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

New Feline Research

Three studies funded by EveryCat Health Foundation will prompt purrs from cat lovers -- and their cats, even if they don’t know why

By Kim Campbell Thornton

Andrews McMeel Syndication

The Chinese calendar recently transitioned to the year of the ox, but 2021 will be the year of the cat -- not based on the Chinese zodiac, but on current studies focusing on feline health and welfare.

Many are funded by an organization with a 53-year history of supporting research into cat health and behavior, and a new name: The former Winn Feline Foundation is now EveryCat Health Foundation. While its name has changed, its mission hasn’t; ECHF has simply put into words its goal to learn more about every cat so that all felines -- pets, pedigreed show kitties, community cats and shelter denizens -- can benefit. Here’s their story, in three studies.

-- Feline chronic gingivostomatitis (FCGS) is a painful disease that attacks a cat’s mouth and affects approximately 1% of the cat population. Removing all of a cat’s teeth helps about 70% of cats with FCGS. The other 30% face a lifetime of steroids, pain medication and antibiotics, or even euthanasia.

Research funded by ECHF at the University of California, Davis, looked at using stem cells derived from the fat of cats to treat the disease. Over a five-year period, it helped to propel researchers from early lab research to a clinical trial.

“We had noticed some pretty resounding success using these cells to treat cats with this disease,” says Dori L. Borjesson, DVM, Ph.D., who at the time was professor of pathology at U.C. Davis and is now dean of Washington State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine. “We started working with an industry group and are now working with the FDA to get this product to market.”

-- Ulcers in cats are less common than in dogs, but they tend to affect cats more severely. At Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine, researchers have sought the best ways to treat ulcers of the stomach and small intestine in cats. That’s difficult because cats metabolize drugs differently than dogs and humans, in which the most research has been done.

“The way oral drugs often work is that they have to be absorbed in the small intestine,” says Katie Tolbert, DVM, Ph.D., clinical associate professor in small-animal gastroenterology. “They need time to be absorbed, and one of the problems we have in cats is that they have a short small intestine compared to dogs and humans. There’s not enough time for that drug to get absorbed in the cat intestine.”

The data generated as they sought the most effective medications to treat feline ulcers -- which typically affect middle-aged to older cats with inflammatory bowel disease or gastrointestinal cancer -- has resulted in better treatments that are already in use.

The support from ECHF, Tolbert says, has also helped reduce the use of medications effective in humans and dogs, but not in cats. Anyone who has tried to medicate a cat can appreciate that.

“The last thing we want to do is give a drug to a cat that’s not going to be effective,” Tolbert says.

-- Feline leukemia virus used to be a death sentence for cats, but now it’s known that many infected cats can enjoy a good quality of life for the time they have -- allowing more cats to be adopted instead of euthanized. But until recently, veterinarians and shelters struggled with the most reliable and efficient way to test cats for FeLV.

University of Florida researchers, in collaboration with Austin Pets Alive! and IDEXX Laboratories and supported by EveryCat Health Foundation and Maddie’s Fund, have identified the best screening tests for the disease as well as published a paper on the success of FeLV cat adoptions. Their findings ensure accurate and cost-effective testing.

“In the past, veterinarians and shelter managers were confused about what samples they should collect and what tests they should run,” says Julie Levy, DVM, Fran Marino-endowed professor of shelter medicine education at the University of Florida. “Now we can get cats out of shelters quicker, and if we identify them as FeLV-positive, we’re going to adopt them to appropriate homes and not euthanize them.”


Like cats

and dogs?

Q: I have a cat, and I’m thinking of getting a dog. Can they really get along? What tips do you have for introducing them?

A: As with any family, these pets get along to varying degrees, from familiar affection to downright loathing. If slowly introduced at a pace that’s comfortable for them, dogs and cats usually at least tolerate each other well. And in many families, the camaraderie between cats and dogs is obvious.

To introduce new pet housemates, start with scent, not sight. While they’re in separate safe spaces, let each sniff a sock or T-shirt that has been rubbed on the other. Do this several times over several days until they don’t show negative reactions such as swishing tails or barking. And even though they are in separate rooms, they can still smell each other and become accustomed to each other’s presence.

When they do meet, the dog should be on a leash so you can prevent any lunges toward the cat. And make sure your cat has an escape route, such a tall cat tree or a pet gate with a cutout the cat -- but not the dog -- can run through. Hand out lots of tasty treats while they’re in each other’s presence.

Although there are exceptions to every rule, some types of dogs may not enjoy living with a cat as much as others do. Breeds or mixes with high prey drive -- think terriers, hounds and some spitz breeds -- may view cats more as a main course than as fellow family members. Consider a breed or mix less likely to be aggressive toward cats. If you’re adopting an adult dog, ask the shelter or rescue group if the dog has lived with cats previously or has been “cat-tested” for friendliness toward felines. Learn more at – Mikkel Becker

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Keep pets safe

from poisons

-- It’s National Animal Poison Prevention Week. Do you know what yard and household substances put your dog or cat at risk? In the kitchen, beware of dark chocolate, grapes, mushrooms and anything moldy that your pet might snag from the trash. Your medicine cabinet holds ibuprofen, acetaminophen and your prescription medication; even without opposable thumbs, pets can chew their way into bottles or find pills that have fallen to the floor unnoticed. And in the yard and garage, beware of toxic plants, tulip and other bulbs, herbicides, fertilizers and pesticides. If you believe your pet has ingested something toxic, call ASPCA Animal Poison Control at 888-426-4435 or Pet Poison Helpline at 800-213-6680.

-- Discovery of an ancient pet cemetery in the Egyptian port city of Berenice, on the Red Sea, documents the longstanding bond between humans and animals. Cats, several types of dogs and two species of macaques were found buried there, not as sacrifices but as obviously cared-for pets with collars and other paraphernalia. The remains of the 585 animals were examined by a veterinarian to learn more about their diet, health and cause of death. It was clear that often they had been cared for after injuries or nursed through illnesses, some living into old age. The study was published in January in the journal World Archaeology. Read more here:

-- Why do dogs have cold noses? Evaporation. The eyes constantly produce tears for lubrication. Excess tears flow through the naso-lacrimal, or “nose-tears,” duct and out the base of the nose. As the tears drip down into the dog’s face, the dog licks her nose, spreading tear fluid over it. The resulting evaporation causes the nose to be cool and moist, enhancing the dog’s ability to dissolve airborne chemicals and contributing to that great canine sense of smell. -- Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker


Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet care experts headed by “The Dr. Oz Show” veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker, founder of the Fear Free organization and author of many best-selling pet care books, and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. Joining them is behavior consultant and lead animal trainer for Fear Free Pets Mikkel Becker. Dr. Becker can be found at or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.