Ever wonder about your cat’s parentage, breed and potential health problems? A mail-in DNA test for cats promises to fill you in on the details.
Basepaws, a Los Angeles company, offers a kit not much different from the human mail-in DNA tests: You swab the inside of your cat’s mouth for a few seconds, secure it according to the provided instructions, and mail it to the company, which processes the results.
In four to six weeks you’re notified that your cat’s results are ready, and you’ll get a report with a breakdown of genetic identity, associated breeds and potential health issues to watch out for.
This presents a problem for me, of course. Buddy thinks he’s descended from a long line of legendary warrior felids. I took a regular Q-tip, made a big show of swabbing his cheek for his DNA, and told him I was mailing it away for analysis.
Then I cooked this up:
You’ll notice the results don’t come close to adding up to 100 percent. The company’s founder says that’s because the more people test their cats, the more accurate the results will be, with fewer unknowns as the overall database expands.
Each cat’s report is updated indefinitely as the company continues to test. Checking back over subsequent months and years will yield updated information on your cat, the company says.
All jokes aside, it would be interesting to find out more about the Budster’s background. All I know is that his mom was an indoor cat who wasn’t spayed. She went into heat, she got out, she came back and the rest is history.
Because he’s a big talker, I’ve always wondered if Bud might have a bit of Siamese or one of the other chattier breeds in him. His coat is pretty short, extremely soft and all grey/dark grey in a tabby pattern, except for a single white tuft on his chest.
Interestingly, most of his tabby stripes are unbroken, a trait usually seen in hybrid cats.
He’s comically incapable of certain things, but almost frighteningly intelligent in other respects, and he wears his emotions on his sleeve…er, paw? Maybe there really are secrets to unlock in his DNA.
Cat DNA analysis is in its infancy
On the downside, Basepaws DNA tests don’t come cheap — with two packages priced at $129 and $99 — and, as a review in Wired notes, cat ancestry reports are always going to be more vague than reports on human or dog DNA.
That’s because the practice of dog breeding is a lot older and more common than creating pedigree cat lines, and most cats are not a specific breed. Unlike dogs — whose roles range from hunting and shepherding to assisting the blind and pulling sleds — cats have always had one job, and occasionally two. Kill rodents and snuggle with their humans, cuddly killers that they are.
Historically humans haven’t felt a compelling need to interfere with cat procreation. The last century or so has been an exception, but breeds still represent a small minority of cats.
If you’ve had your cat’s DNA analyzed, we’d love to hear from you about your experience.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to tell a certain Tiger-Manticore-Jaguar about his impressive felid lineage.
Employees of a parks agency in California’s Bay area killed almost four out of every 10 cats that may have strayed close to protected wildlife areas, newly released documents show.
The East Bay Regional Park District (EBRPD), an independent government district that manages parks in Contra Costa and Alameda counties, found itself at the center of a growing controversy earlier this month after admitting its employees were shooting cats they claimed could be a threat to local wildlife.
When more than a dozen cats went missing, several local volunteers who care for colony cats in the area contacted the EBRPD for an explanation. Staff at the EBRPD initially told the caretakers they’d trapped the cats and brought them to local shelters.
But when Cecilia Theis, one of the cat caretakers, contacted staff at nearby rescues and shelters, they said they hadn’t taken in any strays from the EBRPD.
“I immediately stopped what I was doing and searched for them,” Theis wrote in a letter to the EBRPD. “The cats I cared for were never taken to the shelter. [An EBRPD employee] even described the cats.”
It wasn’t until KGO, the local ABC news affiliate, began asking questions that the EBRPD admitted its “conservationists” had shot and killed the cats, claiming the stray felines ventured too close to a protected marshland where endangered bird species migrate for the winter. The marshland is located within the Martin Luther King Jr. Shoreline, a regional park managed by the EBRPD.
News of the district’s cat culling first broke on Dec. 8 when KGO aired a segment on the controversy. The EBRPD told the news agency that it had the right to cull animals that represent a threat to wildlife, per an old policy that local rescues, shelters and colony managers weren’t aware of.
District staff eventually admitted they killed 18 cats in 2020.
Despite press enquiries and public records requests, the district still has not provided details about the cat culling. It’s not clear how the district’s staff determines whether an individual cat represents a threat to local wildlife, whether there are protocols or standards governing the use of lethal force against stray domestic animals, or even what kind of firearms were used.
“I was heartbroken,” Ann Dunn of Oakland Animal Services told KGO. “Yeah, I was heartbroken, just knowing that that there’s no reason that that needed to happen.”
“We certainly didn’t realize they were doing what they were doing, otherwise we would have reached out sooner,” Dunn added.
The EBRPD has not responded to public records requests by KGO. Government agencies in California are required by law to respond to public records requests within 10 days. If they decline to release the requested records, they must provide a compelling reason why the information cannot be shared with the public, per open records laws and government transparency best practices.
Open records laws are arguably the most crucial tool used by media organizations, public interest groups and regular people who want to keep tabs on what their tax dollars are used for and how government offices are run.
Additionally, records provided by the EBRPD are incomplete. A document that is supposed to provide a full accounting of animals killed, trapped and caught by the EBRPD over the past three years is missing details on many of the incidents, and the numbers don’t add up with the district staff’s public statements.
The data was obtained through a public information request by Theis and shared with this blog. Additional public information requests are pending.
DOCUMENTS: PDF of the East Bay Regional Parks District records on cat culling: (Click to view full size)
Between 2018 and mid-December of 2020, the EBRPD dealt with 62 incidents involving cats. The district’s records say its “conservationists” shot and killed 24 of those cats. The remaining 38 were caught or trapped, meaning 39 percent — about four in 10 — of cats identified as potential threats to local wildlife were shot rather than trapped or caught by hand.
However, the documents list only 14 cat shootings in 2020, and only 13 during the time period when officials say they killed 18 strays. The documents list one cat shot in 2018 and eight cats shot in 2019.
Others have noticed the discrepancies as well. A Change.org petition started by Cassidy Schulman has almost 46,000 signatures and includes statements urging the EBRPD to come clean on the controversy.
“How can they claim that they communicate openly and honestly with the public they serve when they (separately and on more than one occasion) told Cecelia and another colony caretaker that they had not killed the cats, but had taken them to shelters in Oakland and Dublin?” Schulman wrote on the petition page. “Most of the colony cats were not only spayed, neutered and vaccinated – they were also microchipped by Fix Our Ferals. Had even a single one arrived alive at any shelter or veterinary hospital, they would have immediately been scanned for chips, and the organization would have been notified.”
In her letter to the EBRPD, Theis complained that a staffer there “even went so far as to pretend she was looking for paperwork” when pressed about what happened to the colony cats. Another employee told Theis the paperwork hadn’t been sent to the shelters because of COVID restrictions. That same employee told Theis four cats “had to be shot” because they were sick.
But those explanations were abandoned by the EBRPD when KGO’s reporters began asking about the fate of the cats. That’s when the staff admitted they’d killed 18 cats, including 13 at the Martin Luther King Jr. Shoreline.
“The Park District appreciates all animal life but is required by law to protect threatened and endangered wildlife living in District parklands,” EBRPD spokesman Dave Mason told SFGate. “It is imperative that the public understands that feral cats are not part of a healthy eco-system and feeding them only serves to put endangered wildlife at risk.”
The EBRPD’s cat-killing policy — and similar efforts by states and municipalities in the US and other countries — are influenced by a series of studies claiming cats are one of the biggest factors leading to the extinction of endangered species of birds and small mammals.
However, the claim that cats are a major contributor to bird extinction is controversial.
“Conservationists and the media often claim that cats are a main contributor to a mass extinction, a catastrophic loss of species due to human activities, like habitat degradation and the killing of wildlife,” a trio of academics wrote this summer. “As an interdisciplinary team of scientists and ethicists studying animals in conservation, we examined this claim and found it wanting.”
There is no direct evidence that felis catus — domestic cats — are a major driver of extinction. A handful of studies that purport to show a connection are not based on observational or even secondary data. Instead, they rely on guesswork and numbers cobbled together from unrelated studies.
Most of the studies use aggregate data taken from earlier studies that did not measure the ecological impact of stray, feral and outdoor cats. For example, one paper used GPS data from an earlier study in which cats had devices affixed to their collars to track their movements.
But that earlier study did not include any information about the cats’ hunting activities, so the authors of the meta-analyses handed out questionnaires to cat owners asking them to rate their cats’ hunting skills on a five or 10-point scale.
The authors took the GPS data and the questionnaire results, calculated an estimated number of prey animals killed per cat annually, then extrapolated that data based on an estimate of more than 100 million stray/feral cats living in the US, even though that number could be off by as much as 80 million.
The result — a claim that cats kill up to 20 billion birds and small mammals in the US each year — is based on so much guesswork and arbitrarily plugged-in numbers that it’s worthless from a practical perspective. Yet that hasn’t stopped credulous press outlets from reporting the numbers as fact, or authorities from using such studies to justify extreme measures against stray and feral cats.
Because lives hang in the balance, and public policies are directly influenced by these studies, cats deserve better than guesswork.
I’d been in Japan for almost two weeks last year when I dialed back to the States on a Facetime call and my mom — who had been taking care of Buddy in my absence — held Bud up to her iPad.
“Someone wants to say hi to you,” she said.
Buddy looked at me, then tentatively blinked with one eye. When I returned the blink, he meowed excitedly, reaching a paw out to the screen.
Aside from making me feel bad about leaving my cat for so long, the exchange between Bud and I seemed to confirm the importance of the slow eye-blink in feline-human communication. It also confirmed that he missed me.
Now there’s a formal study that, for the first time, shows cats are more relaxed and more likely to approach humans — even strangers — if they’re greeted with a slow blink. Cats also like to reciprocate with a slow blink of their own when greeted that way, the study found.
“This study is the first to experimentally investigate the role of slow blinking in cat-human communication,” said Karen McComb, a psychologist from the University of Sussex and co-author of the study. “And it is something you can try yourself with your own cat at home, or with cats you meet in the street. It’s a great way of enhancing the bond you have with cats. Try narrowing your eyes at them as you would in a relaxed smile, followed by closing your eyes for a couple of seconds. You’ll find they respond in the same way themselves and you can start a sort of conversation.”
Why does a slow blink put cats at ease?
Tasmin Humphrey, a Ph.D. student and study co-author, said it’s “possible that slow blinking in cats began as a way to interrupt an unbroken stare, which is potentially threatening in social interaction.”
The researchers say their results could help people communicate more clearly with their cats, and could be useful in shelters, where staff and volunteers are often tasked with trying to calm scared cats.
WASHINGTON — A new study suggesting cats should only be fed once daily is “an attack on our freedoms” and “quite possibly the biggest threat to felinekind since vacuums,” an angry President Buddy said Friday.
“One meal a day! That’s what these supposed ‘scientists’ say,” the president of the Americats said during a White House press briefing. “But could it be they have an agenda?”
The president waited a few moments as aide cats wheeled in a projector, then took reporters through a slide presentation positing a connection between the study’s authors and “nefarious interlopers from the Siamese communist government.”
“University of Guelph? What the hell is a Guelph? It sounds Siamese,” President Buddy said, clicking through the slides.
“The Siamese, led by Chairman Xinnie the Pooh, want to take away your freedoms,” the president said. “They want to tell you that you can’t have a tremendous turkey dinner at food o’clock because you ate eight hours earlier. If it were up to them, none of us would ever have snacks.”
The study involved only eight cats, all four years old or younger, who were fed a large meal once a day for three weeks, then smaller meals four times a day for three weeks. Feeding cats only once a day helped those cats burn more fat and make better use of the protein available to them, the authors said.
Cats fed once daily seemed “more satisfied” and didn’t ask for food as much as they did when they were fed four times a day, according to the study.
“That’s how you know it’s fake news,” President Buddy said. “Who are these supposed cats who are cool with eating once a day? I’ve never met them.”
The president said he would form a new commission, the Yums Studies Council, to “foster studies supporting the view that we need at least four meals a day, and that six or seven would be awesome.”
Sad news, gentlemen: A new study from a team at Colorado State University claims men who love cats are perceived as “less masculine” and are less likely to score dates with single women.
The study surveyed 708 women between the ages of 18 and 24, showing them photos of men photographed alone and with cats. The women were asked whether they’d agree to a date with each man they viewed, and whether they’d consider a long-term relationship with each man.
When those same men were shown with cats, the number of women who said they’d date them dropped by five percent, while the number who said they’d consider a serious relationship dropped by four percent.
The women who took the survey also rated men “on masculinity and personality” according to their appearance in the photos. In addition, the participants answered questions like: “Is he reserved?”, “Is he generally trusting?” and “Is he lazy?”, and asked the women whether they believed the men were outgoing, sociable, kind and considerate.
“Men holding cats were viewed as less masculine; more neurotic, agreeable, and open; and less dateable,” wrote authors Lori Kogan and Shelly Vosche, who titled their paper “Not the Cat’s Meow? The Impact of Posing With Cats on Female Perceptions of Male Dateability.”
The researchers also asked the women if they viewed the men as dominant, gentle, sympathetic, affectionate, warm, decisive and possessed of leadership abilities.
The presence of cats hurt men across the board with the female respondents, who found the cat men “ultimately less datable in the short or long term,” Vosche and Kogan concluded.
That begs the question: Why?
Women want manly men, Vosche and Kogan argue.
“Women prefer men with ‘good genes,’ often defined as more masculine traits,” they wrote. “Clearly, the presence of a cat diminishes that perception.”
The results, they said, indicate “women are more likely to seek masculinity first, then consider other components of the potential mate.”
The findings were “influenced by” whether the women self-identified “as a dog or a cat person,” although it wasn’t clear just how much that impacted their responses.
Vosche and Kogan speculate “that American culture has distinguished ‘cat men’ as less masculine, perhaps creating a cultural preference for ‘dog men’ among most heterosexual women in the studied age group.”
The authors didn’t say why they concentrated on the 18 to 24 range, nor did they speculate on how women in older age cohorts might respond.
We would be remiss, of course, if we didn’t run this by Buddy the Cat. This is his blog, after all.
The outspoken tabby cat dismissed the study as “fake mews” and said it’s well-known that cats are “spectacular wing-men.”
In addition Buddy — who holds doctorates in being a cat and being handsome — argued that, while some cats may indeed make their human male servants seem less masculine, other cats — like Buddy — amplified masculine and desirable traits by several orders of magnitude.
“If a man is pictured with a scowling, flabby Persian, then sure, maybe women are less likely to view that man as masculine,” Buddy said. “But if a man is pictured with a ripped, dashingly handsome cat such as myself, women are 96 percent more likely to want to date him.”
Asked where he arrived at that figure, Buddy replied: “I made it up. But obviously it’s true.”
Feline humor, news and stories about the ongoing adventures of Buddy the Cat.