In loving memory…and in search of a cure

Tufo and Missy

Back in May 2011, I announced my joyful adoption of two fabulous new feline family members, Tartufo (“Tufo”) and Tiramisu (“Missy”). This enchanting brother-sister pair found their place in our home and our hearts so quickly that it was hard to imagine life without them. Although they were already 7 years old when they came to us, we looked forward to what we hoped would be at least another decade with them.

This past fall, only two and a half years later, both cats succumbed to cancer — Tufo in October, followed by Missy in December. According to the multiple veterinarians we consulted, there was nothing we could do to send the cancer into remission; we could only try to maintain their quality of life for as long as time allowed.

Given the despair and grief I felt in losing them far too soon, I was compelled to take a closer look at the leading organizations investing significant dollars into sparing other cat owners this kind of heartbreak in the future. I’ve been meaning to write this post for months, and have only just now finally gathered the strength for it after a long, hard winter.

The go-to resource for funding to better understand hereditary diseases in cats is the Cat Health Network (CHN), whose stated goal is “to improve feline health and welfare by funding focused feline health studies.” Research is conducted using samples of feline single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs). SNPs represent minor variations from the standard feline DNA sequence that can be used as markers to identify the specific genes involved in genetic diseases. CHN is a collaborative effort on behalf of the following four organizations:


Winn Feline FoundationDedicated to supporting scientific research that focuses specifically on advancing feline health, the Wyckoff, NJ-based Winn Feline Foundation offers funding for researchers as well as a comprehensive online cat health library (which includes an article on feline cancer) and a cat health blog. A list of Winn’s annual research grant awardees is available on its web site. In partnership with Zoetis, the foundation is currently inviting grant proposals for research projects addressing the assessment of pain, osteoarthritis, joint health, and kidney disease in cats until Monday, April 21, 2014

Morris Animal FoundationThe Morris Animal Foundation in Denver, CO funds scientific projects that advance veterinary medicine for companion animals, horses, and wildlife. A major beneficiary of this funding is cats: since 1950, the foundation has invested more than $9.5 million in over 300 feline health studies. The foundation’s web site describes some of the veterinary advances for cats made possible by its funding, as well as foundation-supported feline health studies currently underway (including feline cancer studies).


AAFPThe Hillsborough, NJ-based American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP), originally an offshoot of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). is committed to advancing feline medicine and surgery by setting and supporting high standards of practice for feline care via the publication of practice guidelines and position statements, and by providing its members with continuing education. A list of AAFP’s annual research grant awardees is available on its web site.


AVMFThe American Veterinary Medical Foundation, the AVMA’s philanthropic arm in Schaumburg, IL, provides funding for a variety of endeavors, including animal health studies that explore the causes, prevention, and treatment of fatal and infectious diseases via innovative medical advancements. The Foundation’s Animal Health Studies grant application is available online.


It’s also worth highlighting the Veterinary Cancer Society in Columbia, MO, a global association for veterinary oncology professionals. Although not involved in direct funding for research, it still has an important role to play in promoting breakthroughs in animal cancer treatment. From its web site:

While the focus of our organization is not in funding research directly, we strongly encourage research and collaboration among our members. Each fall, the Veterinary Cancer Society holds an annual conference, one of the largest veterinary oncology meetings in the world. This conference brings together the brightest veterinary oncology specialists who often participate in research as well as treat animals in their private or academic practice every day. These people share with the attendees new information obtained through research in the ongoing fight against cancer. Typically, new collaborations for research are formed among members during our breaks and in our specialist meetings, and from those collaborations come some outstanding research projects [from which] cutting-edge treatment options can be generated.


The war against cancer in both humans and animals alike is being waged on many fronts. Though the road ahead is long, the above-mentioned organizations give me hope that someday, people will no longer lose loved ones of any species to this devastating disease.


July 10, 2014 update:

A recent Tufts study just hit the news yesterday underscoring secondhand smoke as a major contributing factor to cancer in both cats and dogs. According to the study, cats are especially susceptible to tobacco smoke — repeated exposure to smoke doubled a cat’s chances of getting cancer (lymphoma in particular) and living with a smoker for more than five years increased the risk fourfold.

Tufo and Missy lived with their previous owner for seven years before finding their way to us; I now suspect that person may have been a smoker. Although I’ll of course never know exactly why both of them developed cancer relatively young and so close to the same time, this seems like a very plausible explanation.

The moral of the story is: don’t let anyone smoke around your pets!