Posts tagged with "cats"

Cats track their owners’ movements, Japanese research finds

November 17, 2021

If you’ve ever wondered whether your pet cat gives a whisker about your whereabouts, research may have an answer: Cats appear to track their owners as they move about the house and are surprised if they turn up somewhere they’re not expecting them, reports The Guardian.

The finding supports the idea that cats retain a mental representation of their owners, even when they can’t see the—a crucial bridge to higher cognitive processes, such as forward planning and imagination.

Cats are notoriously inscrutable creatures. Although previous research has suggested that cats will search in the correct place, if food disappears; and will expect to see their owner’s face, if they hear his or her voice; until now it has been unclear how much they will seek their owner out.

“It is [also] said that cats are not as interested in their owners as dogs are, but we had doubts about this point,” said Dr. Saho Takagi at the University of Kyoto, Japan.

To investigate, Takagi and colleagues recorded what happened when 50 domestic cats were individually shut inside a room, and repeatedly heard their owner calling their name from outside, followed by either a stranger’s voice, or that of their owner, coming through a speaker on the opposite side of the room they were inhabiting.

“This study shows that cats can mentally map their location based on their owner’s voice,” said Takagi, whose research has been published in the journal PLOS One. “[It suggests] that cats have the ability to picture the invisible in their minds. Cats [may] have a more profound mind than is thought.”

However, it’s not entirely surprising that cats possess this ability: “That awareness of movement—tracking things they cannot see—is critical to a cat’s survival,” said Roger Tabor, a biologist, author and presenter of the BBC TV series ‘Cats.

A lot of what a cat has to interpret in its territory is an awareness of where other cats are. It is also important for hunting: how could a cat catch a field vole moving around beneath the grass if it couldn’t use clues, such as the occasional rustle, to see in its mind’s eye, where they are? A cat’s owner is extremely significant in its life as a source of food and security, so where we are is very important.”

Anita Kelsey, a UK feline behaviorist and author of ‘Let’s Talk About Cats,’ said: “Cats have a close relationship with us and most feel settled and safe within our company so our human voice would be part of that bond or relationship. When I am dealing with cats that suffer separation anxiety, I usually do not advocate playing the owner’s voice in the home as this can cause anxiety with the cat hearing the voice, but not knowing where their human is.”

Curiously, the cats did not show the same surprise response when the owners’ voices were replaced with cat meows or electronic sounds. Possibly, this is because adult cats do not tend to use voice as their primary means of communication with one other; many may rely on other cues, such as scent, instead.

“The ‘meow’ that we used in this study is a voice signal that is only emitted to humans, except for kittens,” said Takagi. “Cats may not be able to identify individuals from the ‘meow’ of other individuals.”

Research contact: @guardian

Protection for primates: Great apes at San Diego Zoo receive COVID-19 vaccine

March 5, 2021

Several gorillas, orangutans and bonobos at the San Diego Zoo have received an experimental COVID-19 vaccine developed specifically for animals since January. They are the first-known non-humans to get the shot, CBS News reports.

An orangutan named Karen—who made history in 1994 as the first ape in the world to have open-heart surgery—was among those who received the vaccine, according to National Geographic.

Last month, Karen, along with three other orangutans and five bonobos at the zoo, received two doses each of the vaccine, which was developed by the global veterinary pharmaceutical company Zoetis.

“This isn’t the norm. In my career, I haven’t had access to an experimental vaccine this early in the process and haven’t had such an overwhelming desire to want to use one,” Nadine Lamberski, chief conservation and wildlife health officer at the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance, told Nat Geo.

The decision to vaccinate the apes came after Frank, a 12-year-old gorilla at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park tested positive for coronavirus—and then the whole group of eight western lowland gorillas got sick in January. They all are in recovery now.

Infections also have been confirmed in dogscatsminktigers, lions and several other species around the world, reports CBS News. However, great apes are a particular concern among conservationists.

All species of gorillas are listed as endangered or critically-endangered on the IUCN Red List, with “susceptibility to disease” as one of the main threats. Infections spread rapidly among the animals, who live in close familial groups.

COVID-19 has the potential to wipe out populations of gorillas, chimpanzees, orangutans and bonobos if humans don’t take steps to prevent its spread, experts have warned.

Zoetis started development on a COVID-19 vaccine for dogs and cats after the first dog tested positive for the virus in Hong Kong over a year ago, notes CBS.  The vaccine was deemed safe and effective in October—but testing had only been done in dogs and cats.

Still, Lamberski decided vaccinating the great apes was worth the risk. She told National Geographic that they haven’t suffered any adverse reactions and will soon be tested for antibodies to determine if the shots were a success. 

“It’s not like we randomly grab a vaccine and give it to a novel species,” she said. “A lot of thought and research goes into it—what’s the risk of doing it and what’s the risk of not doing it? Our motto is, above all, to do no harm.”

Lamberski said that, because vaccines are made for a specific pathogen and not a specific species, it’s common to give a vaccine meant for one species to another. Apes at the zoo get flu and measles vaccines developed for humans.

A spokesperson for Zoetis told National Geographic that other U.S. zoos have requested doses of the vaccine for their own great apes. The company expects more to be available in June.

Research contact: @CBSNews

Change of heart: Vets say dogs’ cardiac problems are linked to grain-free food

January 1, 2020

Debbie Turner remembers the shock when a veterinary specialist said her beloved dog, Kanga Lu, had severe heart damage. NBC News reports. For weeks, Kanga had been experiencing odd symptoms— including fatigue, breathing problems and what her local vet assumed were seizures. But now Turner was being told that the Maltese-Chihuahua mix was in late-stage heart failure. The seizures, it turned out, had been fainting spells.

“So I’m sitting with what I thought was a healthy six-year-old dog that was having minor seizures, and now I find out she might only have three months to live,” said Turner, 66, of Orlando, Florida.

She was heartsick and it turned out that something she had done out of love for her pet–buying what she believed to be the very best commercially available food—was doing the damage.

The first question the specialist had asked Turner when she brought in Kanga—whose blood pressure had skyrocketed—was, “Do you feed her grain-free dog food?” The answer was yes.

NBC News is now reporting that Turner is one of a growing list of pet owners whose healthy sounding dog food may have somehow led to a serious heart problem in their pets called dilated cardiomyopathy.

The Food and Drug Administration last year announced a possible link between the condition, which can cause heart failure; and grain-free pet foods, which replace grains with ingredients like peas, lentils ,or potatoes.

By April, the agency said that it had received 524 reports of 560 dogs and 14 cats diagnosed with DCM that appeared to be related to diet. In June, the FDA took the unusual step of listing the 16 brands of dog foodamong them, such popular brands as Blue Buffalo, Natural Balance, NutriSource, Nutro, and Rachael Ray Nutrishnder investigation.

It’s still not known exactly how certain pet foods may be damaging pet hearts, but researchers have found some clues. Possible culprits include deficiencies in certain compounds necessary for heart health, as well as diets with exotic ingredients.

In dogs and cats developing DCM, the “walls of the heart become thin, and its ability to pump blood decreases,” Dr. Bruce Kornreich, a veterinary cardiologist and director of the feline health center at the Veterinary College of Cornell told NBC News. “If this continues, your pet can end up with chronic heart failure.”

DCM is a known genetic issue for certain large breeds of dogs, including great Danes, German shepherds, and Doberman pincers. But when the FDA and veterinarians around the country started to see dogs of all sizes developing this kind of heart damage several years ago, they grew alarmed.

The number of cases of DCM are likely to rise, experts say.

“We continue to see dogs coming into our hospital affected by this problem,” Dr. Lisa Freeman, a veterinary nutritionist and professor at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University, told the network news outlet. “It’s not going away.”

Unfortunately, Freeman said, the solution is probably not going to be a simple one, and the suspect foods are not just those described as “grain free.” She and others are now investigating a broader class of foods, dubbed “BEG” foods: ones that are made by boutique companies, contain exotic ingredients, or are grain-free.

The FDA echoes Freeman’s concerns about a complex solution. “At this time, it is not clear what it is about some diets that may be connected to DCM in dogs, but FDA believes it may be multi-factorial,” said Monique Richards, an FDA spokesperson. “There are multiple possible causes of DCM.”

Research contact: @NBCNews

Under AB485, California pet stores are constrained to selling rescue animals

January 3, 2019

Retail pet stores in the Golden State no longer are selling pedigreed poodles or Persian cats on their premises. Under a law effective January 1, known as AB 485, they have been constrained to marketing only dogs, cats, and rabbits obtained from animals shelters or rescue organizations—making California the first state in the union to ban the sale of animals raised in so-called “puppy mills” and other “high-volume” animal breeding facilities.

According to a report by The Cut, the new legislation does not affect sales from private breeders—or from person to person.

Specifically, retail pet stores must stock their dogs, cats, and rabbits from a “public animal control agency or shelter, society for the prevention of cruelty to animals shelter, humane society shelter,” or a rescue group that is “in a cooperative agreement with at least one private or public shelter.” Any store found to be in violation of the law will be fined $500.

“It takes the emphasis off the profit of animals and puts the emphasis back on caring for and getting these cats and dogs a good home,” Californian Mitch Kentdotson told NBC4 Los Angeles when he and his wife visited the San Diego Humane Society to adopt a kitten last week.

The bill is meant to address the crowded inhumane, unhealthy conditions under which pedigreed animals often have been raised.

So who could object? The new law has its critics, including the American Kennel Club which recently released a statement noting that, “anti-breeder animal rights extremists continuously advocate for incremental breeding and sales restrictions that they hope will eventually lead to outright bans on all animal breeding and ownership.”

The club further noted, “In essence, retail pet store bans … remove available consumer protections for new pet owners, limit the ability of pet owners to obtain the appropriate pet for their lifestyle, and potentially increase public health risks (which are not limited to geopolitical state boundaries).”

Patrick O’Donnell (D-70th District), the California Assembly member who introduced the bill, called its passage a “big win” for “four-legged friends,” and noted that it would save California taxpayers millions of dollars on sheltering animals.

As the BBC notes, the ASPCA estimated that 6.5 million pets enter shelters every year, 1.5 million of which are put down.

While the Humane Society has not yet been contacted by any stores wishing to obtain pets, a spokesperson told The Cut that the organization isn’t yet sure if it would partner with pet stores, saying, “We’re not prepared to do that ourselves, because we have a fairly robust adoption program.”

Research contact: @mmaggeler

Southwest Airlines ‘reins in’ emotional support animals

August 16, 2018

When Southwest Airlines first launched, the carrier created a loosey-goosey image of a fun flyer on which the attendants even sang. Things tightened up considerably on August 14, when the airline announced more stringent rules for bringing “emotional support animals (ESAs)” aboard, effective September 17.

Southwest is limiting passengers to one emotional support animal per passenger—and peacocks, snakes, pigs, turtles, and other unconventional creatures are no longer allowed. Indeed, the carrier now says, the only emotional support animals that will be permitted on flights are dogs, cats, and miniature horses—and the animals must be kept on a leash or in a carrier at all times.

“We welcome emotional support and trained service animals that provide needed assistance to our customers,” said Senior Vice President of Operations and Hospitality Steve Goldberg. “However, we want to make sure our guidelines are clear and easy to understand while providing customers and employees a comfortable and safe experience.”

To create these policy changes, Southwest says it has reviewed the recent enforcement guidance issued by the Department of Transportation (DOT), evaluated feedback from passengers and employees, and spoken with “numerous advocacy groups” that represent customers with disabilities who travel with service animals.

Southwest also will introduce an enhancement that recognizes fully trained psychiatric support animals (PSAs) as trained service animals.—saying, “Southwest informally accepted PSAs as trained service animals in the past and the airline is pleased to formalize the acceptance of this type of service animal based upon customer feedback.”

PSAs are individually trained to perform a task or work for a person with a mental health-related disability. A credible verbal assurance will be sufficient to travel with a PSA.

All of this comes with a disclaimer: “For the safety of both Southwest’s customers and employees, all emotional support and service animals must be trained to behave in a public setting and must be under the control of the handler at all times. An animal that engages in disruptive behavior may be denied boarding.”

Southwest joins a number of other airlines that have tightened restrictions on emotional support animals. The spotlight fell on travelers with emotional support animals in January, when United Airlines refused to allow a woman to board a flight with an emotional support peacock.

Also on August 14, the Royal Caribbean cruise line reportedly said it will ban all emotional support animals. The cruise line said emotional support animals are not covered by the Americans With Disabilities Act, according to CBS Miami. There is, however, an exception. ESAs noted on reservations prior to July 30 are protected and will be allowed to sail.

Other carriers, such as American Airlines, also have changed their rules—noting that between 2016 and 2017, the number of ESAs flying in their cabins increased by more than 40%. The animals specifically excluded by American include the following: goats, hedgehogs, ferrets, spiders; and non-household birds, such as chickens and hawks. Unclean animals, or animals with an odor, are banned, too.

Research contact: @SouthwestAir