How animals detect odor

Professor  Nowotny, Director of Research and Knowledge Exchange in the University of Sussex’s School of Engineering and Informatics had determined that animals may not single out a specific odor when they look for a substance. He has found that animals may find it easier to detect a collection of odors instead of a single substance. If this is true, then most of the detection dog training that focuses on teaching a dog to look for one odor rather than a scent picture, may not be the best way to train a dog.

Waiting patiently to search croped (Jib a Border Collie)

One single odor does not exist in a natural environment, rather there are a collection of odors. When you consider that it is impossible to isolate a single odor in a natural environment, this discovery makes sense. Of course it is possible and often likely that a single odor is stronger than the surrounding odors, but still it is not the only odor present.

Professor Nowotny suggests that animal and human olfactory systems may not be made to do analytic smelling of pure odors. He uses the example of how an animal will give off pheromones, a complex set of odors, as a form of communication and that it is important that an animal recognize the entire chemical message and not a single element in the chemical message.

For years I have maintained that when teaching a dog scent work that there is no such thing as an uncontaminated scent article. Professor Nowotny has confirmed this with his latest research. Although more studies need to be done, and we should still train our dogs as we have in the past, it does open the door for a less narrow view of what dogs detect and how they detect it and may lead to new training methods.

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Lifelong learning is important for old dogs and cats

We know that it is critical for humans to learn new things and keep their mind active as they age. It goes a long way to help our minds from deteriorating and creates positive emotions helping to stave off depression.

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The same is true for our dogs and cats as they age. Unfortunately physical limitations may keep an older dog or cat from participating in physical activities or even being physically unable to learn new tricks. However, Cognitive biologists from the Messerli Research Institute at Vetmeduni Vienna have developed a form of K9  “sudoku” to help old dogs stay mentally active.

Using a computer touch screen, they have developed a reward-based brain teaser. Once the dogs learn to use the touch screen the ones tested became avid computer gamers. The success of the project in the laboratory has led researchers to hope that industry will be motivated to develop the touch screen games for home use.

In the meantime, dog owners and cat owners (cats have the same mental needs as dogs) can set up treat puzzles or interactive games for their pets. There are some on the market that work well. You can google “treat puzzles for dogs or cats” to find them.

The main thing is to keep your aging pets mentally active. It will enrich their lives and keep their normal skills sharp.

Hypoallergenic pets and children

In the past, researchers have determined that children who have a pet dog or cat, or those who live in rural areas around livestock, have less of a chance to develop asthma and allergies to pets.

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A recent study conducted by Tove Fall, Senior Lecturer at the Department of Medical Sciences — Molecular Epidemiology at Uppsala University, who led the study with Professor Catarina Almqvist Malmros at Karolinska Institutet showed some interesting results.

They determined that the sex of the dog was a factor in reducing an allergic reaction in children. It seems that children who lived with female dogs and more than one dog in the home had less allergies.

They also found that children who lived with the breeds and mixes of dogs that are supposed to be ‘hypoallergenic’ actually had a higher percent of allergies. That the hypoallergenic dogs were not better for children.

A child will benefit the most from having a pet in the home if they are raised the first year of their life with the pet.

The fact that the hypoallergenic breeds are not really hypoallergenic is especially important information for those parents who may be considering a dog for their child who has allergies.

Many people are duped into paying high prices for supposed hypoallergenic designer mixes and breeds that are labeled as hypoallergenic. No matter what the mixed breed is supposedly mixed with, it is still a mixed breed with no proof that it is what the breeder claims to be. I have personally seen many cases where the supposed mix of Goldendoodle or Labradoodle grow up to have the characteristics of a completely different breed. In some cases DNA tests showed the dog was not what it was claimed to be.

Although more research needs to be done, it appears that getting a female dog of the breed that you want is the best course of action. If you plan to start a family, get the dog first. Have the dog trained by the time you start the family. It will make the situation much easier and benefit the children that join your family.

Arthritis in Cats

Many people do not realize that cats suffer from arthritis. We are used to our cats being very athletic and supple. However, feline arthritis affects 80 to 90% of all cats. About 33% of younger cats develop arthritis, so it is not limited to older cats.

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Because cats can hide pain very well, it is prudent that a cat owner understand and look for the various signs that indicate your cat is developing or has arthritis.

Here are the warning signs:

  1. You cat cannot jump up or down or is reluctant to do it.
  2. General stiffness
  3. Difficulty getting up when they are laying down.
  4. Personality change such as not wanting to be held or petted like they used to.
  5. If your cat does not groom himself as much. This could be a sign that it is                                 painful to reach parts of his body.
  6. If your cat tends to hide whereas he did not before. Pain can cause a cat to want to               hide.
  7. Your cat may sleep more than normal.
  8. Loss of appetite.
  9. A cat may stop using the litter box because it is painful to do so.
  10. You may notice that your cats’ muscles are atrophied.

If you see any of the signs listed above, you must take your cat to your veterinarian for a checkup. Some of these signs could also be due to another type of illness.

Arthritis is not a clear-cut issue. There are different types of arthritis and they can have different causes, from infection to injury. Therefore it is critical that your veterinarian determines if your cat has arthritis, the type of arthritis your cat has and how to treat it.

Clicker Training a Cat

Yes, cats can be trained. This article will explain why you should train your cat. Since it would take a whole book to explain the detailed steps about how to clicker train your cat, I suggest that you google clicker training for cats and get a book.

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Photo caption: “You want me to do what?”

Why would a cat owner want to train their cat? There are a lot of reasons. First, it can give you control over your cat. Imagine if you have taught your cat to get into his carrier, how much easier it would be to do that. Cats like the stimulation that learning gives them. Teaching your cat tricks also deepens the bond between you and your cat. It encourages your cat to exercise. It gives the cat mental stimulation. Clicker training your cat also gives you a tool to use if your cat develops a behavior problem so that you can correct the problem.

The first step to clicker training a cat is to find the special treat that your cat likes. Keep in mind that a treat is not a meal, so it will be small. You will have to experiment with people food as well as various cat treats to find the one your cat loves. The treat has to be something that you can handle easily and either comes in a small size or can be cut into tiny pieces. You do not want a treat that the cat must stop and chew for a few minutes. It should be one that the cat can easily eat quickly.

Often people do not realize that there are different clickers that range from loud to soft clicks. I suggest that you use a soft click for a cat. You can also use a click type pen, but it is not as easy to use as a clicker.

You also need a target stick and instead of buying an expensive one, you can use a ¼” dowel that is found in hardware stores, stores that carry lumber or craft stores.

Once you have all the equipment that you need, you can start working with your cat. Start slowly, getting the cat used to the clicker. Once the cat understands that the clicker is a signal for a treat, you can start teaching the cat simple commands. You can have a few sessions in a day but be sure to keep the training sessions very short. Cats get bored quickly. It is important that you work with your cat in a quiet environment. Your cat must be relaxed and feel safe. If you have more than one cat or a dog, be sure to train your cat alone in a room where the other animals cannot get in. If you have more than one cat, only work with one at a time. It can help if you have a different clicker for each cat, it will help them understand that you are clicking only them.

The last bit of advice that I have for you is be patient and don’t give up. Initially older cats may slow to respond, but they too should be taught tricks. Have fun, you cat will.

Glyphosate, a common herbicide found in dog food

Glyphosate, the active herbicidal ingredient found in most if not all weed killers like Roundup, has been found in dog food. But don’t panic, advises the study, the level is only 0.7 percent of the U.S. glyphosate limit set for humans.

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The study was conducted by Brian Richards, senior research associate in biological and environmental engineering, and supported by the Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future’s Academic Venture Fund. The goal of this study was to determine how much glyphosate was found in crops, surface water in fields, soil and animal feed.

The study determined that the herbicide found its way into pet food through the plant matter included in the food. However, they could not pinpoint which plants had the glyphosate.

Although there is no risk to pets, the long-term consumption of glyphosate has not been studied. Also, my thought is this: While the levels are very low for human consumption, dogs and cats are much smaller than people. Therefore the amount by comparison may be a risk for pets. An average human adult who weighs 150 – 200 lbs. and can tolerate .07% but what about the average medium sized dog who weighs 40 pounds. What about children and pets who weigh less than 40 lbs.?

It seems from the study that there are little or no pet foods that do not have glyphosate in them. Does this mean that other pet food has glyphosate in it? Some pets only eat vegetable or plant products. This is another thing to consider for both humans and animals. More studies are needed.

Another beneficial job for dogs – detecting malaria

Because the malaria parasites cause people who are infected to have a distinctive odor, dogs have been trained to detect malaria from socks worn by the people infected. This study was conducted by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), the Medical Research Council Unit the Gambia at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, and experts from a charity, Medical Detection Dogs.

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While the use of dogs to detect malaria is not widespread, experts hope to be able to train more dogs and use them at ports of entry to detect people who are infected with malaria. It will also give health care professionals a fast and easy way to determine who has malaria in remote villages.

However, more tests need to be conducted to see if the dogs can detect different stages of malaria and also to see if the scent varies with malaria species in different parts of the world. I have no doubt that dogs will become the most useful tool to detect the early stages of malaria.

 

 

The way you feed your cat can affect its health

How your feed your cat is an often-overlooked aspect of stress and health related issues. This was addressed by the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP). They released a Consensus Statement titled, “Feline Feeding Programs: Addressing Behavioral Needs to Improve Feline Health and Wellbeing” which was published in the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery. A brochure is available for practitioners to give to clients.

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According to the brochure, it is important to allow cats to experience normal feeding behaviors, such as hunting and foraging, a well as eating frequent, small meals by themselves. By meeting a cat’s feeding needs, you will help alleviate or prevent stress-related issues. Stress can cause cystitis and over-eating problems. If indoor cats are not given enough activity, eating can become their main activity leading to obesity.

Multi-cat households must insure that some of the resident cats who are shy are getting enough food which can lead to health problems as well.

The report goes on to stress that each household should evaluate the needs of the cats in the home. Some solutions could be to include offering small, frequent meals, puzzle feeders or putting food in different locations and even including automatic feeders.

It a cat has mental or physical issues, it is important to consider the cat’s feeding program to see if that is a contributing factor.

Animals can tell time!

Almost all pet owners have noticed that their pet seems to know what time it is. The dog or cat that waits for a family member to arrive home from school or work. Or they let you know exactly the time they normally get fed. They also let you know when it is time for any other daily routine. In the past it was assumed that they saw signals in the behavior of their human house mates. Or the theory was that they recognized the sound of your vehicle and knew that you were near. All of this can be part of the explanation for some events. But then there were those events that did not fit with the theories. Events that had no logical explanation, except that somehow, animals knew what time it was. Over the years, I have seen all of my pets, dogs, cats and birds indicate that they knew when things were supposed to happen. Not only the time of the day, but the day of the week.

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Researchers have discovered strong evidence that animals can tell time. A study led by Daniel Dombeck, an associate professor of neurobiology in Northwestern’s Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences has been published in the journal Nature Neuroscience explains the discovery.

According to Dombeck “As the animals run along the track and get to the invisible door, we see the cells firing that control spatial encoding, then, when the animal stops at the door, we see those cells turned off and a new set of cells turn on. This was a big surprise and a new discovery.”

What I can share with you from personal experience and supports this discovery is this: I am profoundly deaf, and cannot hear an alarm clock, (I can barely hear without hearing aids). If I need to get up at a certain time in the morning, I only have to decide what time I want to get up and I will wake up at the exact minute, no matter how tired I may be. As far as I am concerned, Dombeck’s discovery is the only explanation about how I can do this.

According to Dombeck, “So this could lead to new early-detection tests for Alzheimer’s, we could start asking people to judge how much time has elapsed or ask them to navigate a virtual reality environment — essentially having a human do a ‘door stop’ task.” Again, animal research has the potential of helping people. Because many people suffer from Alzheimer’s, it could help a vast number of people.

 

Dogs understand words

Scientists are one step closer to unraveling how and if dogs understand specific words in human speech. Research has provided evidence that dogs can understand basic words that they have been taught and know the difference between words they know and words they do not know.

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What scientists are trying to determine is if you say “squirrel” does the dog associate excitement with the word or does the dog actually picture a real squirrel. To do this they did MRI’s on 12 dogs who were taught the name of a specific object. Their studies were not conclusive but did show differences in the dog’s brains when the object they knew was spoken vs the one they were not taught. I think the famous Border Collie, Chaser, is strong evidence that dogs do associate a word with a specific object. But it is fun to keep researching about dog’s minds.