Diabetes in Burmese Cats – Can We Blame the genes?


Is It In The Genes?

Diabetes mellitus is a common disease in cats

Diabetes mellitus is a common disease in cats. Older, overweight and inactive cats are at increased risk, which suggests that diabetes in cats resembles type 2 diabetes in people. Both environmental factors such as obesity and genetic mutations are involved in the mechanism of the disease in people. In fact, diabetes is a highly heritable condition, which is underpinned by the 3-times increased risk of diabetes if one parent is diabetic and 6-times increased risk if both parents are affected.

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Burmese cats are predisposed to diabetes

The predisposition of some cat breeds for diabetes suggests that the disease is likely to be heritable in this species too. The Burmese breed has been identified to be at increased risk in several geographic regions, including the UK, other European countries and Australia. Interestingly, Burmese cats in the USA do not seem to share this predisposition, which might reflect separate breeding programmes, and further supports the assumption that genetic mutations – present in Burmese cats outside the USA - might be involved.


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Genetic mutations might be responsible for increased susceptibility to diabetes in Burmese

A pedigree analysis of Australian Burmese suggested that a mutation in a single gene (which is yet to be unravelled) might be responsible for this increased susceptibility. If the mutation is present in a gene responsible for the metabolism of glucose, this could explain why Burmese cats “struggle” to handle glucose (so-called reduced glucose tolerance) in comparison to non-pedigree cats, which has been shown in an Australian study.

It is possible that such an abnormality of glucose metabolism caused by a genetic mutation is present in all Burmese cats, but only those exposed to certain environmental factors (e.g., obesity, pancreatitis) will eventually develop the disease. This is an area of research that certainly deserves attention as the identification of such mutations could have a major impact on the prevention and treatment of diabetes.


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Diabetes has a major impact on cats’ and owners’ quality of life

Unlike in type 2 diabetic people, dietary therapy alone is not effective to treat diabetic cats and insulin injections are inevitably needed. Successful management requires owners to have a good understanding of the disease and actively participate in treatment. As such, diabetes has a major impact on the quality of life of both cats and their owners. Knowledge of genetic mutations involved in the disease will enable identification of animals at risk, earlier recognition of the disease and possibly assist in prevention. This information might also be useful to refine current treatment strategies. For example, people suffering from diabetes caused by certain genetic mutations benefit from treatment with specific oral antidiabetic drugs rather than insulin injections.


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The investigation into genetic risk factors of diabetes in Burmese

At the Royal Veterinary College, alongside providing specialist clinical care for diabetic pets, we are engaged in research to identify diabetes susceptibility genes. Our plan is to use a technique called Whole Genome Sequencing (WGS) to investigate the genetic mutations involved in diabetes in Burmese cats.

Owners of diabetic Burmese cats can participate by asking their primary care veterinarian to submit a blood sample collected at a routine diabetes check-up for a free-of-charge fructosamine measurement performed by the RVC’s Companion Animal Diabetes Register. Any left-over blood from this sample will then be used for genetic analysis.

For more information and to download the sample submission form, please visit https://www.rvc.ac.uk/research/research-centres-and-facilities/clinical-investigation-centre/projects/investigation-of-genetic-risk-factors-of-diabetes-mellitus-in-european-burmese-cats or Facebook (www.facebook.com/RVC.Diabetic.Remission.Clinic/).


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An investigation into environmental risk factors of diabetes in Burmese

As discussed above, environmental factors such as obesity and the presence of concurrent disease (e.g. pancreatitis, other inflammatory conditions) might also play an important role in diabetes in cats.

Owners of Burmese cats (both diabetic and non-diabetic) are invited to participate in the Burmese Cat Health Survey

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The results of the survey will be important to identify environmental factors associated with diabetes in Burmese cats.

We would be most grateful to all owners of Burmese cats who would be willing to participate in our research by filling in the health survey and requesting a blood sample to be submitted to the RVC’s Companion Animal Diabetes Register by their primary care veterinarians.

Pedigree information will also make a vital contribution to our genetic work so we would be very grateful if owners, who complete the health survey or submit blood samples would also provide their cat’s pedigree details to our research group.

Questions about our research, and submitted pedigree information, can be sent to Katarina Hazuchova via fdrc@rvc.ac.uk.

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Thank you for taking the time to read about our research – your help will be invaluable to unravel the predisposition for diabetes in the Burmese breed! 


Katarina Hazuchova DVM DipECVIM-CA

The Royal Veterinary College (University of London)

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