New year, new research projects!

Cats and dogs are the most popular companion animal species in New Zealand so it’s no surprise both feature prominently in recently approved research

Could a novel drug combination combat cancer in cats?

Three Massey University researchers will lead a trial of a novel drug combination administered to cats with mouth cancer that could pave the way for a revolution in the treatment of animal cancer.

Oral squamous cell carcinomas (SCCs) are common in both humans and cats. Professor John Munday, Associate Professor Keren Dittmer and Dr Thomas Odom are trialling a novel drug ‘cocktail’ to block a cancer regulation pathway. As this pathway is important to the growth and spread of cancer, blocking the pathway is expected to prevent cancer progression.

Six cats with inoperable oral SCCs will be carefully monitored to confirm the safety of this novel treatment, which the researchers hope will also reduce cancer progression in this initial study.

The novel drug ‘cocktail’ is the result of a treatment concept developed at the Gillies McIndoe Research Institute, where a similar ‘cocktail’ was used to treat infantile hamartomas (strawberry birthmarks) in a human trial that produced promising preliminary efficacy data.

“There are currently no good treatment options for cats with oral SCCs. Cats with these cancers generally rapidly succumb to their disease. The drug ‘cocktail’ is highly innovative and has the potential to result in a major breakthrough in animal cancer treatment,” says Professor Munday.

Raw-fed pets: a healthy or harmful choice?

Global research findings into the health implications of raw-meat diets for cats and dogs will soon be at the fingertips of New Zealand veterinarians to help them give the best advice to Kiwi pet owners.

The study will be undertaken by Dr Emma Bermingham, lead research scientist in companion animal nutrition at AgResearch. She will summarise the latest research into how raw-meat diets in cats and dogs affect the ecosystem of mircro-organisms in the intestine, and overall health in these animals.

 “We know from our published research, and feedback from veterinarians, that more cat and dog owners are putting their animals on predominantly raw-meat diets, often for perceived health reasons,” says New Zealand Veterinary Journal Editor, Dr Sarah Fowler, who commissioned the research summary.

“We have commissioned this study with the objective of educating the New Zealand veterinary profession with the latest research into the complex relationship between the microbiome, diet, and the health of cats and dogs, to help them give authoritative advice to their clients,” she says.

 It is well understood that the ecosystem of micro-organisms in the gut, known as the microbiome, helps to regulate a wide range of physiological functions in many animals, including cats and dogs.

Significant changes in diet are thought to affect microbiome composition in both cats and dogs.

“We also know that changes in the composition of the microbiome have been linked to a range of diseases such as obesity, inflammatory bowel disease, arthritis, diabetes mellitus and also anxiety.

“Because the move towards raw meat diets cats is relatively recent, and the relationship between gut health and diet is complex, there is a lot of emerging research to keep up with,” says Dr Fowler.