Cats share many ailments with humans — and they could share cures

COVID-19 isn’t the only disease that can affect cats and humans alike.

Final test results are not yet available for the nine big cats at the Smithsonian National Zoo that tested “suspected positive” for COVID-19 last Friday, but a zoo spokeswoman said Monday that the tigers are less affected and the lions are still Have symptoms including decreased appetite, coughing, sneezing, and lethargy.

“As with humans, the symptoms vary. Needless to say, our animal care team is made up of great cat handlers and veterinarians and monitors closely all day, ”said Pamela Baker-Masson.

COVID-19 isn’t the only disease that can affect cats and humans alike.

“Because we share 90% of our genes, we’re going to have 90% of the same health problems,” said Leslie A. Lyons, professor of cat genetics at the University of Missouri’s College of Veterinary Medicine.

Conditions that can affect both types include Duchene muscular dystrophy, Tay-Sachs disease, and polycystic kidney disease – one of the most common hereditary diseases in humans.

“Cats have that, so they’re a better model than mice for studying polycystic kidney disease. Cats also have retinal degenerative blindness very similar to, if not the same gene and mutation, humans, ”she said.

Humans might be more likely to associate mice with research studies, but Lyons said that with any gene found in mice, cats, or humans, the cats are more similar to humans.

Lyon’s research has identified dozens of genetic mutations in domestic cats. Her lab is working on developing drug and gene therapies that could be helpful for several species.

“Maybe we can find a better treatment in a cat and then apply it in humans. Or we could have a good treatment on humans or dogs and use it on a cat, ”Lyons said. “I would say we probably saved more cats from health problems than most veterinarians in their careers because we used genetic testing to prevent them from being born in the first place.”

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