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Feature June 2013 Issue

Flavonoids in cat food; new quality of life measurement

Hyperthyroidism and diet

According to the Morris Animal Foundation, researchers at the University of Georgia are in the process of completing a study on whether certain cat food ingredients can cause feline hyperthyroidism, a common ailment in middle-aged and older cats.

Research so far has found that “flavonoids — plant proteins found in commercially available cat food — activate cultured feline thyroid cells as effectively as a cat’s normal thyroid-stimulating hormone. This suggests that flavonoids may interfere with normal thyroid function and be a contributing factor in the development of feline hyperthyroidism,” according to a statement by the Morris Animal Foundation, which is funding the study.

The university researchers expect to confirm their results some time this summer. “If the researchers identify nutritional causes of hyperthyroidism, it is hoped that these compounds can be reduced or avoided in cat food, thus reducing the incidence of disease and improving the lives of cats,” according to the Denver-based foundation.

Feline hyperthyroidism occurs when a cat’s thyroid glands produce too much thyroid hormone. This can cause a rapid heart rate, high blood pressure and weight loss and ultimately lead to heart disease, if not treated. (See related article in Catnip, May 2013.)

Heart disease and quality of life

One of the most common feline ailments is heart disease, which affects 10 to 15 percent of cats. However, the signs are often noticed too late to help the afflicted cat. “One of the challenges with cats is that they hide things very well,” explains Lisa Freeman, DVM, head of the nutrition service at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine. “They often don’t get taken to the vet and find out they have heart disease until the cases are more advanced.”

And even when heart disease is diagnosed, many owners still find it challenging to determine how much their pets may be suffering. “They might keep eating and acting normally,” she says, “but when owners look back, they may realize they missed quite subtle signs.”

As a result, Freeman and Tufts veterinary cardiologist John Rush have developed a questionnaire for cat owners and veterinarians to determine how heart disease is impacting the cat’s quality of life. The survey — known as CATCH (Cats Assessment Tool for Cardiac Health) — will also be helpful in evaluating new treatments for heart disease.

Studies of humans with heart disease have found a relationship between quality of life and survival rates. With companion animals — where euthanasia is an option —accurate assessment of quality of life can be very helpful to owners in making end-of-life decisions.

Studies published in the Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine and the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association found that 93 percent of cat owners and 86 percent of dog owners, respectively, preferred that treatment for heart disease resulted in a somewhat shorter but higher-quality life — rather than a longer life with poorer quality.

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