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A tuna a day makes the cat slow to play.

A tuna a day makes the cat slow to play

Most cats love fish, espacially tuna. But overindulging that craving could have serious repercussions -- a dramatic and chronic malaise, according to veterinarian Ketherine A. Houpt and her co-workers at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y.

Houpt fed six cats -- three of each sex -- off-the-shelf canned, red-meat-tuna cat food. An identical group received beef cat food only. Behavioral testing -- begun after cats had spent four months on these diets, and continued for an additional two months -- showed those dining on tuna were dramatically less vocal, less active and less playful than cats fed beef. The observed malaise did not affect the tuna-fed animals' performance on maze tests or their response to human handling.

Methylmercury, naturally present throughout the aquatic environment, accumulates in many fish -- and can be expected in any oceanic variety, explains toxicologist Donald Lisk, who worked on the project. The tuna these cats ate contained 3.55 parts per million methylmercury -- 5.5 times more than the beef but only about hafl the limit allowed in human food by the Food and Drug Administration. While the research doesn't prove methylmercury caused the behavioral differences between the two groups, Houpt notes that the 10-fold higher brain levels of this neurotoxic metal in the tuna-fed cats suggests a causal association.

Ironically, although dietary selenium often prevents even the most severe effects of methylmercury poisoning -- retardation or death -- the tuna used in these studies was not selenium deficient. This suggests, Lisk says, that selenium may not protect against methylmercury's behavioral effects.

The findings indicate that tuna should not become a mainstay of feline diets -- especially for young, growing cats, Houpt says. Human implications are less clear, Lisk says, because red-meat tuna contains a higher proportion of toxic metals than the white meat used in most canned tuna products destined for human diners.
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Title Annotation:diet rich in tuna may cause malaise in cats
Publication:Science News
Date:Feb 18, 1989
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