Mechanical disease-sniffing device vs dogs

A number of researchers from various universities have joined together to try and develop a mechanical device that can rival the scenting ability of dogs to detect diseases in people. No one denies that dogs have a remarkable ability to detect the early stages of disease in humans. But the cost of training the dog and the dog’s length of service makes using them expensive. If scientists can develop a device that can equal a dog’s nose it would reduce a lot of the cost.

What has proven elusive to scientists is that dogs can pick up connections that researchers cannot mimic in a machine. For example, some dogs that have been trained to detect one type of cancer will identify other types of cancer as well. When the researchers tried to determine what the dogs were detecting, they were not able to. The differences were not detectable by current tests. What complicates the problem is that the different cancers that were detected by the dogs do not have any biomolecular signatures in common. The dogs were able to generalize from one kind of cancer to be able to identify others.  

The detection system that has been developed is 200 times more sensitive than a dog’s nose but the machine cannot figure out the elusive patterns that the dog can, that allows the dog to detect various cancers. In other words, the machine cannot think and make the connections. Until the researches solve the mystery, the machine cannot replace the dog.

The important point for people who use dogs for scent detection work is that dogs are capable of analyzing scent in a much more complex way then they have been trained to do. The bottom line is that if your scent dog gives you an indication that does not make sense to you, trust your dog and look further.

How old is your dog, really?

The old rule that one dog year equals seven in human years is not true. What the researchers found was that dogs age differently than humans. For example, Trey Ideker of the University of California, San Diego pointed out that a nine-month-old dog can have puppies. If you do the math, it is obvious that the 1 year equals seven does not work out. They studied Labrador Retrievers to see how they age on a molecular level by comparing changes in the methylation pattern. They discovered that dogs age rapidly at first and then slow down later in life.    

According to the article “The comparison revealed a new formula that better matches the canine-human life stages: human age = 16 ln (dog age) + 31. Based on the new function, an 8-week-old dog is approximately the age of a 9-month-old baby, both being in the infant stage where puppies and babies develop teeth. The average 12-year lifespan of Labrador retrievers also corresponds to the worldwide life expectancy of humans, 70 years.”

The researchers noted that they need to do more studies because different breeds age at different rates. Having a more accurate way to measure a dog’s age will help both dog owners and veterinarians better appreciate and care for dogs.

Journal Reference:

  1. Tina Wang, Jianzhu Ma, Andrew N. Hogan, Samson Fong, Katherine Licon, Brian Tsui, Jason F. Kreisberg, Peter D. Adams, Anne-Ruxandra Carvunis, Danika L. Bannasch, Elaine A. Ostrander, Trey Ideker. Quantitative Translation of Dog-to-Human Aging by Conserved Remodeling of the DNA MethylomeCell Systems, 2020; DOI: 10.1016/j.cels.2020.06.006

Cite This Page:

Cell Press. “How old is your dog in human years? New method better than ‘multiply by 7’.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 2 July 2020. <>.

The fountain of youth for animals and people

In an interesting study conducted by researchers at the USC Leonard Davis School of gerontology it was determined that humanin, a peptide encoded in the small genome of mitochondria which is the powerhouse of the cell, is responsible not only for longevity, but for good health.

The study found that children of centenarians had higher levels of humanin then children of non-centenarians. They also found that people with Alzheimer’s disease had lower levels of humanin.

In animals, humanin is found from worms to mammals. The naked mole rate has a very high level and lives up to 30 years. What is also interesting, the researchers found that for both people and animals, those who had higher levels of humanin had fewer offspring.

Researchers are looking into ways to use this information to help people have longer and healthier lives. What I wonder is if they will find a way to increase the lives of animals as well as make them healthier. Imagine being able to help those breeds of dogs that have shorter life spans and medical problems live a longer, healthier life. Both people and animals would benefit.

Journal Reference:

  1. Kelvin Yen, Hemal H. Mehta, Su-Jeong Kim, YanHe Lue, James Hoang, Noel Guerrero, Jenna Port, Qiuli Bi, Gerardo Navarrete, Sebastian Brandhorst, Kaitlyn Noel Lewis, Junxiang Wan, Ronald Swerdloff, Julie A. Mattison, Rochelle Buffenstein, Carrie V. Breton, Christina Wang, Valter Longo, Gil Atzmon, Douglas Wallace, Nir Barzilai, Pinchas Cohen. The mitochondrial derived peptide humanin is a regulator of lifespan and healthspanAging, 2020; DOI: 10.18632/aging.103534

University of Southern California. “Protein in mitochondria appears to regulate health and longevity.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 24 June 2020.

Note that Science Daily has changed their format. To find this article google the name of the article with “science daily” after it.

Do animals have beliefs?

Based on the research by Dr. Tobias Starzak and Professor Albert Newen from the Institute of Philosophy II at Ruhr-Universität Bochum, yes, they do. Although it is not easy to prove, the research shows that chimpanzees, dogs, and some birds have beliefs. It stands to reason that if these animals do, others do as well.

According to the study for an animal to illustrate that they have beliefs, they must meet certain criteria. They must have information about the world; the animal must be able to use the information in a flexible manner; then that information is then internally structured into a belief with different aspects of that information being processed separately; and they must be able to recombine the components of the information in unique ways.

According to Albert Newen, flexible behavior which can be interpreted as caused by beliefs has been observed in chimpanzees, rats and Border collies.

Journal Reference:

  1. Albert Newen, Tobias Starzak. How to ascribe beliefs to animalsMind & Language, 2020; DOI: 10.1111/mila.12302

Cite This Page:

Ruhr-University Bochum. “What it means when animals have beliefs: Chimpanzees, some dog species and even scrub jay and crows have beliefs..” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 17 June 2020.

Pets can reduce food allergies in children

Previous research has shown that living with animals can reduce allergies in children such as airborne and food allergies. Now a recent study has confirmed and strengthened this finding.

Researcher Hisao Okabe from the Fukushima regional Center for the Japan Environment and Children’s Study and colleagues studied over 65,000 young children who lived with dogs and cats and found that they had less food allergies than children who do not live with pets.

About 22% were exposed to indoor dogs and cats during their fetal stage and showed a significant reduction in food allergies. It is interesting that the study showed that children exposed to outdoor dogs had no significant reduction in food allergies.

The children who were exposed to indoor dogs were less likely to be allergic to eggs, milk and nuts. The children who were exposed to indoor cats had a lower instance of allergies to eggs, wheat and soybeans. Yet those children who were exposed to hamsters had a higher rate of allergies to nuts.

This study did not go into detail about why this occurred but it is interesting that it did.

Journal Reference:

  1. Hisao Okabe, Koichi Hashimoto, Mika Yamada, Takashi Ono, Kazufumi Yaginuma, Yohei Kume, Mina Chishiki, Akiko Sato, Yuka Ogata, Karin Imaizumi, Tsuyoshi Murata, Hyo Kyozuka, Kosei Shinoki, Seiji Yasumura, Hidekazu Nishigori, Keiya Fujimori, Mitsuaki Hosoya. Associations between fetal or infancy pet exposure and food allergies: The Japan Environment and Children’s StudyPLOS ONE, 2023; 18 (3): e0282725 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0282725

Finding a Lost Cat

            In many ways looking for a lost cat can be easier than looking for a lost dog. This is because most cats stay very close to home whereas dogs can run for miles. On the flip side, cats can hide in very small places, making it more difficult to see them.

            If the cat is an indoor/outdoor cat, the chances are that the cat is staying away from home on purpose. I have seen cats spend hours waiting for a chipmunk to pop out of a bush or a hole. Sometimes the cat will wander away from the last place they saw the chipmunk only to return an hour later to wait again. While you are frantically looking for your cat, the cat is having a grand old-time hunting. Few cats will come when called in a situation such as this.

            If your cat is an indoor cat and not used to being outside, it is very likely that the cat is frightened. In this case the cat will find a hiding place and most likely stay there. It depends on the cat’s relationship with his owner and how frightened he is whether he will come if you call him. If the area around your house is quiet, the cat is more likely to come out.

         Regardless of which type of cat you have, as soon as you determine that the cat is missing you should act right away. Below are a few steps that you can take to help find your cat. It depends on your cat’s personality and experiences which will work the best, so to be safe, try all the tips.

         Unless you saw your cat run outside, the first thing you must do is search your home. Sometimes a cat will hide in the house. This is especially true if there is unusual activity in your home. If there is going to be unusual activity in your home, it is best to lock your cat in a room or a crate so that the cat cannot hide somewhere where you will not find him or become so frightened that he will run out of an opened door. A cat that runs out of your home in fear will be less likely to come back to your home right away.

         When you search in your home (and outdoors) never underestimate your cat’s ability to squeeze into very small places. If you find your cat in an inaccessible (for you) small space in your home, and the cat can get out on his own, leave him alone, he will come out when he feels safe. Be sure to check attics, basements and closets.

         If your cat is outdoors, check around your home. Most cats will stay within 2 – 3 houses from yours. They typically do not go more than 1/3 of a mile. Be sure to look in every outbuilding even if you think it is impossible for the cat to be there. Check roofs, trees, under porches and in any small space that might be available to your cat. This can include under rocks that form a small “cave.”

         Next search your neighborhood. Be sure to have a photo of your cat to help people identify your cat. If you can, ask friends to help you canvass the area around your home. Knock on doors and show neighbors a picture of your cat and leave your contact information.

         Post flyers around your neighborhood. Be sure to include a picture of your cat on the flyer. Also keep a record of where you post the flyers. Check them every three days to freshen them as needed. People will assume if a flyer is old that your cat has been found.

         Contact all animal related business in your area. This will include veterinary clinics, pet stores, shelters, cat rescue groups and 4-H clubs. You can also contact child groups such as the girl and boy scouts. Post flyers at any store or restaurant that will allow you to do so. Since a person may find your cat and take them to a shelter, you will want to extend your search to five or ten miles away.

         Take advantage of social media. Also check the lost and found section of your newspaper. Some people only read the weekend editions of their newspaper so place an ad in the weekend edition as well as the daily edition. Many newspapers will let you post an ad for free.

         Keep the ad, posters and social media fresh and up to date. If you find your cat, it is very important to let all the organizations know that the cat was found. Remove all posters as well.

         At your home you can put a litter box outside and articles of clothing that has your scent on it, such as an old tee shirt or shoes. Also leave a bowl of water and food for your cat. I like to get play sand that is used in children’s sand boxes and spread it on the ground around the food and water. This way if another animal comes to eat the food you will know by the tracks that it was not your cat. If another cat comes to your food, you will know that it is a cat and hope that it is your cat. If you have access to one, or if you want to purchase one, you can mount a wildlife camera outside to see if your cat is coming to the food.

         You can also put the cat’s bedding in a cardboard box with a hole cut in it big enough for your cat to enter. Be sure to secure the box so that it will not blow away or be unstable. You cat may be lured to this familiar, safe place.

         Also consider that the best time to search for your cat is at night after midnight when the surrounding area is quieter. At that time you can open a can of food if your cat knows that sound, it may attract him to you. When you do this, be patient, sound travels quiet far at night so your cat may not come running to you right away. Instead he may wait to be sure that it is safe and slowly approach you. If you do this in the same location every night, your cat may come out the second or third night. If you see your cat, stay calm and let your cat come to you. If you try to catch your cat you may frighten him, and he will be hesitant to approach you again. Be sure to leave the can of food outside in the same place you opened it.

         If you have recently moved, be sure to search your old neighborhood using the same methods. Cats have an amazing homing instinct. Searching your old neighborhood is especially necessary if your cat is an indoor/outdoor cat.  If you have moved too far away to do this, ask former neighbors and friends to help you.

         The most important thing is not to give up. Cats have been known to return home months after disappearing. Although it is heartbreaking to not find your cat, in many cases people find a cat and assume it is a stray that has been dumped and keep him, giving him a good home. If this happens and your cat is kept indoors, he will not be able to get back to you unless he gets out again and comes home. Which is why some cats come back months after they disappear. So never give up.

Parrots as pets

Some of the most exotic and beautiful birds that are suitable as pets are parrots. They come in a variety of colors and sizes. What people do not realize is that they have a wide range of personalities and needs. Not all parrots are the same. What people also do not realize is that each type of bird is a separate species with their own health needs.

Some parrots are very active and need a lot of interaction with their owner. Some are very quiet and do not interact as much. Some are one person birds and may not tolerate other people handling them, and some are very sociable.

Sweetpea my parrotlet

For example, some of the smallest parrots are budgies, cockatiels, lovebirds and parrotlets. They are smart, energetic and cheery making them good pets.

Often people keep lovebirds in pairs. However, if birds are kept in pairs or in a group, they often bond with each other rather than humans. If you do not have a lot of time to spend with your bird it may be kinder to have two so that they can keep each other company.

No matter which parrot you choose, they all have basic needs. If you are going to have only one bird, you must socialize and handle the bird on a regular basis to ensure that the bird bonds with humans and is easy to handle. This is important so that you can maintain your bird or give it medicine as needed.

Petey the budgie

Teaching your bird to do tricks is fun for the bird as well as for you. Birds that are not handled and are left alone for hours a day can become neurotic and may pull out their feathers or develop other destructive behavior.

You must keep in mind that normal parrot behavior includes being part of a flock, foraging for food, pairing up with a mate and guarding his territory. Therefore some birds will bond with one person, as a replacement for their mate. The bird may accept other family members or frequent visitors as part of his flock. Your bird may consider his cage or the room he is kept in as his territory. If your bird is given freedom outside of his cage or room, he may shred and destroy objects to satisfy his need to search for food.

Birds show affection by preening your hair, nibbling on your chin or ears, and often screech a plaintive call when the love of their life leaves the room.

When parrots become upset, they will bite hard enough to leave a wound or they may destroy their cage. Because birds are very smart, they can get into mischief. They do enjoy playing with different things and by pecking at a cage door they may solve the mystery of how to open it to let themselves out when they want. Of course this newfound freedom will be used to have a delightful time to play and destroy whatever they see fit. Therefore you need to parrot-proof your home or the room where your parrot stays.

It is important that the parrot owner meets the needs of their bird by providing opportunities to explore, such as hiding treats in a small cardboard box that the bird can shred to find the treat. Also stashing treats in your bird’s toys keeps him occupied and busy solving the mystery of where the treat is.

Choosing the right bird for you can be challenging. As a rule, budgies, cockatiels, lovebirds and parrotlets are easier birds to keep as pets. They are small and happy birds. Most of the larger birds such as macaws, cockatoos, African greys and Amazons are high maintenance birds and require someone who is experienced to successfully own them.

An important thing to consider is the life expectancy of the species of parrot that you want to get. Some parrots live for 80 – 100 years. Can you make arrangements for your parrot if you are unable to care for him any longer?

I have personally owned several budgies and parrotlets and was able to clicker train all of them to do tricks. Clicker training a bird is a very successful way to shape behavior and have fun with your bird. For example, my parrotlet Sweetpea would pick up paper clips and put them in a box. All my birds would come when I called or signaled them. One of my budgies would gather small toy balls and put them in a tight group on command. The possibilities are limited only to your imagination.

If you have other pets you need to consider the safety of both the other pet and the bird. A large bird can seriously hurt a dog or cat. And a dog or cat can kill a bird. Both dogs and cats can be taught to leave a bird alone or not hurt the bird. I have both dogs, cats and birds, and they have always gotten along. Petey my budgie loved to sneak up on one of my dogs while she was sleeping and pull one hair on her tail. Then he would fly back to the desk lamp and, it seemed like he would laugh. The dog would go back to sleep and he would do it all over again. However, it takes dedication on your part and training for all the animals for them to live together safely.

Where to find the right bird is often an issue that people have. The last place you should buy a bird is a pet shop. Instead you should locate a dedicated breeder who has healthy birds. There are several ways to find a good breeder. Look for a bird club for the species of bird that you want. Also locate a bird rescue. Those people will know breeders and you may find that you can adopt a bird from them. Your avian veterinarian will also be able to help since dedicated bird breeders have their birds examined yearly.

No matter what type of parrot you choose, there are a few important things you must research before you get your bird.

1. Find a good avian veterinarian in your area. Birds need yearly wellness care the same as other pets.

2. Understand the dietary needs of the bird you plan to purchase.

3. Make sure you have a very large cage for your bird. Even the small birds need more room than the typical small bird cage offers. Your bird will be spending most of his life in that cage.

4. Decide if you want more than one bird.

5. Research which toys are suitable for the type of bird you are getting.

6. Outfit your bird cage with more than one food and water cup.

7. Provide various size natural branch perches for your bird. They should not be limited to the standard wooden dowel perches. They need various sizes to ease their feet. Also include more than one ladder for the bird to climb on.

8. Get a good book about bird care so that you can recognize any illnesses.

9. If you have other pets, consider their impact on your bird and the bird’s safety.

10. Decide on the location of the bird cage before you get your bird. It should not be isolated or in too busy an area. Have an alternate location if the bird does not adjust to the original location.

With planning and care you can have a wonderful parrot for a pet. Even the smallest bird, such as a budgie can live for 15 years. I keep my budgies in my office and enjoy listening to them sing to music. It is fun to see which type of music they enjoy the most. Parrots are lots of fun.

Fearful cats and socialization

Doctoral Researcher Salla Mikkola from the University of Helsinki and the Folkhälsan Research Center wanted to look into what causes behavior problems in cats such as fearfulness, aggression towards people and excessive grooming.  

What they found out is important, and that is socialization when cats are kittens with people is very important. Cats under the age of twelve weeks who only came in contact with strange people and children a few times or more fearful than kittens who interacted with strangers on a weekly basis. Fearful cats had more litterbox, aggression and excessive grooming issues.

The researchers noted that there were less fearfulness and aggression in cats when the cat lived with another cat.

Mimi who is partly blind

Sue’s Note: People tend to associate socialization with puppies and dogs but it is just as important to socialize cats. This should include handling all body parts, grooming, traveling in a vehicle, being put in a carrier, and exposure to noise that is not excessively loud. It is very important to make sure that the cat is not physically handicapped which can cause the cat to become frightened. For example, my cat was born with limited vision that is not detectable by a physical examination and was only apparent by observing her behavior. Many people do not realize that cats are very social and do best if there is at least one other cat in the home.

Journal Reference:

Salla Mikkola, Milla Salonen, Emma Hakanen, Hannes Lohi. Fearfulness associates with problematic behaviors and poor socialization in catsiScience, 2022; 25 (10): 105265 DOI: 10.1016/j.isci.2022.105265

Death, Decomposition, and Detection Dogs

Death, Decomposition, and Detection Dogs: From Science to SceneBy Susan M. Stejskal, LVT, PhD. Published by CRC Press, Second Edition, 2023, $54.95, 259 pgs.

I love this book. It is very well written; the quality of the cover and pages are excellent. It has informative diagrams and color photos. The book thoroughly researched and covers the topic extremely well. Because the author explains in easy-to-understand terms all of the technical aspects of body decomposition, this book is easy to read. There are nine chapters covering a variety of topics which include forensic tools, a dog’s nose, how a body decomposes, the role that bugs play in forensics, how the environment impacts decomposition, electronic detection devices and what is very interesting, actual case studies.

This book is a must have for canine search and rescue handlers, police, fire fighters, those who study forensics, and authors who write murder mysteries or include a death in their stories.

Pigeons can solve problems the same as artificial intelligence

We are always learning more about the mind of animals and this new study showed that pigeons share similarities with artificial intelligence.

Psychologists at the University of Iowa wanted to test the intelligence of pigeons and devised some very interesting and unique tests.

When the pigeons were given complex tests that involved categorization that did not allow them to use logic and reasoning, but instead made them memorize scenarios, they were able to pass the tests about 70% of the time.

free google photo

The tests involved showing the pigeon a stimulus and required the pigeon to choose which category the stimulus belonged to. The categories included line width, angle, concentric rings and sectioned rings. These tests were so arbitrary that no rules or logic would help solve the problem. What made them even more difficult was that each stimulus was special, never repeated and did not look like one another. It required memorization to do the task.

The pigeons were able to solve the problems by using their biological algorithm and employing associative learning. Computers on the other hand, use artificial algorithms that people programed into them.

Sue’s note: How amazing are the animals we share our lives with. It is exciting to think of what other tests might show how intelligent other birds and animals are.  

Swamp cancer (pythiosis) in animals

Swamp cancer has been around for a long time worldwide. It was first reported in 1884 and is typically limited to tropical and subtropical areas that include, Thailand, India, Brazil and states in the U.S. that border the Gulf of Mexico. Although recently it has been reported in northern area of the U.S.

Pythiosis causes either non-healing sores on the skin or lesions internally. Dogs that contract Pythiosis and are not treated, typically live less than one month. Horses and other animals can also contract pythiosis.

Pythiosis is caused by organisms that are similar to fungus but are related to algae, often called water molds. As the name suggests, they need water to survive. They are found in stagnant water including ponds, swamps and bayous but they are also found in moist soil, grasses and aquatic vegetation. The mold is attracted to human and horse hair as well as the skin of animals.

An animal can contract it by rubbing against or eating vegetation, wading or swimming in contaminated water or drinking or getting the water in their mouth. Hunting dogs are a prime candidate and studies have shown that for an unknown reason, German Shepherd Dogs also have a higher instance of Pythiosis.

In the skin form of the disease a dog will have non-healing wounds that will not respond to antibiotics. The wound will grow, drain pus and the tissue will die. In the internal form of the disease the dog may vomit, have diarrhea which will be watery and bloody. The dog may lose his appetite and thus weight. Masses may form on various organs in the body.

There are tests that a veterinarian can use to help determine if the dog has pythiosis and veterinarians at the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine are working to find a cure. If your dog has pythiosis you can contact them to partake of a pilot study for treatment of this disease.

Contact the University of Florida Small Animal Hospital at (352) 392-2235 or complete the study interest form at

 to see if their dog qualifies.