Many pharmaceutical companies use cats in their laboratories to develop drugs for the treatment and prevention of feline diseases. Cats are also used extensively in basic research. Because their brain has been thoroughly mapped, cats are widely used as models in neurophysiologic research. In addition, the cat's eye is extremely well-defined and well-developed, making it a perfect model for basic visual research as well.
Most researchers prefer to use purpose bred cats because many confounding variables are controlled. Purpose bred cats are obtained from suppliers who breed cats specifically to supply research laboratories. Cats from these sources have known genetic histories, sometimes as far back as 20 generations. They have accurate and complete vaccination records and are accustomed to living in laboratory conditions, making them less stressed by a research laboratory environment than random source cats.
Unlike most other laboratory animals, felines are strict carnivores, requiring high protein and low carbohydrate content in their diets. A typical cat diet should provide 20-30% of the ration as a high-quality animal protein. In addition to the essential amino acids required by all animals, the cat requires a dietary source of taurine, a b-amino sulphonic acid. Without dietary taurine, many cats develop eye abnormalities, most commonly central retinal degeneration. Another unique nutritional quality of the cat is its inability to convert carotenes to vitamin A. A feline diet must supply preformed vitamin A for proper nutrition.
Cats may be housed either individually or in groups. The environment should be clean, dry and free of wide variations in temperature or humidity levels. The Institute of Laboratory Animal Resources publishes guidelines for the amount of space and the type of facilities appropriate for housing cats in laboratories. These guidelines are also regulated by the Federal Animal Welfare Act (9 Code of Federal Regulations Part 3). Cats require two unique features in their habitat. They must have litter boxes with litter fill and solid resting surfaces. The resting surfaces must be elevated with enough space to accommodate all of the cats in the enclosure.