December 7, 2006
Cats can develop a feline form of dementia that shares some similarity to Alzheimer's disease as they age, say scientists who have identified a protein that builds up in the brains of the animals. The protein leads to mental deterioration and is similar to one that causes so-called "tangles" in the brains of people with Alzheimer's disease.
The findings may offer new clues to why some people develop Alzheimer's as they age and may point to new forms of treatment for this hard-to-treat ailment. "This newly discovered protein is crucial to our understanding of the aging process in cats," says Dr. Danielle Gunn-Moore of the University of Edinburgh's Royal School of Veterinary Studies. "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. As with humans, the life expectancy of cats is increasing, and with this longer life runs the greater chance of developing dementia," Dr. Gunn-Moore continues. "Recent studies suggest that 29% of pet cats aged 11 to 14 years develop at least one old-age-related behavior problem, and this increases to more than 50% for cats over the age of 15."
Experts believe that good diet, mental stimulation, and companionship can reduce the risk of dementia in both humans and animals. Dr. Gunn-Moore explained, "If humans and their cats live in a poor environment with little company and stimulation, they are both at higher risk of dementia. However, if the owner plays with the cat, it is good for both human and cat. A good diet enriched with antioxidants is also helpful in warding off dementia, so a cat owner sharing healthy meals like chicken and fish with their pet will benefit them both."
Numerous other studies have shown that heart-healthy foods rich in disease-fighting antioxidants, including colorful fruits and vegetables, may be beneficial for the brain. Mental stimulation, such as crossword puzzles or learning a new language, also appears to boost brain health and may ward off Alzheimer's disease.Researchers hope that continued study of Alzheimer's in cats will help doctors better understand why the disease crops up in so many seniors. Such research may also, eventually, lead to novel treatments that could aid both people and pets.
The findings were published in a recent edition of the Journal of Feline Medicine.
University of Edinburgh, news release, December 5, 2006.