According to the largest ever DNA-based study of domestic cats, thirteen genetic variants linked to disease in cats are present in more pedigreed cats than previously thought. However, the experts from the Wisdom Panel in the United States and the University of Helsinki in Finland who conducted the study have found that these variants are declining in frequency in breeds that are regularly screened for the genetic markers.
The scientists genotyped more than 11,000 domestic cats – including 90 pedigreed breeds, and 617 non-pedigreed ones – for 87 genetic variants associated to diseases, physical appearance, and blood type. The results revealed that there was more genetic diversity in the non-pedigreed cat population. While three variants associated with disease were only found in non-pedigreed cats, the researchers also identified 13 disease-associated variants in 47 breeds in which these diseases were not previously found.
Fortunately, the frequency of some markers appeared to have declined since they were first identified. For instance, PKD1 – a genetic variant linked to Polycystic Kidney Disease and previously found to affect over 40 percent of Persian cats – was identified in none of the 118 Persians, but appeared in Scottish Straights and Maine Coons.
Genetic markers for specific coat colors and patterns, such as colorpoints in Siamese cats, seemed to be responsible for the same traits in other breeds. Finally, the analysis revealed that the rarest color variant was the Amber coat color specific to Norwegian Forest Cats, which was also detected in one of the non-pedigreed cats.
According to the scientists, genetic screening for disease variants, together with the information on all breeds’ genetic diversity, can reliably inform breeders decisions. Moreover, these tools can also help establishing well-balanced breeding plans that maintain genetic diversity and avoid breeding disease-prone kittens.
“This information can help support sustainable breeding goals within the cat fancy. Direct-to-consumer genetic tests help to raise awareness of various inherited single gene conditions in cats and provide information that owners can share with their veterinarians. In due course, ventures of this type will enable the genetics of common complex feline disease to be deciphered, paving the way for precision healthcare with the potential to ultimately improve welfare for all cats,” the authors explained.
“This study demonstrates the clinical utility and importance of comprehensive genetic screening of feline variants in supporting domestic cat breeding programs, veterinary care and health research,” concluded lead author Heidi Anderson, an expert in Feline Genetics at the Wisdom Panel.
The study is published in the journal PLOS Genetics.