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* This is the Veterinary Version. *

Introduction to Metabolic Disorders of Cats

By George M. Barrington, DVM, PhD, DACVIM, Professor, College of Veterinary Medicine, Washington State University ; Jean A. Hall, DVM, PhD, DACVIM, Professor, Department of Biomedical Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine, Oregon State University ; Sharon J. Spier, DVM, PhD, DACVIM, Professor, Department of Medicine and Epidemiology, School of Veterinary Medicine, University of California ; Ivan W. Caple, BVSc, PhD, MACVSc, MRCVS, Dean, Faculty of Veterinary Sciences, Veterinary Clinical Centre, University of Melbourne ; David L. Evans, BVSc, PhD, Associate Professor, Faculty of Veterinary Science, University of Sydney ; Don A. Franco, DVM, MPH, DACVPM, Retired President, Center for Biosecurity Food Safety and Public Health ; Katharine F. Lunn, BVMS, MS, PhD, MRCVS, DACVIM, Associate Professor, Department of Clinical Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine, North Carolina State University ; Donald C. Sawyer, DVM, PhD, Professor Emeritus, Michigan State University

Metabolism refers to all processes in the body that break down and convert ingested substances to provide the energy and nutrients needed to sustain life. Foods, liquids, and drugs all generally undergo metabolic processes within the body. Many foods are complex materials that must be broken down into simpler substances, which in turn become “building blocks” for the body to use as needed. For example, protein is broken down into amino acids, which are used in several metabolic reactions. Enzymes made by the body are necessary for many metabolic processes. Whenever the function of an enzyme is affected, a metabolic disorder can develop. Metabolic disorders are important because they affect energy production or damage tissues. They may be genetic (inherited) or acquired. Acquired metabolic disorders are more common and significant.

Metabolic Storage Disorders

Metabolic storage disorders usually result from the body’s inability to break down some substance because of the partial or complete lack of a certain enzyme. The substance can build up to a toxic level, or the body is unable to produce a substance that it needs. Although storage diseases are often widespread throughout the body, most clinical signs are due to the effects on the central nervous system. Metabolic storage disorders can be either genetic or acquired.

Genetic (inherited) storage diseases are named according to the specific metabolic byproduct that builds up in the body. Certain breeds of cats are more prone to certain storage diseases than others (see Table: Breeds of Cats Prone to Genetic Storage Diseases). Kittens typically appear normal at birth, and clinical signs begin within a few weeks to months. These diseases are progressive and usually fatal because specific treatments do not exist.

Breeds of Cats Prone to Genetic Storage Diseases

Disease

Breeds

Ceroid lipofuscinosis

Domestic shorthair

Gangliosidoses

Domestic shorthair

Korat

Siamese

Globoid cell leuko-dystrophy (Krabbe’s disease)

Domestic shorthair

Glycogenosis

Domestic shorthair

Norwegian forest cats

Mannosidosis

Domestic shorthair

Persian

Mucopolysacchari-dosis type I

Domestic shorthair

Korat

Siamese

Mucopolysacchari-dosis type IV

Siamese

Porphyria (associated with anemia)

Domestic shorthair

Siamese

Sphingomyelinosis

Domestic shorthair

Siamese

Acquired storage diseases can be caused by eating plants that contain inhibitors of specific enzymes (See also Poisonous Plants).

Production-related Metabolic Disorders

Some metabolic disorders are caused by an increased demand for a specific element or nutrient that has become deficient under certain conditions. For example, in hypoglycemia, the animal’s metabolic reserves are unable to sustain sugar (or glucose) in the blood at a level needed for normal function. Likewise, in hypocalcemia, the level of calcium in the blood is too low. In some cases, dietary intake of a nutrient, such as calcium, is rapidly used up for an ongoing, high metabolic need, such as producing milk for kittens.

The difference between production-related metabolic diseases and nutritional deficiencies is often subtle. Typically, nutritional deficiencies are longterm conditions that develop gradually and can be corrected through dietary supplementation. Metabolic diseases usually begin suddenly and respond dramatically to administration of the deficient nutrient (although affected animals may need dietary supplements to avoid recurrence). Because production-related metabolic disorders are serious and develop suddenly, accurate and rapid diagnosis is essential. Ideally, diagnostic tests can be used to predict the chance of disease occurring so that either it can be prevented or preparations can be made for rapid treatment.

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* This is the Veterinary Version. *