How can feline health be improved? Finnish cats offer clues

A new registry in Finland promises to provide important insights on feline health.

The cat is the most popular pet in Finland, but veterinarians there haven’t been able to find much in the medical literature about feline illnesses. So a research group led by the University of Helsinki and Folkhälsan Research Centre decided to create their own feline health registry, by surveying the owners of 8,000 cats and charting the rate of 220 illnesses in those pets.

The researchers published initial findings from their study in a recent edition of the journal Frontiers in Veterinary Science. They analyzed the prevalence of diseases such as asthma, urinary tract infections and kidney disease in 29 breeds, as well as in far more common housecats. In so doing, they laid a foundation for future genetic studies that may help combat common diseases in cats, they said.

The pet owners who participated in the study filled out detailed questionnaires about their cats’ living environments, behavioral traits, vaccination histories and, in some cases, the results from gene tests of the animals. In the process of studying 60 hereditary diseases, the scientists identified genetic mutations associated with polycystic kidney disease, progressive retinal atrophy, hypertrophic cardiomyopathy and some types of tail malformations, they reported.

About 28% of the cats had suffered dental diseases, making oral health the most prevalent problem reported in the study. Disorders of the skin and urinary tract affected 12% of cats in the study. These diseases occurred at similar rates in both purebreds and nonpedigree cats, but the purebreds suffered significantly higher rates of genital and cardiac diseases, according to the paper.

Interest in enhancing feline health is growing around the world. In July, the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery devoted an entire issue to healthy aging in cats, providing tips for veterinarians on how to help cat owners maintain musculoskeletal health, cognitive functioning and more.

The Finnish team hopes to inspire more interest in cat health among the research community. “Our study will help researchers develop a strategy for genetic research,” said Hannes Lohi, a professor at the University of Helsinki, in a press release. The researchers, who collected much of the information from participating cat owners via social media, believe their study could be used as a model for future research on the topic of feline health. “Active cooperation with cat enthusiasts must continue in the future so that we can compile all relevant data,” Lohi said.

- access the study here
- read more from the University of Helsinki

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