In this issue:

1. News Bites

  • Donate litter to cat shelters!
  • Coconut oil is not for cats
  • Fire safety for cats
  • Studies show that Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) works
  • More on the downside of fish
  • Dirty deeds with pet treats

2. Science Notes

  • Second opinion may only provide confusion
  • Less pain = longer life
  • New white paper on manufactured pet food
  • Hope for vaccine-induced cancer
  • Can cat poop cure cancer?
  • Third-hand smoke may cause cancer

3. Rabies Challenge Fund Update

4. Epigenetics

News Bites

Donate litter to shelters: World’s Best Cat Litter is once again holding a contest…vote for your favorite finalist shelter to donate tons of non-clay litter. (Why is non-clay important? Click here to read about it!)

Coconut oil is not for cats: Coconut oil is the latest nutrition crazy for humans, and already at least one manufacturer is adding coconut oil to its cat foods. But cats aren’t people, and what’s good for us is often not good for them. Coconut oil is more than 90% saturated fat–far more than any animal fat–and is devoid of the long-chain essential fatty acids that cats need, such as arachadonic acid and Omega-3s EPA and DHA. It’s high in medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), which can cause gas, bloating, and diarrhea. Too much of it is unpalatable; most cats won’t touch it. MCTs have also been linked to feline hepatic lipidosis (a life-threatening liver disease). So don’t be fooled by this fad…feed your cat what she is designed to eat: animal-based protein and fat in a high-moisture food.

Fire safety for cats: One night, when I was in vet school, I was studying by candlelight during a power outage. One of my cats, who was very sweet but not too smart, jumped up on the desk and, before I could grab her, waved her fluffy tail right into the flame. She didn’t even notice that her tail had caught fire, and I was able to smother it before she got burned…but if she had panicked or run, she could have set the whole place on fire. What would you do if you had a fire in your home? Read this excellent article by Nancy Peterson to find out how to prepare for fire (or other disaster).

Studies show that Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) works: TNR involves humanely trapping stray and feral cats and having them vaccinated, spayed/neutered, and eartipped (taking off the tip of the ear so they are easily recognized) before returning them to their colonies. Many studies prove that TNR is the only effective method of stabilizing outdoor cat colonies; and it is far more humane than the alternative of trap-and-kill. According to non-profit Alley Cat Allies, when TNR is implemented, “…the birth of new kittens in the colony slows down and eventually ends when all the cats are spayed/neutered. In addition, socialized cats and kittens are spayed/neutered and then often put up for adoption, causing an immediate reduction in the population size. Click here to see the studies and to learn more about TNR. 

More on the downside of fish: If you’ve been with Little Big Cat for a while, you know that we don’t recommend feeding fish to cats (see Why Fish is Dangerous for Cats). While a small amount probably doesn’t hurt your cat, a recent exposé found that nearly all fish meal and fish oil used in pet food come from southeast Asia, where it causes an entirely different type of harm: human slavery. Click here to read the real horror story about how feeder and “trash fish” are produced in Thailand, These fish are also used to feed farmed fish and seafood, including salmon, shrimp, and tilapia; and the garbage gets passed back up the food chain.

Dirty deeds with pet treats: A recent Huffington Post article uncovered some very dirty tricks being played on North American consumers by a Canadian pet treat importer. The article states that “Two former Normerica Inc. warehouse workers claim the Ontario-based pet product company had employees routinely switch pet treats between different brand name packages and re-date them, after they were imported from China and Thailand.” The workers claim that stale and moldy treats–including jerky treats–were shipped to stores for sale. One ex-employee said they repackaged and re-dated some 2,000 bags of treats every two weeks. I strongly encourage you to read the full article–but it’s pretty graphic, so you may want to read it on an empty stomach!

Cat longevity: Guinness World Records reports that the world’s oldest cat, a tortie named Poppy, recently passed away at the age of 24. Her guardians, Jacqui and Andy West, of Bournemouth, England, attributed her long life to diet (a mix of dry and canned, plus a bite here and there of various take-out meals like fish and chips, or KFC…and perhaps occasional prey items in her younger days) and exercise.  Modern medicine and the pet food industry would no doubt have prescribed a very different diet and lifestyle for her…with which she’d probably have died years ago!

This weekend, Dr. Jean will be traveling to Sacramento, CA, to represent YOU at the Annual Meeting of AAFCO – the organization that sets the standards for pet food manufacturing in the U.S. Dr. Jean has been involved with AAFCO and representing consumers at these meetings, which are held twice a year, since 1999. This should be quite an eventful meeting, especially given the FDA’s newly adopted position against AAFCO’s ingredient definition process (which FDA itself participates in!).

Unfortunately, it costs more than $1,000.00 to make the trip, including registration fees, air fare, lodging, meals, and airport shuttle. We would greatly appreciate any and all donations to help defray these high costs. You can donate via PayPal (if you want to use a credit card, you can do so through PayPal without having to set up an account) to the email address info(AT)littlebigcat(DOT)com (insert appropriate email symbols in place of parentheses). Thank you so much for your support!!! 

2. Science Notes

Second opinion may only provide confusion: A recent survey found that different pathologists often had different opinions about cancer. Biopsy specimens were submitted to first and second opinions; but the second opinion only agreed with the first one 52% of the time. The disagreements were major in 37% of cases, and would have had an effect on the prognosis and or the treatment. For example, 19% of the time the second pathologist disagreed on the type of tumor or whether it was benign or malignant. The study concluded that “costs of ideal staging and treatment recommendations were considerably different between first and second opinions.”(Regan RC, Rassnick KM, Malone EK, et al. A prospective evaluation of the impact of second-opinion histopathology on diagnostic testing, cost and treatment in dogs and cats with cancer. Veterinary and ComparativeOncology. 2013 Feb 19.)

Less pain = longer life. In the last issue of CatsWalk, we addressed the issue of animal pain. Now, researchers discovered that mice lacking a normal pain receptor live longer and have more youthful metabolism than other mice. The receptor, TRPV1, is also known as the capsaicin receptor, because the capsaicin in chili peppers, which is the compound responsible for the “heat,” binds there. Constant activation of the receptor (e.g., by eating a lot of chili peppers) eventually kills the neuron. It turns out that a drug used for migraine headaches also  blocks those pain receptors. It may not only relieve pain, but increase lifespan, and improve metabolism; as well as help obese and diabetic patients. The take-home message is that adequately treating pain, especially in older animals, may be a crucial factor in limiting chronic disease and increasing longevity. If your pet is showing signs of pain, insist that your veterinarian treat it appropriately. (Riera CE, Huising MO, Follett P, et al. TRPV1 Pain receptors regulate longevity and metabolism by neuropeptide signalingCell. 2014;57(5):1023-1036.
New White Paper on manufactured pet food. Just Food for Dogs (JFFD) recently published Just Food For Dogs White Paper:  An Evidence-Based Analysis of the Dog Food Industry in the USA. It’s written in plain English so it’s completely understandable, but includes plenty of science for geeks like me, as well as those in the pet food industry (who really ought to be paying attention to this!) The paper discusses how most pet foods use the same ingredient sources, FDA and the realities of pet food as “animal feed,” the dangers of mold toxins, and much more; and it makes big news on the melamine front. This paper will definitely make you sit up and take notice!  JFFD makes premixes for dogs–just add meat and fresh veggies for a wholesome, home-cooked meal. (We hope they will eventually do the same for cats!)
Hope for vaccine-induced cancer. Rabies, leukemia, and FIV vaccines are usually “killed” vaccines, and they contain aluminum and other ingredients that are known to cause cancer in cats. That particular type of cancer is called fibrosarcoma; it is highly invasive, moderately metastatic, and current treatments (surgical removal/amputation plus radiation or chemotherapy) can provide remission but not cure. This is such a serious problem that it’s now recommended to give these vaccines in the cat’s tail, since it’s easier to chop off a tail than a leg. But new research has found a combination of chemotherapy agents that appear to slow or stop the growth of similar tumors in humans. Hopefully this work will translate to cats in the near future. (Martin-Liberal J, Gil-Martín M, Sáinz-Jaspeado M, et al. Phase I study of sirolimus plus gemcitabine in solid tumors. British Journal of Cancer. 2014.)
Can cat poop cure cancer? Hmmm…maybe, according to new research on a parasite called Toxoplasma gondii. Yes, it’s the very same Toxoplasma that pregnant women worry about, and that has also been accused of causing schizophrenia! While Toxo can be dangerous as a natural infection, an inactivated strain called “cps” has been lab-engineered so that it can’t cause disease, but still stimulates a vigorous immune response that effectively attacks cancer cells. A vaccine containing the modified strain of Toxo has shown promise in melanoma and ovarian cancer. (Bzik D, Fox B, Sanders K. Nonreplicating Toxoplasma gondii elicits potent antitumor responses (P3100). Journal of Immunology. 2013;190:125.23.)
Third-hand smoke may cause cancer. Children and pets are susceptible to the effects of “third-hand” smoke–the carcinogenic (cancer-causing) smoke residue that gets incorporated into dust and deposited on surfaces such as clothing, furniture and floor. According to recent research, “The risks of tobacco exposure do not end when a cigarette is extinguished. Non-smokers, especially children, are also at risk through contact with surfaces and dust contaminated with residual smoke gases and particles.” Cats are particularly susceptible because they not only breathe the contaminated dust but they also ingest it when they groom themselves. If you or a family member smokes, here’s another good reason to quit–do it for your cat! (Ramírez M, Özel MZ, Lewis AC, et al. Exposure to nitrosamines in thirdhand tobacco smoke increases cancer risk in non-smokers. Environment International. 2014;71:139-147.)

3. Rabies Challenge Fund Update

The Rabies Challenge Fund, which seeks to prove that rabies vaccines are effective for longer periods of time (and thus can be given less frequently), has just received a commitment from a USDA-approved facility to perform the first of the challenge phases of their 5 and 7-year studies.  This rabies research was undertaken to determine, by challenge, the vaccine’s long-term duration of immunity in dogs and to establish the world’s first canine rabies titer standard.

Fees for this first challenge, slated to begin later this year, will involve 15 of the study dogs and will cost $100,000.  If successful, two subsequent challenges of 15 dogs each will be conducted in order to meet the USDA rabies vaccine licensing requirements.  These results, which will have been obtained using the same federal standard upon which all currently licensed rabies vaccines and rabies laws and regulations are based, should establish the scientific foundation upon which the legally required rabies booster intervals for dogs can be extended to 5 or 7 years.   Further, for the first time, our accumulated rabies titer data should permit incorporating clauses pertaining to rabies titers into the existing laws. 

Currently, The Rabies Challenge Fund will need to raise an additional $24,847 to cover the challenge facility fees.  We ask that our donors maintain their generous levels of support through this critical challenge phase, so that the results to benefit all dogs can be available in early 2015.

$12,500 Matching Gift to The Rabies Challenge Fund

Two anonymous dog lovers have announced a generous $12,500 matching  gift to The Rabies Challenge Fund to help raise the additional funds needed to perform the first of the challenge phases of our research. Beginning today, these supporters will match every dollar donated up  to $12,500. Please consider doubling a donation by taking advantage of this charitable gift.

Tax-exempt donations can be made with a credit card here: or mailed to The Rabies Challenge Fund, c/o Hemopet, 11561 Salinaz Avenue, Garden Grove, CA 92843. Thank you for your support!

4. Epigenetics

Epigenetics is the study of changes in the way genes are expressed that do not involve DNA. It turns out that DNA isn’t in charge the way we once thought it was—the proteins in the covering over the DNA are what really controls gene expression. And these proteins are themselves influenced by the environment. This means that experiences, emotions, and beliefs have a profound effect on any organism, including animals and people. Research in the new field of epigenetics shows that many factors experienced by your pet’s ancestors—from vaccines, medications, diet, and even stress—can have a negative effect for generations.

While we can’t always control what happens in our lives, we do control how we respond to events that do occur; and our responses affect our cells’ environment through hormones and neurotransmitters. Our cats and dogs are sensitive to our moods; our stress becomes their stress; and, in many cases, our illnesses become theirs. It’s common for veterinarians to give guardians their pets’ diagnosis, and have the guardian say, “Hey, I have that disease, too!”—whether it be diabetes, kidney disease, or lupus.

Now, this can be a good thing or a bad thing, but in reality it’s a mix of both. On one hand, it’s discouraging to know that no matter what we do, our pets’ health and longevity are to a certain extent pre-determined before birth. No matter what we do, a dog might still get cancer, or a cat may still have kidney problems. On the other hand, by doing the right things (including limiting vaccinations, feeding a great diet with appropriate supplements, eliminating home and yard toxins, and providing proper levels of exercise, mental stimulation, social interactions, restful sleep, stress management, and other factors), we can have a major positive effect on our pets’ genetics within their lifetime! So it’s still worth it to do the best we can for our pets in all aspects of life.

Is your cat overweight? Diabetic? Having urinary or digestive problems? Little Big Cat’s own Dr. Jean Hofve has written some great ebooks that are instantly available for Kindle at, or for immediate download (as a PDF file) in our Bookstore?

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