25 February 2008

Animals are Smart!

National Geographic has a wonderful article that discusses animal intelligence (learning and thinking) versus natural instinct. We pet owners of course know that our little ones can think and learn but there are skeptics that don't think animals are capable of intelligence like humans. Below is an excerpt, but if you have time check out the entire article and gorgeous photography:

Just how easily new mental skills can evolve is perhaps best illustrated by dogs. Most owners talk to their dogs and expect them to understand. But this canine talent wasn't fully appreciated until a border collie named Rico appeared on a German TV game show in 2001. Rico knew the names of some 200 toys and acquired the names of new ones with ease.

Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig heard about Rico and arranged a meeting with him and his owners. That led to a scientific report revealing Rico's uncanny language ability: He could learn and remember words as quickly as a toddler. Other scientists had shown that two-year-old children — who acquire around ten new words a day — have an innate set of principles that guides this task. The ability is seen as one of the key building blocks in language acquisition. The Max Planck scientists suspect that the same principles guide Rico's word learning, and that the technique he uses for learning words is identical to that of humans.

To find more examples, the scientists read all the letters from hundreds of people claiming that their dogs had Rico's talent. In fact, only two — both border collies — had comparable skills. One of them — the researchers call her Betsy — has a vocabulary of more than 300 words.

"Even our closest relatives, the great apes, can't do what Betsy can do — hear a word only once or twice and know that the acoustic pattern stands for something," said Juliane Kaminski, a cognitive psychologist who worked with Rico and is now studying Betsy. She and her colleague Sebastian Tempelmann had come to Betsy's home in Vienna to give her a fresh battery of tests. Kaminski petted Betsy, while Tempelmann set up a video camera.

"Dogs' understanding of human forms of communication is something new that has evolved," Kaminski said, "something that's developed in them because of their long association with humans." Although Kaminski has not yet tested wolves, she doubts they have this language skill. "Maybe these collies are especially good at it because they're working dogs and highly motivated, and in their traditional herding jobs, they must listen very closely to their owners."

Scientists think that dogs were domesticated about 15,000 years ago, a relatively short time in which to evolve language skills. But how similar are these skills to those of humans? For abstract thinking, we employ symbols, letting one thing stand for another. Kaminski and Tempelmann were testing whether dogs can do this too.

Betsy's owner — whose pseudonym is Schaefer — summoned Betsy, who obediently stretched out at Schaefer's feet, eyes fixed on her face. Whenever Schaefer spoke, Betsy attentively cocked her head from side to side.

Kaminski handed Schaefer a stack of color photographs and asked her to choose one. Each image depicted a dog's toy against a white background—toys Betsy had never seen before. They weren't actual toys; they were only images of toys. Could Betsy connect a two-dimensional picture to a three-dimensional object?

Schaefer held up a picture of a fuzzy, rainbow-colored Frisbee and urged Betsy to find it. Betsy studied the photograph and Schaefer's face, then ran into the kitchen, where the Frisbee was placed among three other toys and photographs of each toy. Betsy brought either the Frisbee or the photograph of the Frisbee to Schaefer every time.

"It wouldn't have been wrong if she'd just brought the photograph," Kaminski said. "But I think Betsy can use a picture, without a name, to find an object. Still, it will take many more tests to prove this."

Even then, Kaminski is unsure that other scientists will ever accept her discovery because Betsy's abstract skill, as minor as it may seem to us, may tread all too closely to human thinking.

[Source: National Geographic]

21 February 2008

One Third of US Dogs Are Obese, Cats Also Suffer

According to a recent study published in the Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine, the prevalence of obesity in dogs is between 22 and 40 percent. The reasons and the remedies for the problem seem to mirror each other across species. These include decreased physical activity, age, and an increased caloric intake, according to Dr. Craig Thatcher of Blacksburg, Va., a professor in the Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences in the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine at Virginia Tech, noted veterinary nutritionist, and charter diplomate in the American College of Veterinary Nutrition.

Genetics can also increase a pet’s risk of being overweight, Thatcher said. Labrador retrievers, beagles, and cocker spaniels are all breeds that are more like to carry some extra pounds. There are also endocrine diseases that are associated with obesity that must also be considered and ruled out, before the pet undergoes weight reduction, said Thatcher.

Like humans, there are also many health problems associated with being obese. Dogs and cats that are overweight may be predisposed to develop diabetes mellitus. They may also suffer from decreased heat tolerance and stamina, increased dermatological conditions, decreased immune function, and multiple musculoskeletal and orthopedic problems. If an owner suspects his or her pet is overweight, the first step is to contact their veterinarian.

“Avoiding obesity is an important part of the overall wellness of an animal,” said Thatcher. “Pets and their owners alike will enjoy a much higher quality of life when the pet maintains a healthy weight.” The Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine established one of the nation’s first clinical nutrition training programs more than 20 years ago, thanks to Thatcher’s leadership. Today, the college’s programs in this area enjoy wide respect from throughout the profession.

[Source: ScienceDaily]

19 February 2008

$15,000 Reward for Found Dog

A Toronto man has been happily reunited with his best friend after paying a $15,000 reward he promised for the safe return of his dog, Huckleberry. The three-year-old chocolate Labrador was returned to Bert Clark, 37, late Sunday night after mysteriously disappearing Saturday morning.

Mr. Clark feared Huckleberry -- named after Huckleberry Finn -- had been dognapped after he disappeared from outside a Yonge Street bakery early Saturday. Shannon Howard, Huckleberry's walker, had stepped inside for about five minutes, leaving him tied securely to a pipe. When she returned, the 39-kilogram dog was missing.

When he heard the news on Saturday, Mr. Clark quickly returned from a trip to Florida to lead a campaign to find his dog. Friends and family helped post 600 posters around the city, promising a $15,000 reward for Huckleberry's safe return. A large colour advertisement in a Toronto newspaper, with a value of between $6,000 and $9,000, was taken out offering to pay the reward with "no questions asked."

Police say Mr. Clark received a phone call on Sunday about his dog and arranged to meet the callers at the police station for his safety. "When he's offering a reward, there are considerations for his safety. That is a substantial amount of money," Det. Rob Ermacora said. The $15,000 reward was paid as promised.

Richard Cassibo, the man who met Mr. Clark at the police station to return Huckleberry, said his two children found the dog tied to a park bench, shivering. He told Global News he didn't trust the humane society, and had planned on putting up flyers to find the owner. When asked why he accepted the reward instead of refusing the money, he said, "because I can use it."

Det. Ermacora said the case is still under investigation. He did not know whether the individuals who returned Huckleberry were the alleged dognappers. "They may be a third or fourth party who know who took the dog." But he said criminal charges are unlikely. "More than likely this will be the end of it because it will be difficult to prove who actually took the dog. Nobody actually saw anyone take the dog."

What would you be willing to do/pay if your dog went missing?

[Source: OttawaCitizen.com]

15 February 2008

$150,000 for Cloned Dog

A Californian dog-lover has agreed to pay $150,000 to have her dead pit bull recreated in the world’s first commercial pet cloning project. The dog, named Booger, died a year and a half ago but his owner kept part of his ear in cold storage and South Korean scientists will now attempt to create an exact replica of the pet.

RNL Bio, based in Seoul, said it is already working on the order. The work will be carried out by a team of Seoul National University (SNU) scientists led by professor Lee Byeong-chun, a key member of disgraced stem cell scientist Hwang Woo-suk's research team. Most of Hwang's well publicised breakthroughs in cloning human stem cells were discovered to be fake last year. But the SNU team was successful in creating the world's first dog clone, an Afghan hound named "Snuppy".

Cho Seong-Ryul, RNL’s marketing director, said the company’s success rate for producing dogs by cloning was high with around one out of every four surrogate mother dogs producing cloned puppies. Cells have been extracted from Booger’s ear tissue and inserted into ova which were then implanted into eight bitches. Since Lee and Hwang cloned Snuppy no other scientists have succeeded in creating cloned dogs.

“This will mark the first time that a dog is being cloned in a commercial contract,” Cho said. “The cost for cloning a dog may come down to less than $50,000 as cloning is becoming an industry.”

[Source: Times Online]

12 February 2008

Beagle is Top Hound at Westminster

Uno the beagle turned Madison Square Garden into his own big, green backyard. He barked and bayed. He nipped at a newly printed sign. He tried to grab his leash. He took a flying leap at a piece of filet mignon. "Snoopy would be proud," handler Aaron Wilkerson said Monday. "He was being his merry little hound self."

He also did something out of character: He became the first beagle to win the hound group at the Westminster Kennel Club show since 1939 — that's 483 years, in dog years. America's top dog competition has presented best in show 100 times and a beagle has never won. Uno's victory assured him a place in the final seven Tuesday night. Beagles are always among the most popular dogs in the country, yet Wilkerson was at a loss to explain why they've never done better here.

While Uno aimed at best in show, the precocious package of personality certainly deserved one title: noisiest in show. "Ah-rooo!" his howls echoed all over the arena. It didn't take much to get Uno going, either. A click of a spectator's pen, a wave of the judge's hand, any effort by Wilkerson to hush him. "Ah-rooo!"

Though the Disney movie "Underdog" was a big winner last year, a beagle is forever a long shot at the Garden. Tri-colored and nearly 3, with pleading, golden-brown eyes and a most playful nature, Uno wanted to break out of the Westminster doghouse. His official name is K-Run's Park Me in First, and he topped 12 other entries in the 15-inch beagle category.

Uno already has won 32 best in show titles and finished 2007 as the sixth-ranked show dog in the nation. He retreated to the safety of his crate after winning best of breed, complete with his favorite stuffed frog toy and a fluffy pillow sporting a Hollywood star.

Judge Ralph Lemcke picked Uno over 25 others in the hound group, praising his "soft expression" and the neat "brush on his tail."

[Source: Associated Press]

07 February 2008

Dog Lover Must See TV: Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show

It's a dog lover must see TV - the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show will be on Monday and Tuesday, February 11 and 12 at Madison Square Garden in New York City.

The Group and Best In Show competition will be televised live on USA Network from 8-9 PM and continuing on CNBC from 9-11 PM Monday and live on USA Network from 8-11 PM Tuesday. Competition in each breed and variety may be viewed in streaming video at the Westminster website. This video will be available within two hours of completion of the judging of that breed. (Please note: A high speed connection is necessary for viewing.)

169 breeds and varieties will be judged in seven different groups during the day Monday and Tuesday. There are four new breeds eligible for the first time at Westminster in 2008: the Plott (Hound Group), the Tibetan Mastiff (Working), the Swedish Vallhund (Herding) and the Beauceron (Herding).

[Source: The Westminster Kennel Club]

04 February 2008

February is National Pet Dental Health Month

Many pet owners spend time walking and grooming their pets but may not think about brushing their pets' teeth. The California Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA) reports gingivitis and periodontal disease in dogs and cats have become widespread, and pet owners should take some simple actions to be sure their pet has good oral health.

"We hope 'National Pet Dental Health Month' in February will draw attention to this serious health issue for pets. All pet owners should start a regular dental care routine for their animals in consultation with their veterinarians," said Dr. Jeff Smith, president of the CVMA.

According to the American Veterinary Dental Society, more than 85 percent of dogs and cats show signs of oral disease by age four. The trouble begins when food particles and bacteria build up in the mouth to form plaque and tartar, which leads to reversible gingivitis. Gingivitis, if ignored, will progress to periodontal disease. Irreversible periodontal disease leads to tooth decay, bad breath, bleeding gums and, in severe cases, tooth loss. When bacteria from periodontal disease travels into a pet's bloodstream, the lungs, heart, kidneys, liver and nervous system can be affected. These infections usually are treatable when caught at an early stage. However, if they are not caught in time, they can cause serious organ damage and even death.

The CVMA says all pets are at risk for developing dental problems, so it is important for owners to have their pets examined by a veterinarian annually to detect problems early. It also is important for owners to check their pets often between visits for these warning signs:

-- Bad breath
-- Tartar buildup on the teeth
-- Swollen, receding or bleeding gums
-- Fractured or abscessed teeth
-- Change in eating habits

A pet should be taken to a veterinarian immediately if it shows any of the above symptoms. "It's important for pet owners to seek professional veterinary care in addition to providing good oral health care for their pets at home," adds Dr. Smith.

[Source: California Veterinary Medical Association]