This past March, the Morris Animal Foundation awarded its Mark L. Morris Jr. Investigator Award to Dr. Carlo Siracusa, Associate Professor of Clinical Behavior Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Veterinary Medicine, for a groundbreaking study on how chronic inflammation affects cognition, behavior and the overall health of senior cats.
The award, which funds up to $200,000 annually for three years, is designed to support impactful companion animal research for which there is a pressing need.
Recent surveys of cat owners indicate approximately 28% of cats aged 11 to 14 years develop signs of behavioral issues and cognitive decline, with prevalence increasing to over 50% in cats 15 or older.
“There is an increasing body of evidence that shows the immune system and inflammatory response have an influence on behavior, but we don’t yet have enough data on cats,” said Dr. Siracusa. “We want to investigate how physical health influences mental health and vice versa.”
Dr. Siracusa, along with his colleagues and a team at Italy’s University of Milan, will study 100 client-owned cats aged seven years or older. Researchers will first perform a routine veterinary exam on each cat to look for signs of chronic inflammation. Qualified veterinary behaviorists then will assess the cats’ behavior, their living environments and their cognitive abilities using validated questionnaires and behavioral tests.
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