It is estimated that a staggering 180 million kittens are born each year to the owned and feral cat population of the United States. Approximately 15% of these kittens will die or be euthanized because of illness before 8 weeks of age. Many of these kittens have diarrhea at the time of death that is suspected to be caused by infection, but studies to prove this are lacking. Possibly, many of these kittens lack the immunity that comes from mother’s milk, predisposing them to infectious disease. It was recently discovered that a significant number of kittens that die while in foster care have E. coli bacteria adhering to the lining of the intestine. These E. coli were not found in surviving kittens. The purpose of this study is to determine what kinds of E. coli are infecting these kittens.
Researchers will examine the role of concurrent GI infection and failure of maternal immunity as likely contributing causes of mortality. It is believed that these conditions can be diagnosed and treated. The study will use post-mortem samples from foster- age kittens that died or were euthanized at the SPCA because of severe illness (50) and from a group of “healthy” kittens euthanized by Animal Control because of overpopulation (50). The multidisciplinary research team will use an intensive diagnostic testing strategy to determine the effect of specific E. coli pathotypes, concurrent GI infectious agents, and inadequate maternal immunity on mortality in the foster kitten population.