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Veterinarian Technician December 2009 (Vol 30, No 12)

Researchers Investigate Common Cold as Cause of Death in Shelter Cats

    DENVER—Simple changes in shelter housing may inhibit the spread of feline upper respiratory infection (URI) and save the lives of cats. This infection is cited among the top reasons for euthanasia of shelter cats. Cats with URI may not be easy to adopt, and shelters do not always have the resources to treat the disease.

    Research funded by Morris Animal Foundation's Happy Healthy Cat Campaign suggests that stressful conditions dramatically increase the likelihood of infection. Fortunately, housing modifications can reduce stress and slow the spread of infection, making the difference between life and death for a shelter cat. Learn more about the research and the symptoms of URI at www.research4cats.org.

    With Morris Animal Foundation funding, Kate Hurley, DVM, MPVM, director of the Koret Shelter Medicine Program at the University of California, Davis, is assessing disease incidence, cage layout and sanitation methods to determine how shelter housing affects stress and stress-related illnesses. Her research shows that prevalence of feline URI varies wildly across the country—with anywhere from 5% to 60% of shelter cats becoming sick. Environmental risk factors explain some of the variation, and so far shelters with the lowest URI rates seem to be those with high-quality housing for cats.

    "Our hope is that we will find something that not only helps cats stay healthy but also helps them get out of shelters alive," Hurley says.

    Hurley's project is one of three Helping Shelters Help Cats studies funded through the Foundation's Happy Healthy Cat Campaign. An international team from the United States, Canada and Australia is also working to develop effective behavioral interventions to minimize the spread of URI. Another study, at The Ohio State University, will create a training program for shelter personnel that will increase safety and comfort in shelters. While these studies focus on shelters, findings are relevant to all pets that spend time in veterinary clinics, catteries or kennels.

    Every dollar (up to $500,000) donated to Helping Shelters Help Cats will be matched by an anonymous donor. Based on this pledge, the Foundation recently sent out a new request for proposals for shelter-based research projects that will investigate feline infectious peritonitis. Funding estimated at $250,000 over 3 years will be available to study this infectious disease, which is almost always fatal.

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