Pyruvate kinase deficiency is an inherited disease of Abyssinian and Somali cats. Pyruvate kinase is a red blood cell enzyme important in red blood cell energy metabolism. Therefore, if this enzyme is lacking, a haemolytic anaemia can result.
However, the anaemia may only be mild and intermittently detectable, or may not become evident until the cat is older. A rapid severe life-threatening anaemia can also develop. The disease is inherited as an autosomal recessive trait, so only cats homozygous for the defective gene are affected.
Heterozygous carrier cats are clinically healthy but can pass the defective gene to their offspring.
Until recently, diagnostic testing has only been available in laboratories in the USA. The Molecular Diagnostic Unit can now offer a genetic test to diagnose autosomal-recessive pyruvate kinase deficiency (PK Def) in cats. This genetic test is based on PCR that can reliably distinguish between affected, carrier and normal cats.
It is highly recommended that all Abyssinian and Somali cats used for breeding are tested for the defective gene, as well as cats of these breeds showing signs of haemolytic anaemia. For Somali cats, testing for PK Def is now compulsory if cats are to be registered on the GCCF (Governing Council of the Cat Fancy) active register and used for breeding.
Please note: The test detects the normal and mutant PKDef genes found in domestic cats. The test also works in Bengal and Savannah cats, and detects the Asian Leopard Cat or Serval gene if present (i.e. in F1/F2 cats). There is no point in testing Asian Leopard Cats and Servals for PKDef since the mutant gene came from the domestic cat population.
PK Def is now compulsory if cats are to be registered on the GCCF (Governing Council of the Cat Fancy) active register and used for breeding.
For Inclusion on the register, the sample submitted for PK Def testing MUST be taken by a veterinary surgeon and labelled with the cat's microchip number. You and your vet must complete a submission form, which must be included when your vet sends us the swabs.
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A rapid severe life-threatening anaemia can also develop but this appears to be relatively rare from the cases we are aware of; in these cases it is possible that stressful situations may predispose to the development of clinical signs.
Although PK deficiency is congenital, since the anaemia is usually mild and clinical signs may not be obvious, the anaemia may not be noticed until the cat is quite old.
As described above, the clinical signs that develop can be serious and life threatening.
Becuase initial clinical signs can be mild or go unnoticed, affected cats may not be identified until after they have had large numbers of offspring.
Carrier cats do not show any clinical signs at all. The disease occurs when 2 carrier cats are mated with each other. This is important because a large number of carrier cats can arise in a population before PK deficiency is even noticed.
With any genetic disease, by the time the disease becomes an obvious problem within a population it is much more difficult to control and involves a lot more expense and heartbreak.
We can reliably test for affected cats, including identifying asymptomatic carriers. If carrier cats are identified they can still be used for breeding as long as they are NOT mated with another carrier.
Mating a carrier with a non-carrier will not produce any offspring that will suffer from PK deficiency and approximately 50% of the offspring will be free of the defective gene. As long as the offspring are also tested, even carriers can be bred from again as long as it is ensured that they are only mated with a non-carrier cat. In this way, controlled breeding programmes can be implemented so that important lines can be retained within the gene pool.
The disease is inherited as an autosomal recessive trait, so only cats homozygous (with two copies) for the defective gene are affected. Clinical signs due to PK Def will only occur in homozygous affected cats, but, as described above, they are variable and some cats will not show signs of PK Def at all. Heterozygous carrier cats (with only one copy of the defective gene) are clinically healthy and are not affected by the disease, but they can pass the defective gene to their offspring.
It is preferable if the affected cat is a male since a female could become ill during pregnancy.
Cats have two copies of the PK gene, so can be Normal (-/-), Carrier (+/-) or Affected (+/+) depending on how many copies of the defective PK gene (+) they have. Below are shown various matings between Normal, Carrier and Affected cats.
Matings to avoid:
PK Def in the Bengal breed, test results to date:
Personal communication with Prof. Leslie Lyons, USA shows that 74% of Bengals tested in the USA (VGL, Davis) did not have PK Def, 24% were carriers of PK Def and 2% were affected by PK Def.
PK Def in the Singapura breed, test results to date:
A Normal autosomal recessive PK Def genetic test result means that the cat does not have the genetic mutation causing pyruvate kinase deficiency.
A Heterozygous autosomal recessive PK Def genetic test result means that the cat has one copy of the mutation. The cat will not have pyruvate kinase deficiency, but may pass the mutation to their offspring.
A Homozygous autosomal recessive PK Def genetic test result means that the cat has two copies of the mutation. The cat will have pyruvate kinase deficiency.
Each certificate we issue will specify whether the cat is Normal, Heterozygous or Homozygous for the autosomal recessive pyruvate kinase mutation.
More information can be found on the International Cat Care website.