A study of vitamin D levels in cats could help vets predict which pets will be most likely to survive an illness.

Researchers at the University of Edinburgh Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies found higher levels of vitamin D were linked to greater survival chances for hospitalised felines.

They examined blood samples from more than 90 pet cats on admission to the university’s small animal hospital with life-threatening conditions and found those with higher levels of vitamin D in their blood were more likely to be alive around 30 days after admission than patients with the lowest levels.

It is hoped the findings could help vets predict which animals are more likely to survive their illness. Researchers from the study, funded by Petplan Charitable Trust, claim results may also help vets give owners better advice about their pets’ prognosis.

Richard Mellanby, head of small animal medicine at the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies, said the study helped build on earlier research around vitamin D.

Dr Mellanby said: “We have a long-standing interest in vitamin D and calcium homeostasis, and have undertaken many studies over the past decade, which have advanced our understanding on the role vitamin D plays in several disease types in cats and dogs.

“This research builds on those earlier studies and examines whether vitamin D can predict clinical outcome in hospitalised cats.

“Predicting the prognosis for hospitalised cats is challenging, so our finding that the concentration of a major vitamin D metabolite can be helpful in predicting disease outcome may benefit patients, clinicians and owners alike. It also highlights the need to understand more about the role vitamin D plays in the development and outcome of diseases in companion animals.

“We were surprised at how well the finding of low vitamin D metabolites predicted a poor clinical outcome. Our study demonstrated vitamin D status was highly predictive of short-term outcome and was much more helpful than numerous clinical and diagnostic tests widely used to provide clients with prognostic information.

“At the moment, it is difficult for veterinarians to offer accurate prognostic information to the owners of sick cats. Our study demonstrates measuring a key vitamin D metabolite in the blood predicts disease outcome with a much greater degree of accuracy than many other widely used measures of disease severity.”

Speaking of future research, which could include other species, Dr Mellanby said studies were needed to cement the understanding of whether low levels of vitamin D in patients was a sign of illness.

He said: “We are now keen to understand whether low vitamin D status is simply a marker of a severe illness or whether low vitamin D status plays a causative role in the development and outcome of diseases in dogs.”

Researchers believe cats could prove useful for investigating the link between vitamin D and human medicine. Vitamin D has been linked to helping a range of health problems in humans, including cancer, infections and multiple sclerosis. Although humans can produce vitamin D in the skin following exposure to sunshine, felines can only obtain the vital compound from their food; however, too much vitamin D can be poisonous.

Scientists stated the research provided the foundation for studies to investigate whether adding vitamin D to hospitalised cats’ diets improves their survival chances. The results of these studies could then help to inform clinical trials of vitamin D supplements in humans.

The study was published in the journal PLOS ONE. To read it, visit http://dx.plos.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0125997

The story appeared in issue 21 of Veterinary Times (VT45.21).

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