Science and Pets: What will they think of next?Published December 15, 2008
From glow-in-the-dark cats to doggie diet pills, science has come a long way. Some of these advances are controversial; while others can be helpful to veterinarians, such as screening a pet for a genetic disease. Read on to learn about the latest scientific advances in the pet world.From hypoallergenic cats to doggie diet pills, science has come a long way. Now you can perform DNA testing at home that will tell you the breed make-up of your pound puppy. Some of these advances are controversial; while others can be helpful to veterinarians, such as screening a pet for a genetic disease. Heart Disease and Cats -- At-Home Genetic Testing If you are the owner of a Maine Coon or Ragdoll your veterinarian has likely counseled you about the risk of heart disease, which can be hereditary in these breeds. Now you can test for the mutated gene at home by swabbing the inside of your cat's cheek and submitting the sample to the Veterinary Cardiac Genetics Laboratory at Washington State University. If the mutation is present, the cat is more likely to develop disease than other cats. The test is approximately $60 and may be useful to breeders as well as concerned owners. What Breed is that Dog? -- At-Home Genetic Testing Ever wondered what your pooch is made of? Another new type of DNA testing now available to pet owners is that of breed identification. Sixty percent of mixed-breed dog owners are curious about their dog's ancestry, according to a survey by Mars Veterinary. Knowing your dog's breed mixture may assist the veterinarian in creating a personalized well-care program for your pet. This knowledge may also help you to better understand your dog's behavior. The Canine Heritage™ Breed Test is currently able to identify 38 breeds. The cheek swab kit costs approximately $65. Also available is the Wisdom Panel™ MX Mixed Breed Analysis test by Mars Veterinary and Waltham Center for Pet Nutrition. This blood test is only available through your veterinarian, so pricing varies. Hypoallergenic Cats? Would you buy a cat for $8,000? What if you were highly allergic and this was your only chance to own a cat? Allerca Lifestyle Pets claims to produce scientifically proven hypoallergenic kittens, available for $7,900-$31,000. These cats are not genetically modified, they have been selectively bred to alter the protein responsible for the allergic reaction in people. The niche market seems small, yet the waiting list for a kitten is nine to 18 months! Cloning, Gene Banking, and Glow-in-the-Dark Cats! Breakthroughs in cloning technology prompted a California-based company, Genetic Savings and Clone, to offer cat cloning services for $50,000 per cat in early 2004. Not surprisingly, the company went out of business in 2006. You can still "bank" your pet's genetic information at ViaGen by cryogenically preserving a biopsy sample for $1,500 (in case you want to clone it someday). Cloning has also led to the "glow-in-the-dark cats" from South Korean scientists last year. The genes of these Turkish Angoras were altered so that they produced a protein that glows red in ultraviolet light. Because a virus was used to insert the genetic information, there may be medical applications for this type of research, including gene therapy to treat human disease. Doggie Diet Pills Obesity is a growing problem (no pun intended) in veterinary medicine. What about diet pills for your overweight dog? Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer Inc has developed a pill for dogs called Slentrol, which suppresses appetite and traps some of the fat so it can't be absorbed. This may be a necessary option for some pets, but veterinarians agree that the ideal scenario for most dogs and cats involves exercise and calorie restriction. Where have we heard that before? Dr. Cori Gross is a feline-only veterinarian from Seattle, WA, and serves as a field veterinarian for Veterinary Pet Insurance. Dr. Gross received her veterinary degree from Washington State University. She currently divides her time between lecturing at veterinary colleges on the topic of pet health insurance, practicing in feline-only medicine, volunteering at a local cat shelter, and writing about veterinary medicine. Like this article? Get more information on pet health in our Pet Vet section.