or rally, or rotating several interesting puzzle toys. -- Dr. Marty Becker

Do you have a pet question? Send it to askpetconnection@gmail.com or visit Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker.

THE BUZZ

Pets grieve, too.

Know the signs

-- Has your dog or cat lost a friend? The death of a human family member or a fellow pet can send animals into a state of grief. How animals mourn is similar to the way people react to the loss of beloved companion: They may mope, lose their appetite, be unwilling to play, or sleep more. Sometimes they curl up with clothing that bears the missing person’s scent or move to the missing animal’s sleeping spot. These behaviors or more subtle changes in behavior are clues that a pet has the blues. Help him cope by maintaining a normal routine, giving some extra-special attention more frequently and remaining patient.

-- If you’re making your first trip to the veterinarian with a new kitten, some preparation can help the visit go smoothly. If possible, a preliminary visit to familiarize yourself with the clinic setup can let you scope out such things as whether your kitten might encounter dogs in the waiting room. Plan to have him in a cozy carrier spritzed with soothing feline pheromones where he’ll feel secure -- not in your arms, where he could squirm and scratch in an attempt to escape. If a checkout visit isn’t possible, leave your kitten in the car, inside her carrier, while you go sign in. Ask the receptionist to call or text you when they’re ready to take you and Fluffy straight to the exam room. Don’t forget plenty of treats to help distract her during the exam and create positive associations with the experience.

-- In the 1997 remake of “Call of the Wild,” based on Jack London’s classic novel, three Leonbergers played the role of sled dog Buck, described in the book as a cross between a Saint Bernard and a Scotch shepherd. -- Dr. Marty Becker and Mikkel Becker

ABOUT PET CONNECTION

Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "The Dr. Oz Show" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. They are affiliated with Vetstreet.com and are the authors of many best-selling pet-care books. Joining them is dog trainer and behavior consultant Mikkel Becker. Dr. Becker can be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at Facebook.com/KimCampbellThornton and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at Facebook.com/MikkelBecker and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.