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Happy Healthy Cat Campaign Fellow Improves Life for Shelter Cats

November 17, 2010

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The following press release was distributed by Morris Animal Foundation.

Nov. 17, 2010/Denver—The nation’s most popular pet is finally getting some love. With more than 93 million cats living in U.S. households, cats are officially America’s No. 1 furry friend.  Unfortunately, more than 4 million cats land in U.S. shelters each year, and many of them are euthanized because of contagious yet treatable diseases. Recent research funded by Morris Animal Foundation and conducted by the School of Veterinary Medicine may improve the lives and health of the millions of shelter cats.

The research was funded through Morris Animal Foundation’s Happy Healthy Cat Campaign, which celebrates its second anniversary today. The campaign is an unprecedented effort to improve diagnostics, preventions and treatments for feline diseases and to help solve overpopulation and behavior issues in cats.

The campaign’s very first Amanda Feline Fellowship recipient, Dr. Aki Tanaka of the University of California–Davis, may significantly improve the lives and health of shelter cats. Tanaka performed her research in the Koret Shelter Medicine Program of the School of Veterinary Medicine. Tanaka identified several parameters for reducing environmental and group risk factors of upper respiratory infection (URI) in shelter cats. URI is extremely uncomfortable for the cats, and though the virus is similar to the common cold in humans, many cats infected must be euthanized because of the extensive treatment and costs needed to bring sick cats back to health. Moreover, Tanaka learned that some shelters end up using more than 30 percent of their feline-care resources on treating URI alone.

Adapting livestock herd health concepts to 15 California shelters over the course of one year, Tanaka found that URI was not an inevitable infection. Results showed that URI rates varied significantly: some shelters even documented near-zero rates of infection. While Tanaka’s research was unable to determine exact environmental risks associated with the disease, housing conditions merited the most attention. At the very least, results favor an internal evaluation of housing conditions by individual shelters based on the notion that lowering URI rates is a realistic goal. New research funded through the Happy Healthy Cat Campaign is now evaluating housing options that could significantly reduce disease transmission among shelter cats.

Because of her research, Tanaka is now involved in a coordinated effort with the Japanese government to establish an effective shelter medicine program in that country. Moreover, the resonating impacts of her research could save the lives of thousands of cats as well as millions of dollars in shelters around the world.

To date, the Happy Healthy Cat Campaign has funded more than $1.2 million worth of feline-related studies, and it will provide more than $3.5 million in funds over the next three years.

Learn more about cat-health research at



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