Early maternal separation is not associated with changes in telomere length in domestic kittens (Felis catus)

Mikel Delgado, C. A. Tony Buffington, Melissa Bain, Dana L. Smith, Karen Vernau

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objective. Studies of multiple species have found that adverse early life experiences, including childhood trauma and maternal separation, can result in accelerated telomere shortening. The objective of this study was to determine if premature separation from the mother affected telomere length in domestic kittens (Felis catus). Subjects were 42 orphaned kittens and 10 mother-reared kittens from local animal rescue groups and shelters. DNA was extracted from whole blood collected from kittens at approximately 1 week and 2 months of age. Telomere length was assessed by qPCR (quantitative polymerase chain reaction) from a total of 86 samples and expressed as a ratio of telomere PCR relative to a single copy gene PCR (T/S). Results. A generalized linear mixed model found there were no detectable differences in telomere length based on survival (F1, 76.2 D 3.35, p D 0.07), orphan status (F1, 56.5 D 0.44, pD0.51), time point (F1, 43.5 D0.19, pD0.67), or the interaction between orphan status and time (F1, 43.5 D0.86, pD0.36). Although in other species telomere shortening is commonly associated with aging, even early in life, we did not find evidence for telomere shortening by two months of age. Our results suggest that the experience of early maternal separation in domestic cats who are subsequently hand-reared by humans does not accelerate telomere shortening compared to mother-reared kittens, at least in the first few months of life.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere11394
StatePublished - Jun 2021


  • Biological aging
  • Domestic cats
  • Maternal separation
  • Telomere attrition
  • Telomeres

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)


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