A research team of veterinarians and geneticists has identified the mutation responsible for Burmese hypokalaemia, allowing a genetic test to be developed and offered by Langford Veterinary Services.

A research team consisting of veterinarians and geneticists from the University of Bristol (Langford), UC Davis, University of Sydney, Massey University and Justus Liebig University have identified the genetic mutation responsible for Burmese hypokalaemia, allowing a genetic test to be developed.

European Burmese kitten. by Mikael Tigerström from Gothenburg, Sweden (Geisha 755) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia CommonsThe clinical presentation of the inherited disease, also known as Familial Episodic Hypokalaemic Polymyopathy, is skeletal muscle weakness caused by low levels of blood potassium.

The conditon is episodic in nature and can affect the whole animal or may be localised to the neck or limb muscles. As a result affected cats tend to have problems walking and holding their head correctly.

But now, thanks to the identification of the genetic mutation responsible for the disease, a genetic test has been developed for Burmese hypokalaemia, which allows cat breeders, owners and veterinarians to test for this disease.

Currently the Molecular Diagnostic Unit within Langford Veterinary Services Ltd (LVS) is the only genetic testing laboratory in the world offering this genetic test.

Burmese hypokalaemia is an autosomal recessive disease, which means that carrier cats do not show signs of disease. However, mating two cats carrying the mutation has a 25% chance of producing kittens that will be affected by the disease.

It is hoped that the development of the genetic test could – through genetic testing and selective breeding – be used to eradicate the disease in the Burmese breed.

Dr Chris Helps, head of the molecular diagnostic unit at LVS, said: “It is possible to continue to use carrier cats in breeding programmes to retain important breeding lines and to avoid reducing the size of the Burmese gene pool.”

He explained: “As long as carrier cats are mated to normal cats, no affected kittens will be produced. This mating is likely to produce kittens that are carriers, which can be identified by genetic testing and, if necessary, future matings arranged with normal cats.”

Clinical signs in cats affected by the disease can usually be managed by adding potassium supplements to their diet. In some affected cats clinical signs disappear when they get to one- to two-years-old without the need for further treatment.


Kitten image courtesy Mikael Tigerström
YouTube video courtesy Liz Ward
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