Cat Health Researcher Honored

FIP research pioneer Dr. Niels C. Pedersen wins award at AVMA banquet. Here's why.

Dr. Niels C. Pedersen is an icon; few veterinarians have done so much for cats. The Winn Feline Foundation and the American Veterinary Medical Foundation recently honored Pedersen with the Feline Research Award. Winn President Dr. Vicki Thayer presented the $2,500 award and a crystal cat at the annual American Veterinary Medical Association convention in San Diego last August.

Pedersen, a distinguished professor and director of both the Center for Companion Animal Health and Veterinary Genetics Laboratory at the University of California at Davis, College of Veterinary Medicine, recently told me, “Well, it’s likely they couldn’t find anyone else to give the award to.”

Pedersen’s 1991 book “Feline Husbandry: Diseases and Management in the Multiple-Cat Environment” remains the gold standard for feline research. His laser focus on understanding feline diseases began at a time when few paid attention to cats. A veterinarian once told me, “We all comprehend what we have been taught about feline diseases and we can diagnose and treat, but no one fundamentally understands as Niels does.”

Dr. Susan Little, past president and current board member of the Winn Feline Foundation, speaks about feline medicine worldwide. She says on those few rare occasions when Pedersen is in the room: “You don’t want to look at him but you can’t help but be drawn to him, and the entire time you’re speaking you wonder what he’s thinking. He’s a giant among veterinarians”

That’s for sure.

Truly, animal shelters and cat breeders should have no less appreciation. Pedersen created of the Center for Comparative Medicine, The Center for Companion Animal Health and the Koret Shelter Medicine Program at UC Davis. He has directed the Veterinary Genetics Laboratory (VGL) at UC-Davis since 1997 and, using the resources of the VGL, has developed a broad based and internationally recognized veterinary genetics research program.

Pedersen has helped veterinarians to understand seemingly every infectious feline disease for decades, but most certainly feline infectious peritonitis (FIP). Pedersen took a special interest in understanding this unforgiving kitten-killing disease when no one else seemed interested. The disease is complex, and money for research is never easy to come by. The Winn Foundation and University have supported his efforts, but Pedersen also helped to begin the non-profit SOCK (Save Our Kittens and Cats) FIP to aid the affected felines.

Pedersen was active in clinics for 17 years, specializing in infectious and immunologic diseases of dogs and cats. He taught infectious diseases, clinical immunology and feline medicine for 22 years. Pedersen holds honorary doctorates from the Universities of Zurich and Utrecht and has received several awards for his research on feline infectious diseases. He’s authored or co-authored over 200 scientific papers.

At this past year’s Winn Feline Foundation Symposium outside Boston, he said he’s not going to quit until he finds an answer for FIP.

These days, Pedersen prefers his lab to speaking at conferences, but veterinary professionals can see him at the Conference of the American Animal Hospital Association in Phoenix this March, as a part of a special Winn Feline Foundation program that also includes Dr. Al Legendre from the University of Tennessee, College of Veterinary Medicine, another legend.

That laser focus is still there – if you’re sincerely concerned about cat welfare Pedersen can sense it, it’s his litmus test. His book isn’t the only gold standard, the man himself is. 

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