Wanted: Senior Siamese Cats for Long Term Observational Study

siamese-cats

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.

siamese-cat-computer

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. 

Siamese-cats

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 iniesmanphd@gmail.com

Photos ©Ingrid Niesman, used with permission

8 Comments on Wanted: Senior Siamese Cats for Long Term Observational Study

  1. Kelly Knotts
    June 28, 2021 at 12:58 am (1 month ago)

    Years ago I had an elderly simeise that was very frail and had dementia. Would just wander around and stagger. Meowed constantly. Only big stressed that I am aware of was the adult female owner developed brain cancer and passed away.

    Reply
  2. Sammy
    June 24, 2021 at 12:44 pm (1 month ago)

    Hello there. I am a researcher myself in neurology. What is the incentive? What will the subject/participates receive?
    I have two male cats 10 years old from the same liter, that look nothing alike.

    Reply
    • Ingrid Niesman
      June 28, 2021 at 2:45 pm (1 month ago)

      Thank you for your interest. The only incentive is to further our understanding of feline dementia. There are few studies looking over time and as you may imagine, very little funding for cat studies. I hope to raise awareness of the importance of cats as a natural study model. I am self funding this work for now. My survey will be detailed but I will design it to take less than 30 minutes of your time once a year. I hope as a researcher you can understand the value.
      Sincerely, Ingrid

      Reply
  3. Jennifer Monteith
    June 23, 2021 at 2:02 pm (1 month ago)

    My Asia (Seal Point) is not old enough turns 9 tomorrow. The write up is quite thorough on the study process, goals, and needs along with the research questions. It’s an interesting read and an innovative way to find a a wide cross section of participants (I saw it via Siamese Cat Rescue Center on Facebook who connected me with Asia). I’ve sent links to a few I know with Seal and Flame points. I’ve shared to my Facebook and Twitter (@JJMonteith) Good Luck! I look forward to reading the findings.

    Reply
  4. Lynnette
    June 23, 2021 at 10:58 am (1 month ago)

    I don’t have a cat that would qualify for the study, but I wish you success. Will you be able to update us on the findings of your study?

    Reply
    • Ann
      June 23, 2021 at 12:49 pm (1 month ago)

      Are you accepting cats greater than 11 years old? Have an almost 15 year old lynx point and 13 year old ebony smoke OSH.

      Reply
    • Ingrid Niesman
      June 23, 2021 at 1:49 pm (1 month ago)

      Dear Lynette
      I will evaluate baseline data after Year 1 to get a sense of any observed behavioral differences. However, I suspect the major changes will occur around age 14 for most participants, meaning Year 3-4 surveys may the most revealing. And yes, I will have this data publicly available as the study progresses.

      Reply
  5. Janine
    June 23, 2021 at 5:54 am (1 month ago)

    It will be interesting to hear the outcome of this study.

    Reply

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