Research Results; From the AVMA; Funding Announced

Research Results

Research examines contaminants in food, deaths of pets

The evidence is building that a combination of two adulterants in pet foods, melamine and cyanuric acid, contributed to the deaths of hundreds of cats and dogs earlier this year while manufacturers were recalling the products.

The American Association of Veterinary Laboratory Diagnosticians released results of the “AAVLD survey of pet food-induced nephrotoxicity in North America, April to June 2007” and presented a preliminary case definition during the group's annual meeting from Oct. 18-24 in Reno, Nev.

The AAVLD survey found 347 cases that met diagnostic criteria for “pet food-induced nephrotoxicity” from April 5-June 6. The cases involved 235 cats and 112 dogs, with 61 percent of the cats and 74 percent of the dogs having died.

Dr. Wilson Rumbeiha, associate professor at the Michigan State University Diagnostic Center for Population and Animal Health, organized the AAVLD survey and presented the results. He said melamine and cyanuric acid can combine to form crystals in animal bodies, and the crystals apparently can impair renal function.

According to the Food and Drug Administration, melamine and cyanuric acid were present in wheat flour from China that went into pet food in the United States. Adding melamine could throw off a test for the protein concentration of an ingredient, allowing flour to pass for a costlier high-protein ingredient such as wheat gluten.

Dr. Rumbeiha said the prevailing theory for how cyanuric acid, ammelide, and ammeline adulterated pet food is that they were co-contaminants. Incomplete reactions during melamine production could lead to the formation of these co-contaminants.

Four cats and one dog from the AAVLD survey formed the basis of the preliminary case definition, while a much larger sample of cases is still under review.

All five animals ingested pet food that manufacturers recalled because of adulteration with melamine. Results of kidney or urine tests from each animal were positive for the presence of one or more of the four contaminants. All animals had markedly high concentrations of BUN and creatinine. Urine was isosthenuric.

Casts, leukocytes, erythrocytes, and yellow-to-brown crystals with radial striations were often, but not always, in the urine sediment. Histologically, the most common finding was characteristic yellow-brown crystals in the renal distal tubules and collecting ducts—with or without microscopically visible tubular necrosis, degeneration, or sloughed epithelium.

Also at the AAVLD meeting, Dr. Birgit Puschner of the California Animal Health and Food Safety Laboratory presented results from a pilot study on the effects of adding melamine and cyanuric acid experimentally to the diet of several cats. The study found that neither melamine nor cyanuric acid alone had an observable effect on renal function, but the combination caused acute renal failure.

Dr. Steve Ensley of the Iowa State University Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory summarized preliminary results from a similar study in pigs, which also suggested that the combination of melamine and cyanuric acid is a more potent nephrotoxin than either is individually.

Dr. Barbara Powers, AAVLD president and director of the Colorado State University Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, said the adulteration of pet food demonstrated a broader need for veterinarians to create a system for evaluating any toxins that may contaminate the food supply in the future.

The AAVLD formed a work group that wrote a white paper in May proposing to expand the focus of the National Animal Health Laboratory Network beyond infectious disease to include toxins.

Dr. Stephen Hooser, assistant director of the Purdue University Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory, chaired the work group. He said the white paper proposed additional federal funding for existing NAHLN veterinary toxicology laboratories. Funding would go toward equipment, personnel, and information technology.

From the AVMA

AVMA issues call for awards nominations

Members of the AVMA are invited to nominate qualified recipients for the 2008 AVMA awards, which will be presented at the 145th AVMA Annual Convention, July 19-22 in New Orleans.

For nomination forms, information on supporting materials, awards criteria, the selection process, and a listing of past award recipients, visit the AVMA Web site at

Information may also be obtained by contacting the following individuals about each specific award:

  • • For the AVMA Animal Welfare Award, Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award, and Humane Award, contact Kathy Sikora, Animal Welfare Division, at (800) 248-2862, Ext. 6635, or

  • • For the AVMA Award, Charles River Prize, Meritorious Service Award, Royal Canin Award, and XIIth International Veterinary Congress Prize, contact Mariella Frye, Office of the Executive Vice President, at (800) 248-2862, Ext. 6651, or

  • • For the AVMA Lifetime Excellence in Research Award and Practitioner Research Award, contact Julie Granstrom, Education and Research Division, at (800) 248-2862, Ext. 6778, or

  • • For the Public Service Award, contact Tracy Olsen, Scientific Activities Division, at (800) 248-2862, Ext. 6636, or

Nominations for all awards must be submitted by Feb. 1, 2008, except for the Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award, which has a nomination deadline of March 3, 2008.

Nominations to AVMA entities being accepted

Nominations are invited for 72 vacancies on AVMA entities and 10 liaison positions.

The House of Delegates will fill council openings when it meets in July 2008 in New Orleans. Nomination materials, including descriptions of the councils, and instructions for publishing candidates' biographies in the 2008 Campaign Guide, are posted on the AVMA Web site, These materials can also be obtained by calling AVMA headquarters at (800) 248-2862, Ext. 6651, or e-mailing Nominations must be submitted by April 1, 2008, to the AVMA Office of the Executive Vice President.

Nominations for each of the AVMA trust and committee vacancy positions are to be filled by the Executive Board at its April 2008 meeting. Two nominations are also invited for the Political Action Committee Policy Board to be filled by the House Advisory Committee at its spring 2008 meeting.

Trust and committee nomination materials are also posted on the AVMA Web site. Inquiries on these vacancies can be answered at (800) 248-2862, Ext. 6605, or by e-mail at Nominations should be submitted to the AVMA Office of the Executive Vice President no later than March 7, 2008.

Funding Announced

Morris Animal Foundation to fund $4.6 million in studies

The Morris Animal Foundation has committed to funding more than $4.6 million in animal health studies for 2008 and providing ongoing support of $10 million for these studies as they continue over the next three years. Overall, MAF will fund 66 new studies in 2008.

Of the new or ongoing studies funded by MAF, 43 are focused on canine health, including behavior, cancer, heart disease, influenza, and epilepsy.

A pain management study will focus on the incidence and breed-related risk factors for nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drug-associated adverse events in dogs. The one-year study, led by Dr. George E. Moore at Purdue University, will look at the medical records of more than three million dogs that were treated at veterinary hospitals nationwide to determine the incidence and type of NSAID-associated adverse events.

Seventeen feline health studies cover asthma, cancer, kidney diseases, obesity, and more. In one study led by William J. Murphy, PhD, at Texas A&M University, researchers hope to eventually develop mapping tools to better equip feline geneticists with the ability to identify and characterize the genes that cause disease in cats.

In addition to the canine and feline studies, there are 11 equine studies, which include research on foal diseases, laminitis, pain management, and osteoarthritis. There are also five studies on llamas and alpacas related to gastrointestinal disorders, nutrition, pain management, and reproduction.

Beyond companion animal health studies, there are 36 wildlife studies. One study will investigate the role of domestic dogs in exposing endangered African wild dogs, jackals, and hyenas to common canine diseases. Researchers Rosie Woodroffe, D.Phil., and Dr. Katherine Prager will also examine transmission and persistence of these diseases.

In addition to those studies, 30 veterinary student scholars are conducting short-term health study projects at universities worldwide. The MAF-supported program is designed to help fill a critical need for training the next generation of veterinary scientists.

The 59-year-old foundation, based in Denver, has funded nearly 1,400 humane animal health studies since 1948 with funds totaling more than $51 million. In 2007, MAF committed to $4.3 million in funding.

To download a complete listing of the 2008 studies, visit and click on Studies and then Sponsor a Study.

Scientists study disease transmission among wild, domestic cats

Scientists at Colorado State University recently received a $2.3 million grant from the National Science Foundation to study how habitat fragmentation influences transmission of diseases among bobcats, pumas, and domestic cats.

The principal investigator is Dr. Sue VandeWoude, associate professor in the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. She and her collaborators will study the three cat species in Colorado, Florida, and California. Bobcats and pumas share overlapping habitats in these states, are susceptible to many of the same diseases, and are at risk of infection with pathogens from domestic cats.

Many outdoor domestic cats roam urban edges with access to natural areas, potentially coming into contact with wild cats. Scientists will study the extent to which disease agents in puma and bobcat populations also are present in domestic cats. Some of these diseases, such as toxoplasmosis and bartonellosis, are zoonotic.

Dr. VandeWoude's laboratory focuses on feline immunodeficiency virus. Bobcats, pumas, and domestic cats each have their own FIV strain. Scientists will study how the strains are similar across species and locations. Preliminary research has shown that large wild cats share FIV strains in some habitats of California and Florida.