Deadly kidney disease in cats linked to dog virus

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 20 March, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 20 March, 2012, 12:00am


A virus similar to one that commonly kills dogs may also be shortening the legendary nine lives of cats.

Hong Hong researchers say they have found the virus in stray cats suffering from a fatal kidney inflammation and plan further tests to see if the virus causes the symptoms.

Research team leader Yuen Kwok-yung said he expected the findings, if confirmed, to lead to the development of vaccines and drugs to treat cats.

'Cats are humans' close friends,' said Yuen, chair professor of the University of Hong Kong's department of microbiology. 'I believe that the findings will bring good news to many cat owners.'

The bug, feline morbillivirus, is related to the virus that causes mumps and measles in humans and distemper in dogs.

Researchers discovered that cats suffering from kidney tubule inflammation, a leading cause of death among felines, also had the virus, according to the findings, published in the latest edition of a US science journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Another team member, Professor Patrick Woo Chiu-yat, said that as the morbillivirus caused severe brain damage and death in dogs, they wanted to see if anything similar could be found in cats.

Using a lab technique to read genetic material, the team found the virus in 56 out of 457 stray cats from Hong Kong and the mainland.

Seven of 12 virus-positive cats had kidney inflammation, while only two of 15 that tested negative had the disease. 'These data give evidence to establish a relationship between the virus and the disease,' Woo said.

The researchers have since developed a rapid diagnosis test to detect the virus in cat urine samples and an antibody blood test.

Woo said that to further confirm the virus causes the disease, tests will have to be performed by injecting it into cats. This will first require approval by an ethics committee.

Vet Dr Andy Krywawych of the Acorn Veterinary Hospital in Sai Ying Pun said he saw kidney tubule inflammation in half of all kidney biopsies he performed in cats.

Symptoms include toxin build-up in the cat's body, vomiting, loss of appetite and dehydration.

Morbillivirus is a kind of paramyxovirus, a group of viruses that causes human measles and mumps.

In dogs, it causes a fever, pneumonia, brain infection, suppression of the immune system and a rash. Most dogs are vaccinated against it.