Robotic cats may sound like a science fiction film, but they are not. They are real and perplexing, one of the newest enigmas to face veterinarians and scientists. Twenty one cats in Scotland have been found to have a slowly progressive neurological disease, causing them to walk with an odd gait with stiff, extended tails. It’s believed they aren’t alone, sharing similar symptoms to staggering cats found in Sweden and Austria.
Tests suggest that both the robotic cats and the staggering cats have a central nervous system infection, lymphohistiocytic meningoencephalomyelitis, which could be the cause for these strange symptoms.
Between 2001 and 2010, the 21 Scottish cats had been treated at Strathbogie Veterinary Centre, Huntly, and Morven Veterinary practice, Alford, both in North-East Scotland. A study of these cats was shared at a recent major veterinary convention in Scotland.
According to a SAGE press release, the study published in the current issue of Feline Medicine and Surgery (JFMS), the cats included in the study, and most of the cats with ‘staggering disease’, are rural free roaming cats accustomed to hunting birds and rodents. It believed that the disease or agent causing the disease is transmitted from these animals to cats.
All the afflicted cats lived in the same geographical rural area. When the vets checked immune system markers they found a significant amount of the interferon-inducible Mx protein, a sign of an as-yet unidentified infective or environmental immunogenic trigger for the illness.
The authors conclude that the late onset age of this disease, its slow progression, peculiar clinical signs and the data from the tests suggest these cats were affected by the same unique, previously unreported condition.
The irony of this disease is that it affects older cats. The average age was nine. Most neurological diseases in cats happen when they are much younger. The most common cause of meningoencephalomyelitis in cats is feline coronavirus (FCoV), which mutates in some cats believed to be at least one of the causes of feline infectious peritonitis (FIP). Its frequency has been reported as 44 to 51 percent in cats with the coronavirus. The incidence of FIP is highest in cats two months to two years of age.
What comes to pause is that these cats seemingly display some similar symptoms of the human diseases: multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease. Another cause for pause is that here’s another example of a ‘new disease’. It seems as research leads to more treatments and eventual cures for diseases, another one crops up. What do you think?