When Major, a 12 year old lion at the Newquay Zoo in southwest England, died recently, an autopsy revealed that had feline spongiform encephalopathy (FSE), the cat form of mad cow disease.

Mike Thomas, managing director at the zoo, said the lion must have caught the disease from eating the brains and spines of cattle, ?so poor old Major must have caught the disease at another zoo. We don?t feed brain and spinal column?our lions are fed on rabbits?whole rabbits.?

Major was the 2nd lion in Britain to get FSE, but so far 85 house cats have been diagnosed with it since 1990. Three cheetahs, three pumas, three ocelot and two tigers have also developed the disease, which causes cats to stagger and become confused and disoriented.

Scientists says it?s difficult to guess how many cats could be harboring the disease. Infected pets are not dangerous to their owners. ?The real problem is the food chain,? says Thomas, ?in that if people eat infected beef then that passes it on. They are not going to eat a lion or a domestic cat.?

Some researchers say they believe domestic cats can get the disease from eating meat-based pet food, which may contain the same infected meat and bone meal that helped spread mad cow disease among cattle.

Britain banned the use of bone meal in pet food in 1991 and France did the same thing earlier this year. The European Union has ruled that pet food can be made from animals which are free of the disease and have had the high-risk parts removed.

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