Guest post by Ingrid R. Niesman, MS PhD
I love Siamese cats. My family had two as we grew up. I adopted my first female right out of college and she became my constant companion and source of joy. I’m currently owned by two seven-year-old Siamese cats. Uli is a purebred classic seal-point and Paterson is a seal-point rescue with mixed heritage.
As readers of The Conscious Cat, you have seen several articles about my research delving into the color-pointing appearance of Siamese cats and putative links with neurodegenerative diseases. My on-going studies use biochemical methods for unraveling these potential connections between Siamese cats and the development of feline cognitive dysfunction syndrome (fCDS) with aging. Some of my early results are available as a pre-print on BioRxiv (doi.org/10.1101/2020.06.03.132613).
And now I need your help to continue my research.
Looking for aging client cats for a longitudinal survey study
As our cats are living longer in loving homes with better nutrition and veterinary care, the prevalence and recognition of fCDS is rapidly increasing. As a next step, I aim to expand our understanding of some of the earliest behaviors and observable symptoms of fCDS. I am designing a study that follows a large group of aging cats from early seniorhood (10-11 years) through the final days of life, with yearly health surveys.
Although I am looking for a large population of all cats, my main focus will be comparing cats with mutated tyrosinase genes to the wild type tyrosinase gene. Therefore, I will need as many color-pointed Siamese-Oriental cats as possible to make this a meaningful study. In addition, true albinos and true melanistic black cats would also be very beneficial.
The overarching goal for such a survey will be finding a critical early period when dementia may just be starting; the potential early interventional stages of the disease. True for humans and cats, we do not have a grasp on when the slow cognitive decline becomes a permanent cycle, or one that can be broken and supportive treatment may delay or stop disease progression.
From these annual prospective questionnaires, I hope to be able to find some crucial early indicative behaviors for diagnostic purposes.
You know your cat best. Your observations of subtle changes are important and something that an annual wellness exam can’t capture.
What kind of data will be collected?
I will attempt to correlate development of potential fCDS with a cat’s environment, early experiences and health status. From my biochemical studies, I believe that the relative incidence of fCDS will be elevated in Siamese color-pointed cats over normal household cats. Furthermore, Siamese cats that have been exposed to continual acute stressors or experienced long period of chronic stress will develop fCDS-like disease earlier than other groups. For internal validity and statistical group comparisons, I need typical household pet cats, randomly selected purebred cats and especially Siamese-Oriental color-pointed cats of purebred or mixed lineage. Any other cat that displays a temperature sensitive phenotype would clearly fit the criteria, for example, Himalayan Persians. The only disqualification would be a diagnosis that could limit a cat’s lifespan to one to two years.
How is this study designed?
My study will be a long-term observational survey. This means that you will be asked to record only naturally occurring feline behaviors over several years. At no point in time will you be asked to elicit certain behaviors from your cat or generate stressful situations.
I will employ statistical methods to analyze group comparison data segregated by defined factors, such as numbers of stressful events, the home environment of the participating cat, and any health issues.
Feline citizen science: criteria to participate in the study
If you have a cat aged 10-11 years old and wish to see if your cat could participate in this important study, please take this short screening survey SCANS – Siamese Cat Associated Neurodegeneration Survey. You can also access the survey from the SCANS website (SCANS information website). You will find the survey on the right tab of navigation bar – top right of screen. This website is under development, so check back regularly for updated information on fCDS and this continuing study. If selected, you will be contacted by email to arrange informed consent and links to the initial detailed survey (Year 1).
For the screening survey, all information collected is strictly confidential for you and your pet and will only be used to determine final eligibility for the long-term survey study. My goal is to identify a pool of candidate cats to begin this lengthy study.
All participating cats will have a unique identifying code and will never be identified by name in any academic or popular media outlets.
Real world science doesn’t happen without public support. Can I count on yours?
Ingrid R. Niesman MS PhD is the Director of the SDSU Electron Microscope Imaging Facility at San Diego State University. She graduated from Utah State University and received her MS from the University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign. After 30 years of technical electron microscopy, cell biology, neuroscience and infectious disease research, Dr. Niesman completed her PhD in the UK at the University of Sunderland. Her work experience includes time at LSU Medical School, Washington University, UAMS in Little Rock, UCSD, TSRI and a postdoctoral year at CALIBR in La Jolla, CA. She has worked for at least two National Academy of Science members and is credited with over 50 publications. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Photos ©Ingrid Niesman, used with permission