Aby-a-Day – 23 Juli: Louis Wain (Cartoon Tuesday)

In London, we spent a good bit of time looking for treasures in second-hand shops. I was on the hunt for anything regarding the early Abyssinians, and I figured England might be the place to find it. Unfortunately, I was unable to find any Victorian-era cat breeding books, but I did find a print by the pre-eminent cat artist Louis Wain. There were a couple of different ones, actually, but I thought the limerick was charming:

A girl, who was dreadfully flustered,
Helped Ma-in-law to a spoonful of mustard!
Her Ma-in-Law stared,
Asked how she dared!
But she told her she thought it was custard.

The print was marked as being from 1910.

When I got it home and framed it, however, I discovered it wasn’t just a print…it was a page from a book! And the other side was also very cute…but there’s a mark on it that I Photoshopped out when I scanned it, so I kept the limerick side out. Louis Wain is known for more than just his drawing…he also had some sort of mental issues (possibly dementia or schizophrenia; mental illness wasn’t as sophisticated 100 years ago), and, even though he was put in an asylum, he kept drawing cats that became more and more psychedelic as his illness progressed. In the filigree decoration on the back of page seems to presage his future drawings.

He was an incredibly prolific cat artist, and his work was published in books and as postcards. I found this very Aby-looking fellow online as a part of series of postcards celebrating “taking the waters” at Harrogate, one of the first ever “spas” where people went every summer for sulphur treatments. The treatments involved both drinking and soaking in the water, and Wain did four series of six cards each as souvenir/advertising. After finding the Abyssinian “sulphurer,” I became fascinated by these little glimpses into history…probably because, as a kid my dad tricked me into drinking sulphur water from the Lithia water fountain in Ashland, Oregon. I know what it tastes like!

In researching Louis Wain’s work (I was unable to find my images online anywhere, believe it or not, so I don’t know what book my page came from), I also came across this happy little guy. I know know much about him…but doesn’t he look like Izaak!? It actually kind of reminds me of that sketch of Zak I did back in March.

A vaccine for FIP? Compound GC376 may be the answer

There may be a vaccine to prevent FIP in the future. Researchers at Kansas State University, together with a medicinal chemist at Wichita University and Dr. Neils Pedersen at UC Davis, have been working on an FIP vaccine, and last week it was announced that they had licensed their compound GC376 to Anivive Lifesciences, which is a major step towards developing the compound into a commercial vaccine available to veterinarians.

Remember, though, that getting the compound to a pharmaceutical developer is just the first step. Clinical trials need to be run, and then the vaccine needs to be approved by the FDA before it will be available for sale. That will probably take a few years. But still…we may very well see a vaccine in our lifetimes that will prevent FIP in our feline companions!

Aby-a-Day – June 28: Five years without Gun-Hee (Part 2) (Friday Flashback)

Today is the day Gun-Hee lost his short but fierce battle against FIP.

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There is hope, however: Just last week, Cornell announced a breakthrough in the search for the mutation that turns the benign feline enteric coronavirus (FECV) into the fatal FIP virus. Let’s all keep our fingers and toes crossed that this will lead to some sort of a cure for this evil disease.

Aby-a-Day – December 9: People-pleasing felines (Serious Sunday)

Our friend Sparkle posted on Friday about a recent research study that she disagreed with. The study basically found that purebred cats are more “human-oriented” and friendly than random-bred cats.

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The actual study was published in Volume 7, Issue 6 of the Journal of Veterinary Behaviour (November 2012) titled “Do cats from established breeds behave differently toward humans than outbred cats?” The conclusion? Yes, they do; they tend to be more attached to humans, more dependent on them, and “friendlier” towards them.

Sparkle took offence at the article, mainly because it made it seem like random-bred cats aren’t as friendly as purebred cats as a whole. But actually…I think the researchers are correct – I do agree that in general purebred cats are more attuned to people than random-bred cats, and this is actually what I tell people when they ask me why Jake is so tolerant and patient, unlike “most cats.” This is a subject I’ve read a lot on, as it’s near and dear to my heart: feline genetics. But there’s a couple of factors that do make purebred cats tend to be more human-oriented than random-bred cats:

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Part of the problem is that people inevitably compare cats as human companions to dogs as human companions, and dogs have a decidedly unfair advantage. They’re been domesticated a lot longer than cats have; the current consensus is that dogs have been domesticated for about 12,000 years, while cats have been domesticated about 4,000 years. But cats became domesticated in a very different way than other domesticated animals.

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In other cases of domesticated animals, humans decided to tame and use the animal for a purpose, Dogs, for hunting first, then protection, and then, as humans developed farming, herding; cows, pigs, chickens, goats and sheep, as a ready supply of fresh meat, milk, eggs, leather and wool; and horses, for transportation. These animals were selectively bred by humans to suit their intended purposes better: Cows were bred to produce more milk or meat, chickens more eggs, sheep more wool. Dogs were bred to be better companions to humans: better hunting partners, better farming partners, better guardians to our property and our children. As a result of this long partnership, dogs can read human emotions and facial expressions as well as a human baby. There was a study done that found that dogs will follow your gaze and look where you’re looking, something even our closest ape relatives can’t do. It’s thought that in order to help humans hunt or herd, they needed to understand humans, and this was how they learned to do that. The dogs who best understood humans were selected to breed to produce more puppies who understood humans, generation after generation for 12,000 years.

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Cats, on the other hand, discovered humans later on, after agriculture had been firmly established.
Cats decided to live with us rather than humans deciding to “use” cats to fulfill a specific human need. This is a pretty key difference in the way cats became domesticated, because cats basically domesticated themselves, and chose their own mates, for much longer than any other domesticated species. Humans didn’t intervene with cats’ domestication for the first, they didn’t breed cats to fit a specific purpose or meet a certain standard for the first 3,850 years they coexisted.

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Friendlier cats found it easier to live with humans, but even unfriendly cats could still survive and reproduce. Breeds of cat did start to evolve, but these were based more on physical genetic mutations (length or type of hair, taillessness or short tails, partial albinism, unusual patterns or colours) rather than on personality traits.

At least, not until the mid-1800’s, when the cat fancy started and humans started developing breeds of cats with a purpose. Maybe they weren’t bred to be hunters or herders, but all of a sudden, humans were starting to breed them with a plan in mind. But even then, many of the breeds were still based on a simple physical genetic mutation rather than on personality (long hair for the Persian, curly hair for the Rexes, no tails for the Manx, stubby tails for the Japanese Bobtails, and partial, thermo-restrictive albinism for the Siamese). Of the three oldest recognised breeds of cats, Persian, Siamese and Abyssinian, only one is not based on a physical mutation so much as its based on temperament (guess which one)? Also, many breeds have allowed outcrosses to random-bred cats that meet the breed standard during their development – even now, this is allowed with some breeds.

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But one thing about cats is that kittens “inherit” the personalities of their fathers, even if they never meet them or spend time with them in person. Even if the father’s input is strictly genetic, father cats who are friendly to humans beget friendly kittens. Random-bred male cats aren’t really “kept” by humans as much as they are “hosted.” Purebred stud cats are hard to keep and there are fewer of them than there are breeding queens, and because of this, they’re generally hand-picked to be the “best” cats. Stud cats are highly “selected” and one of the traits they’re chosen for is their personality. The kittens inherit this friendlieness, and the males selected from this generation to pass on their genetic material will be the most personable of these kittens. It may not always be the main trait the breeder is selecting for, but a side-effect of selectively breeding cats is that the males, being harder to keep in a breeding situation, became limited. Fewer purebred males are allowed to pass on their genetic material, but of the males who do reproduce, they father a larger number of kittens. And thus the succeeding litters of purebred kittens were friendly and personable.

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We’re still almost 10,000 years behind them, but the older breeds of purebred cats, I believe, have or are developing the same attachment to humans that dogs have, so yes Abys, Siamese and Persians are more personable and friendly then your average random-bred cat. Of course, “more personable and friendly” can also be interpreted as “more clingy and high-maintenance.” These cats need to have their humans around a lot more than your average moggie from down the road. Generations of human intervention may have made them more friendly, but it also made them less self-sufficient. Imagine a purebred Persian out hunting in the woods. Between the sticks and leaves tangling his fur and the shortened muzzle, making it harder to deliver a killing bite to a mouse, a Persian would have a hard time trying to survive without humans even if his mother was able to teach him to hunt.

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Of course, none of this is to say that random-bred cats can’t or will never be friendly. Of course they can be; they’re cats, after all. But there’s no predictability, especially since feline “friendliness” is so dependent on the father, and the fathers of random-bred felines are seldom known. Furthermore, it’s possible for kittens in the same litter to have different fathers, meaning even littermates can be genetically diverse…and harder to predict, personality-wise. Basically, random-bred cats are just that: random. You can’t predict what you’re going to get.

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To bring it down to a personal level, take Kylie and Angel. Kylie is a random-bred cat; her mother was an odd-eyed white cat named MaryJane, and her humans did not know who the father was, but one kitten in the litter was a tabby. But we raised her from the age of 7 weeks, she was pampered, doted upon, played with and loved, but she’s still an aloof cat. She doesn’t like to be held or to sit on people’s laps. She’s very attached to my husband, but still only on her terms.

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On the other hand, we have Angel. We don’t know who her parents are either, but she’s a purebred. She had a very traumatic kittenhood; we don’t know how much she was cuddled or paid attention to as a kitten, but we do know she was in the shelter for at three nights and was sick much of the time. She had two eye surgeries (one to remove her eye and put in a prosthetic, and one to remove that prosthetic when she rejected it) plus her spay surgery before she was a year old, and she had to live in an upstairs bedroom at her foster home because one of the family cats bullied her. All this before flying across country to live with us. There’s no doubt that she’s damaged. Yet she will run up to greet strangers, she’s not afraid of the vacuum, she cuddles and headbutts and purrs like crazy, and she’s not afraid of strange places and situations. Despite her kittenhood experiences, she’s still an Aby, with the personality and bravery her breed is known for. Odds are, her father was a friendly, brave Aby, too.

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Abys have only been bred for 150 years, and they’re already amazingly attuned to humans. Imagine what they’ll be like in another 10.000 years or so.

Revealing more about FIP

The Winn Foundation just released information about some new FIP research: A particular virus protein, the 3c protein, has been investigated as a possible viral mutational site contributing to disease development.

Basically, it looks like this protein is involved with the ability of the virus to replicate in the intestines. Mutations in the gene for this protein lead to the virus being unable to replicate in the intestinal tract and then they cannot be shed via feces. What’s more, they found that more than half of the FIP viruses analyzed had a mutation in the 3c gene.

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This helps explain why it doesn’t spread from cat to cat: it isn’t airborne, and now it appears that it isn’t fecal-borne, either. We still aren’t sure how cats get this mutated virus, but we’re finding out more about how it isn’t spread, and that’s useful information.

The paper’s abstract is here; I haven’t been able to find a free copy of the entire paper online yet.

Winn-ing the fight against FIP

Interesting the way things collude sometimes, isn’t it?

An interesting new study just came to my attention today via the Winn Foundation blog: Risk factors for feline infectious peritonitis in Australian cats

According to the blog entry, “the purpose of this study was to determine whether patient signalment (age, breed, sex, and neuter status) is associated with naturally-occurring feline infectious peritonitis (FIP) in cats in Australia.”

Of course, Australia, being an island nation, makes a nice enclosed laboratory for a study like this. What I didn’t know (but have suspected), is this: Pedigreed cats were significantly over-represented and domestic crossbreeds under-represented in FIP cases. Several breeds were over-represented, including British Shorthair, Devon Rex, and Abyssinian. Male cats had a significantly higher proportion of representation than female cats.

That dovetails nicely with my personal theory that there is at least some component of FIP that involves the Y chromosome. And I hadn’t seen that Abyssinians were one of the more susceptible breeds before this article. There’s a related article which explores this further: “Abyssinians, Bengals, Birmans, Himalayans, Ragdolls and Rexes had a significantly higher risk, whereas Burmese, Exotic Shorthairs, Manxes, Persians, Russian Blues and Siamese cats were not at increased risk for development of FIP.”

Interesting! And what’s more, this weekend is the CFA Annual Meeting, and just so happens to be about 6 or 7 stops away on the red line in Quincy. I’m going to the Winn Foundation Symposium this afternoon; the subject is “Diving Into the Feline Gene Pool” and one of the speakers is Dr. Leslie Lyons from UCD, who pretty much invented all those Cat Genetics and Ancestry tests that I got for Kylie. She and her study are also the subject of a National Geographic feature entitled “The Science of Cats.” I can’t wait!

Then, on Saturday, I’ll be attending the Abyssinan Breed Council Meeting with Meg. That should also be quite an experience.

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But the biggest reason that it’s somehow fitting that all these things fall into place on today of all days? Today, in 2008, was the day that Gun-Hee lost his battle with FIP.

Edit: Steve Dale posted a recap of the Symposium on his Pet World blog on the Chicago Now website. Check it out! There’s also a shot of our friend Banjo Mooner greeting everyone as they came in. You can also see me in one of the photos…well, my arm and one eye, anyway…

Good News for Angel and Other Cats with FHV-1!

Just in time for Angel’s birthday, look at this article that the Winn Foundation posted this morning: Treatment of feline ocular herpesvirus infection.

The Winn Foundation selects several feline research projects to fund, and this year the Feline Herpesvirus study was one of those selected.

According to the Winn Foundation’s post: Feline herpesvirus-1 (FHV-1) typically causes respiratory disease in cats. However, chronic infections can cause severe eye disease that may lead to blindness. Currently there is no effective treatment for these chronic cases. Previous Winn funding has helped the investigators design a therapeutic agent – small interfering RNAs (siRNAs) – which use the cell’s own machinery to inhibit viral replication through the targeting of essential herpesvirus genes. The investigators have developed a nanoparticle delivery vehicle composed of chitosan, a nontoxic substance, to package these siRNAs for delivery into cells. The goal of this study is to develop a hydrogel, similar to a soft contact lens, for delivery of the nanoparticles. The hydrogel can be placed directly into the cat’s eye, allowing for successful drug uptake. This method will also provide extended continuous delivery of the FHV-1 specific siRNAs into the cells of the cornea. This study will potentially lead to development of a product suitable for use in cats’ eyes for the treatment of FHV-1 infections.

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This would be a tremendous breakthrough for cats like Angel. I give her L-Lysine treats and L-Lysine powder in her food everyday, but her remaining eye is still very runny and goopy; it’s been shown that ingesting L-Lysine with food isn’t the best way to get it into a cat’s system, but she won’t eat the gels or let me give her L-Lysine pills. However, it sounds like this is even better than L-Lysine, since it actually acts as an antagonist to the Feline Herpesvirus rather than just blocking it. And the fact that it goes directly into her eye, which is the source of the problem, makes it that much more attractive.

Let’s hope that this treatment works, and gets onto the market ASAP!