Dr. Sonja Fonfara Appointed as Research Chair in Feline Health

Ontario Veterinary College (OVC) researcher and professor Dr. Sonja Fonfara has been recognized with an appointment as Research Chair in Feline Health at the University of Guelph. As the inaugural chairholder, Fonfara will play a leadership role in enhancing feline research and medicine to improve the health and well-being of cats.

A woman wearing a white lab coat looking at a brown tabby cat with medical equipment in the backgroundFonfara is a board-certified companion animal cardiologist with extensive teaching and research experience. After graduating from the University of Veterinary Medicine in Hanover in 1995, she obtained a doctoral thesis in veterinary pathology from the University of Giessen. Having developed a keen interest in cardiology during her early years in practice, she moved to the UK to pursue an internship and subsequent residency in veterinary cardiology at the University of Liverpool. She has worked as a lecturer and senior lecturer, has obtained a PhD and was granted a docent in Small Animal Cardiology both from the University of Helsinki. 

Fonfara joined OVC in 2016 and is an associate professor in the Department of Clinical Studies. Her research focuses on cardiac remodelling associated with aging and cardiac disease. Working closely with OVC faculty, graduate students and international collaborators, Fonfara’s ongoing projects examine a range of factors impacting feline cardiac health, including gene profiles and microRNA associated with feline hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, novel markers for feline hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, the influence of age on cardiac structure and function in cats, and how cardiac disease in cats influences their owners. 

“Dr. Fonfara is an internationally recognized researcher in feline health with a proven record of research excellence,” says Dr. Jeff Wichtel, Dean of OVC. “Her expertise and interests align incredibly well with the needs and goals of the Chair, and we are very happy to welcome her into this role.” 

About the Research Chair in Feline Health 

The Research Chair in Feline Health was established in 2023 and enabled through generous donor contributions, including a major gift to OVC Pet Trust from the estate of Suzanne Szabolcs. A second gift to OVC from the Shelagh O’Brien Memorial Research Fund was facilitated by Dr. Jacqueline Starink (DVM ‘90). Starink discussed with Shelagh, a cat lover, that she might consider a charitable trust as the beneficiary of her estate. Starink later served as the estate executor and directed that the majority of the estate be given to OVC in support of feline research. 

A woman with short hair wearing a blue jacket and a scarf standing in front of a veterinary hospitalThe Chair is charged with maintaining and enhancing an internationally recognized program of research excellence and collaboration in feline medicine, with the overall objective of improving feline health and well-being. As part of OVC’s One Health approach to advancing discoveries that benefit both animal and human health, Fonfara will work collaboratively with the newly established Bench to Bedside Institute for Translational Health Research and Innovation. 

“Cats are very special to me,” says Fonfara. “I am therefore delighted to have the opportunity to advance knowledge in feline health and improve the lives of cats and of the people who love them.”

This story originally appeared on the OVC News Hub and a summary was recently featured in the Spring/Summer 2024 issue of Best Friends magazine