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Vets work on mystery of "robotic cats"

Vets are working to find the cause of a neurological condition that has been affecting Scottish cats during the last decade.

The cats are believed to have a slowly-progressing neurological disease, with symptoms that include an odd walking gait with a stiff, extended tail.

This strange movement has seen the cats dubbed as ‘robotic cats’.

The condition develops over 11 months when cats become blind and then have problems swallowing. This is a devastating illness, in which the cats may be in distress and lose all quality of life, and as a result the only humane option is to put them to sleep.

Professor Danielle Gunn-MooreChair of Feline Medicine, Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies

Collaboration

Experts from the University’s Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies are working with the Animal Health Trust to identify the cause of the condition.

The illness is currently untreatable but it is hoped that if experts can determine its cause they will be able to find a treatment.

Diagnosis

Around 50 cases of the ultimately-fatal disease have been identified, mostly in Scotland, over the past decade.

The Hospital for Small Animals at the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies is offering a service whereby vets can send videos and full clinical histories of cats to help diagnose cases of the condition.

Analysis

Neurologists from the Animal Health Trust have analysed samples from 21 cats with the condition..

They believe that an infection to the central nervous system could be responsible.

Experts think this then causes lymphohistiocytic meningoencephalomyelitis, a condition where the brain becomes inflamed.

The samples and case histories were taken between 2000 and 2010 and involved cats from the North East of Scotland.

The study is published in the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery.

All the cats included in our study, belong to the rural population accustomed to hunting birds and rodents. We think it is possible that the causative agent may be transmitted from these animals to cats.

Luisa De RisioHead of Neurology at the Animal Health Trust

Symptoms

The disease seems to affect cats at around nine years of age.

Cats with the condition display a downward chin, with their head and ears jutting forward and have a stiff walk and tail.

They also show other changes, including blindness, and altered behaviour, with affected cats typically becoming more friendly.

Condition

Following the study, experts have concluded that the late onset age of this disease, its slow progression and peculiar clinical signs and suggest the cats were affected by the same unique, previously unreported condition.