How you doin’?
After thousands of years living in our homes, cats and dogs have gotten pretty good at tuning into human social cues—as good as human babies anyways.
Dogs, with their adorable puppy faces, are easily swayed by the actions of humans. A new study in PLoS ONE shows that dogs will prefer a plate of food preferred by a person, even if that plate has less food on it. Cats, on the other hand, have an especially annoying “solicitation” purr that they deploy when they want something from their owners, much like (though quieter than) a hungry baby that will not stop screaming. Pet owners who fancy themselves parents may actually be onto something.
Please don’t make me eat thallium.
If you’re an average normal person and your dog eats thallium-tainted agar plates from the trash, you’d probably take Rover to the vet. If you’re a vet and your dog eats thallium-tainted agar plates, you start taking notes—and blood and hair samples too.
That’s the backstory to a recent paper published in the Journal of Veterinary Diagnostic Investigation. A poor, overly curious one-year-old shepherd mix broke into the laboratory trash and gobbled up 15 agar plates containing thallium. The poisonous compound is used in labs to isolate Mycoplasma fungi because it pretty much kills everything else that could grow on agar. Known as “the poisoner’s poison,” thallium has also been implicated in a number of famous murders and was a favorite of Saddam Hussein. (So if you are a non-scientist with thallium in your trash, it is kind of suspect…)
The dog’s owner, a vet, knew immediately the thallium was bad news. At the onset, the dog refused to eat and lost weight. And then things only got worse over several weeks as she lost control of her muscles, seized, caught pneumonia twice, and lost a third of her fur. She had to be fed through a tube. It took 10 months for her to even bark again.
A prophetic story from The Onion in 2003 seems to be coming true: our pets and even lab and wild animals are becoming obese alongside humans:
Amid a barrage of commercials for new diet dog and cat foods, many owners say that their pets are being held to impossibly high animal-body standards perpetrated by the media. “I don’t care what anyone says, my Sassy looks good,” said Janice Guswhite.
Back in the non-satirical world, the findings are alarming. A study of over 20,000 animals from 12 different populations, published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, found that over the last 20 years the animals in every population they studied have been growing significantly tubbier, paralleling the human obesity epidemic.
Not only pets are fattening up–the group also studied wild animals living near humans and animals living in labs and zoos. All of them have been chubbing-out over the last two decades. This could mean we are thinking about the obesity epidemic all wrong, lead author David Allison told Nature News:
Many cat owners worry/wonder about what their buddies are up to while the humans are away at work. Are they eating the houseplants? Sleeping on the kitchen counter? Prowling next door to bother the neighbors’ pet bird?
Now, researchers in Japan hope to bridge the gap between humans and their pets by rigging cats with sensing devices that help owners track their felines’ activities.
Cat@Log, one such sensing device, allows you to snoop on your cat as he goes about his daily schedule.
You can track his movements, map his territory, and even see what he sees thanks to a bulky device that can be strapped on your kitty’s collar. The tech site Recombu says that Cat@Log comes loaded with a camera, microphone, microSD card, an accelerometer, Bluetooth, and GPS.
There was a time when having a pooch brought simple chores like taking the dog on regular walks, brushing its coat, and occasionally throwing a stick or prying a slipper loose from its clenched jaws. But these days, having a dog can bring strange new responsibilities–like signing the pup up to Twitter.
A new product by toy giant Mattel called “Puppy Tweets” lets the whole universe get a peek into your dog’s daily activities. The colorful little device hangs from your dog’s collar, and when it detects movement or barking it sends a message via wi-fi to your computer. The messages are translated into pre-programmed tweets and get broadcast directly via Twitter. Your pet’s twitter followers can stay up to date with the latest as he wakes, poops, and woofs.
In the recent Pixar movie Up, a group of dogs wear collars that translates their barks into humans words. Such a device is no longer just the stuff of animation: One is about to be, er, unleashed by a Japanese company that claims its collar can give humans a glimpse into Fido’s emotions.
But although the device would certainly be useful—wouldn’t it be helpful to know how your pup is feeling?—most experts are skeptical about whether the collar, called Bowlingual Voice, actually works. ABC reports:
The device includes a microphone worn around a dog’s neck and a separate digital reader that — the company says — translates barks into one of six emotional states: happy, sad, frustrated, threatening, needy or assertive…. [The developers] provided “research and development and consulting as well as aiding speech, acoustics and radio waves” for the Bowlingual Voice’s creation….
“It’s a cute idea,” said [organismic and evolutionary biologist] Kathryn Lord… “But it’s hard to see the world or feel the world like [dogs] do. When we say a dog feels something, it’s probably not exactly that.”
A consensus of experts agrees that while many humans have long yearned for the ability to communicate with animals, the concept is a myth that is both “crude” and “simplistic.” Still, that likely won’t keep pet-lovers from trying…
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Image: flickr / TheGiantVermin
• When summer storms hit, beware of your XBOX or Wii—apparently an increasing number of people have faced injury while playing hardwired video games indoors when there’s lightning outside.
• Spoon that irresistible raw cookie dough into your mouth at the risk of kidney failure and bloody diarrhea: Toll House has recalled its dough due to possible E. Coli contamination.
• Snakes in a station! About 400 cobras were expelled from a Sierra Leone police station using attack rifles and power hoses after snakecharmers failed to lure the reptiles from the building.
•It’s been a rough week for pets: Just ask the the week-old puppy that was flushed down the toilet, the cat that was shot 50 times, and the kitten that was abandoned in a public mailbox in Boston. Those furballs survived, but the cats and dogs that ate pet food tainted with melamine weren’t so lucky. The manufacturing company and its owners pleaded guilty this week to selling the contaminated food.
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It’s only Monday, and there’s already a toss-up for worst science article of the week. Scientists at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health seem not to have realized that when it comes to weight gain, we’ve got one thing figured out: The fewer calories you consume, the less weight you put on. So they spent time and resources on a study to reach the following conclusion: Drinking water is less likely to cause obesity in kids than drinking sugar-sweetened drinks like soda and juice.
Weirder yet, the researchers don’t even sound assertive, as if their hypothesis needs further testing—not drinking sugary beverages, they say, “can reduce” excess calorie consumption. Well, yes, it can—and it does.
But while there’s validity, however obvious, to the Columbia study, the U.K.’s Bath Spa University has just published its own, er, breed of ludicrous research: a study concluding that pet owners look like their dogs.