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DNA Profiling of Cat Waste

Crowing_pains-PD_Looney_Tunes-_Sylvester_the_CatBring in a stool sample,” says the vet. But that’s not so easy in a multi-cat household.

I recently faced this problem when I adopted our fourth cat, Panda. Researching the issue, I found only one website that addresses the sampling of poop from a particular feline. The suggestions:
• Keep the cats in separate rooms, with separate litter boxes
• Judge consistency visually if the symptom is diarrhea
• Feed the healthy cats corn. It will mark their poop.

Because these ideas weren’t very helpful, I envisioned an at-home diagnostic kit for kittystool. It would use a set of short tandem DNA repeats, just like the CODIS system that the FBI uses. The vet or microchip company would have a DNA profile on file to which the suspect’s DNA would be compared. (This DNA Science post explains how STR DNA profiling works.)

Juice had diabetes, but it was hard to tell which cat was turning the litter to cement with telltale copious urine.
Juice had diabetes, but it was hard to tell which cat was turning the litter to cement with telltale copious urine.

Uses of my cat DNA test transcend bowel movements. For example, we lost our beloved Juicebear a year ago to diabetes, but he’d started peeing like crazy in January. For months, unable to rush to the litter box as soon as we heard the blast of urine, we’d erroneously assumed it was coming from Jelly, our eldest.

cat barfingVomit is testable too. This time of year for those of us who live outside cities, mornings often begin with the unmistakable sound of a cat retching. What comes out, at least among my crew, includes grass and rodent innards, seeds, and sometimes avian remains.

But unless one catches a feline in the act, like I did last week when Artie bit off the head of a mole in front of company, it’s difficult to discern which cat is ingesting something potentially dangerous. However, cats are supposed to be hunters. Vomiting is generally a transient event rather than a sign of a systemic or metabolic disorder, which might be reflected in bowel and urine changes. Because of that, I’d call my product CATUS (Cat Turd and Urine Sample).

cats eatingI searched the Patent and Trademark website for “DNA profiling AND feline” and got 78 hits, most immune-related diagnostics for humans, but nothing resembling DNA profiling, or even its old name, DNA fingerprinting. Why not? After all, Felis catus genomes have been sequenced, notably an Abyssinian named Cinnamon, a Russian named Boris of mixed lineage, and a wildcat named Sylvester.

Scoop_your_poopAfter the Patent and Trademark website turned up nothing, I simply googled “DNA and cat shit.” I immediately found PooPrints and similar products for city dwellers concerned about the origins of unpicked-up dog poop. Then I found a test for feline breed and heritage. I don’t think the “ancestry certificate with your cat’s geographic origin, breed information, coat genotype and sex” for $120 is quite worth it. My four felines are male, black and white, and came from shelters.

CATUS has a forensic focus, strictly identity. I’m not interested in validating a bloodline or tracking where cats crap. So I was hoping that a new endeavor called the “99 Lives” project from the University of Missouri, under the auspices of the wonderfully named Leslie Lyons, might take me up on my idea.

The 99 Lives project will sequence the genomes of 99 (or more) cats, including the domestic variety as well as “bobcats, palace cats and even tigers,” said Dr. Lyons, the Gilbreath-McLorn Endowed Professor of Comparative Medicine in the University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine, in a news release.

Trouser has unexplained liver disease and diabetes.
Trouser has unexplained liver disease and diabetes.

“Many cats suffer from obesity, diabetes, asthma, urinary tract infections, cancers, heart disease and infectious diseases, just like humans. The responsible DNA variations for any individual birth defect or inherited condition that affects health later in life can now be identified in any individual cat,” Dr. Lyons said.

Tens of thousands of humans and hundreds of dogs have had their genomes sequenced, but only a few cats. “The more cats we can genetically sequence, the better we will understand what causes many genetic disorders and possibly even how to prevent those problems.”

The 99 Lives project needs donations of dollars and DNA; sequencing the genome of one feline costs $7,000. I hope their results help to explain cases like my grandcat Trouser, who has feline hepatitis that led to diabetes. And I hope someone will bring personalized medicine (aka genetic analysis, it isn’t really a new idea) to the excretions and secretions that spew from our cats. If anyone knows of such a product, please comment!

Discussion
  1. […] DNA Profiling of Cat Waste I don't think the “ancestry certificate with your cat's geographic origin, breed information, coat genotype and sex” for $ 120 is quite worth it. My four felines are male, black and white, and came from shelters. CATUS has a forensic focus, strictly … Read more on PLoS Blogs (blog) […]

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