Study shows cats can succumb to feline Alzheimer's disease

Ageing cats can develop a feline form of Alzheimer's disease, a new study reveals. Scientists at the Universities of Edinburgh, St Andrews, Bristol and California have identified a key protein which can build up in the nerve cells of a cat's brain and cause mental deterioration.

In humans with Alzheimer's disease, this protein creates 'tangles' inside the nerve cells which inhibit messages being processed by the brain. The team says that the presence of this protein in cats is proof that they too can develop this type of disease.

By carrying out post-mortem examination of cats which have succumbed naturally to the disease, scientists may now be able to uncover vital clues about how the condition develops. This may eventually help scientists to come up with possible treatments.

Scientists already thought cats were susceptible to dementia because previous research had identified thick, gritty plaques on the outside of elderly cats' brain cells which are similar to those found in humans. But, by pinpointing this second key marker, the Edinburgh-led team says we can be sure that cats can suffer from a feline form of Alzheimer's.

Dr Danielle Gunn-Moore, at the University of Edinburgh's Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies, said: "This newly discovered protein is crucial to our understanding of the ageing process in cats. We've known for a long time that cats develop dementia, but this study tells us that the cat's neural system is being compromised in a similar fashion to that we see in human Alzheimer's sufferers. The gritty plaques had only hinted that might be the case now we know.

"The shorter life-span of a cat, compared to humans, allows researchers to more rapidly assess the effects of diet, high blood pressure, and prescribed drugs on the course of the disease. However, we also need to understand more about our geriatric cats for their own benefit, so we can slow down the degeneration the disease brings

Contact: Linda Menzies
University of Edinburgh

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