Local news coverage of veterinary matters can be frustrating. On the one hand, public recognition of the advances in technology and patient care that veterinary medicine has made in just the last ten years is a good thing. On the other hand, . . .

Catmanager suspects that all of us in the veterinary industry have had occasion to cringe while reading, listening to, or watching local media attempt to explain veterinary medicine. To appropriate a phrase from one of my favorite TV characters, “It’s a blessing. And a curse.”

Case in point is this item broadcast yesterday on the local nightly news in San Francisco. Titled “Alzheimer’s Cure Researched Through Cats,” the story begins by reminding viewers that

the devastating disease Alzheimer’s is a taking an increasing toll on our human population. But it is also affecting our pets.

The story then cites a study recently published in the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery:

[The study] suggests cats may suffer their own form of age-related dementia. As cats age they share important similarities with humans — including Alzheimers. In fact, scientists have identified thick gritty plaques on the outside of elderly cats’ brain cells very similar to those found in humans.

Unfortunately the story doesn’t give more details. Possibly it refers to a case report presented in JFMS 8:6, 424–429, “Late onset cerebellar degeneration in a middle-aged cat” (the abstract can be read here). More likely the story refers to an article from JFMS 8:4, 234–242: “Ageing changes in cat brains . . .” (abstract here). Presuming that the TV story refers to the latter article, it does accurately reflect the findings of the report. However, the JFMS report is careful not to use the word Alzheimer or imply that the brain changes in cats and human beings mean the same thing. Of course, saying that cats get cognitive dysfunction syndrome or even emphasizing that feline senility is similar to Alzheimer’s disease greatly reduces the shock impact of the story.

Oh, well, at least the TV station is educating pet owners about veterinary medicine. The story goes on to discuss treatment:

vets are using people medicine to help pets. The drug Selegilene is used in human patients with Alzheimers, so the manufacturer came out with Anypprl – the same drug for dogs. Now some vets are trying smaller doses of sleeplike for cats as an off-label use.

Catmanager doesn’t doubt that producing a TV news program is difficult, with awesome time constraints. But a little editing goes a long way: Anipryl, please. And what does “doses of sleeplike” mean?

No matter. The story contains more serious problems. It concludes by recommending that

if your aging cat starts acting confused or showing other behavioral changes, it may be worth mentioning to your vet.

It may be worth mentioning? Sounds like the “Healthy Cats for Life” campaign still has some work to do! The biggest problem I see with the story, though, is it’s title, “Alzheimer’s Cure Researched Through Cats,” which implies that cats are being used in medical experiments to cure Alzheimer’s. That may be happening, but nothing in the story supports that implication. Although I wouldn’t call the story irresponsible, it is sensationalistic, which is a lamentable but all-too-common characteristic of stories about veterinary medicine in the lay media.