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.
Photo Caption: Cats are the No. 1 pet throughout the world, so feline health research is important to many people.