Vets in Scotland have been trying to explain strange symptoms in 21 cats that arrived at Strathbogie Veterinary Centre, Huntly, and Morven Veterinary practice, Alford, both in North-East Scotland, between 2001 and 2010. The research was reported here
in the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery
The researchers say the cats appeared to have a slowly-progressing neurological disease. Walking with an odd gait with stiff, extended tails, the cats - dubbed robotic cats due to their movements - presented a veterinary oddity not seen before. Cats with a slightly different, but possibly related condition, have been spotted in Sweden and Austria, where it has been referred to as "staggering disease." The cause of the disease remains unknown, but fortunately for cats and cat owners it is very rare. It has not affected any indoor-only cats in the Scotland cases. The majority of the Sweden and Austria cases also involved cats that hunt oudoors.
Histological tests suggested a central nervous system infection, lymphohistiocytic meningoencephalomyelitis, could be the cause. When the vets looked at immune system markers they did find a significant expression of the interferon-inducible Mx protein. The vets say this is a sign of an as yet unidentified infective or environmental immunogenic trigger for the illness.
The cause of the robotic cat condition is unknown, but the vets speculate that the disease may be transmitted to the cats by an agent in the creatures they hunt, such as birds or rodents. The researchers say, "All the cats included in our study, and most of the cats reported with 'staggering disease,' belong to the rural population accustomed to hunting birds and rodents. Therefore, it can be speculated that the aetiological agent may be transmitted from these animals to cats."