Tag: Dogs

Study: Cat Brains Have Gotten Smaller

Cats have gotten a good deal out of domestication: They’re safer, warmer and protected from almost all threats. They know where their next meal is coming from, and won’t hesitate to meow our ears off if dinner is late.

But one tradeoff doesn’t immediately appear beneficial: Domestic cats have smaller brains than the species they’ve evolved from, African and Eurasian wildcats.

“[D]omestic cats indeed, have smaller cranial volumes (implying smaller brains) relative to both European wildcats (Felis silvestris) and the wild ancestors of domestic cats, the African wildcats (Felis lybica),” the research team wrote.

Wild cats have the largest brains on average, followed by wild-domestic hybrids and domestic cats with the smallest brains of the three.

That’s another strong indicator that domestication is the determining factor in feline brain size, although the researchers point out that they are comparing domestic cats to current wildcats, and not the ancient population of wildcats from which domestic cats evolved beginning some 10,000 years ago with the dawn of agriculture and permanent human settlements.

Wildcats with friendlier and bolder dispositions were the first to approach human settlements, drawn by the rodents who were themselves feasting on human grain supplies. Humans realized that the cats were taking care of their rodent problems but weren’t interested in eating the grain, and a beautiful partnership was born.

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“I have a yuge, yuge brain, the best brain. It’s tremendous.”

Smaller brains do not necessarily correlate to lower intelligence, however, and cats aren’t the only species whose brains became smaller after they were domesticated. Dog brains are about 30 percent smaller than the brains of gray wolves, but dogs have adapted spectacularly to living with humans and reading human behavioral cues.

“The dog is successful not because of the size of its whole brain per se, but because domestication has led to subtle brain changes with a stunning result: the ability to live in the world of people,” a Smithsonian Magazine article points out, noting dogs are also adept at getting people to do all sorts of things for them.

If brain size alone resulted in higher levels of intelligence, whales and elephants would rule the Earth.

Instead “the complexity of cellular and molecular organization of neural connections, or synapses, is what truly determines a brain’s computational capacity,” neuroscientist Kendra Lechtenberg wrote.

The researchers weren’t interested in drawing any major conclusions about feline cognition with the study. They’re more interested in the phenomena of “domestication syndrome,” which causes changes both physical (floppy ears, coat color variation, shorter muzzles) and behavioral. (Less aggression, playfulness.)

The jury’s still out on why exactly those traits emerge, but some studies have attributed it to differences in embryonic development. Unlike many other domestic animals, cats don’t look much different than their wild felis lybica and felis sylvestris counterparts.

The cat study was published on Jan. 26 to Royal Science Open Science, a peer-reviewed open-access journal. The research team was comprised of biologists from the University of Vienna and data curators from the National Museum of Scotland.

Do You Use ‘Baby Talk’ With Your Cat?

A few years ago when Bud was a bit more of a daredevil than he is now, I was sitting on my balcony on a warm summer night when the little dumbass squeezed through the railing bars and did a circuit of the balcony outside the rail — with only three or four inches of ledge between him and a potentially brutal fall onto the concrete below.

“Bud!” I said, feeling my own fear of heights bubble up as I watched him take his precarious stroll.

He ignored me.

“Bud!” I said again, loud enough to make sure he heard me but not so loud as to startle him and cause him to fall. “Bud! I’m talking to you! Get back over here right now!”

He paid me no mind. I stood up, put my hands on the railing and looked down at him.

“Buddy, get back here now! I’m not gonna say it again!”

At that point I realized there was a couple about my age, probably returning from the bars, drunk-walking toward the back door of the building and watching me have a furious one-sided discussion with my cat. They seemed to think it was hilarious, not only because I was speaking to my cat, but also because I was talking to the little stinker like he was a person.

I don’t baby talk with Buddy, and I’ve noticed my brother doesn’t baby talk his dog, Cosmo.

Sure I’ll speak to Bud warmly and encourage him when he’s clearly frightened of something. (Which is very rare, of course, because he’s such a fearless and brave tiger!) But it isn’t baby talk, and 95 percent of the time I speak to little man as if he’s, well, a little man.

It turns out I may be “doing it wrong,” at least according to some veterinarians and animal behaviorists who say baby talk is a good way to communicate with pets. Animal behaviorists call it “pet-directed speech,” and although the studies so far have been limited, they seem to suggest cats (and dogs) are more likely to respond to it than typical speech in normal registers and cadences. (A study published in the journal Animal Cognition earlier this year found horses respond well to “baby talk” too.)

Despite that, I just can’t bring myself to do it. There are certain standards we must uphold in this home, and besides, I’m pretty sure Bud would paw-smack me if one day I scratched his head and started saying “Who’s a good widdle boy? Is that you? Are you the good widdle boy? Yes you are! Yes you — OUCH! What the hell, dude? Why’d you do that?”

Do you “baby talk” to your pets?

person wearing apron holding orange tabby cat
“Who’s a cute widdle fluffy wuffy?” Credit: Tima Miroshnichenko/Pexels

Iran’s Theocrats Want To Ban Cats, Dogs and Other Pets

The Prophet Muhammad heard the afternoon call to prayer one day and was about to rise when he realized his favorite cat, Muezza, was sleeping on his sleeve.

Rather than wake the slumbering kitty, Muhammad cut off his sleeve, stroked her fur and headed off to pray.

That story — and accounts of Muezza regularly napping in the lap of Islam’s most sacred prophet as he preached to followers — make Muezza one of the most well-known felines in human history, and form the basis for Islamic teaching regarding cats. Muslims consider cats the cleanest of animals, worthy companions and, thanks to the way the Prophet Muhammad treated Muezza and his other cats during his life, animals worthy of respect and the protection of humans.

Why, then, do hardline Islamic lawmakers in Iran want to ban the keeping of cats as pets, along with other animals?

Animal lovers in the country of 84 million are alarmed after conservative lawmakers introduced a bill, titled “Protection of the Public’s Rights Against Animals,” that would ban people from “importing, raising, assisting in the breeding of, breeding, buying or selling, transporting, driving or walking, and keeping in the home wild, exotic, harmful and dangerous animals.”

The list of “dangerous animals” includes creatures domestic and wild including “crocodiles, turtles, snakes, lizards, cats, mice, rabbits, dogs and other unclean animals as well as monkeys,” according to Agence France Presse.

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A cat loafs in Saudi Arabia’s Masjid al-Haram in Mecca, just a few hundred feet from the Kabah, the most sacred site in Islam. The fact that cats are allowed in such close proximity to the site reflects the Prophet Muhammad’s devotion to felines. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Penalties for violating the ban would be steep:

“Offenders would risk a fine equivalent to 10 to 30 times the ‘minimum monthly working wage’ of about $98 or 87 euros and the ‘confiscation’ of the animal,” the report says. If passed, the law would also require landlords to ban pets on their properties.

The proposal has caused an outcry in Iran, where keeping pets has become more popular in recent years, especially because it’s not just one or two politicians introducing a long-shot piece of legislation: At least 75 of Iran’s 290 legislative representatives have already signaled support for the bill.

Officially, Iranian lawmakers who support the pet ban say they’re obligated to act because pets are “dangerous.” Mohammad-Taghi Naghdali, an Iranian MP, told Persian-language news site Didban-e Iran that dogs in particular can “cause nuisance and harm” to people, citing a recent incident in which a dog killed a child in a Tehran public park.

But observers say the real reasons have to do with the Iranian government’s interpretation of Islamic teaching, as well as fear that keeping pets is a western, liberal (in the classic sense) behavior that poses a danger to the Islamic theocracy.

In 2019, dog walking was officially banned in Tehran, and authorities warned residents to keep their pets out of public spaces.

“Police have received permission from the judiciary branch to crack down on people walking dogs in Tehran,” Tehran Police Chief Hossein Rahimi said in late 2019. “Carrying dogs in cars is also banned and if a dog is seen inside the car, police will confront the owner of the dog.”

In 2016, media reports said “officials were showing up at the homes of pet dog owners claiming that they were from a veterinary unit and these dogs needed vaccinations. The dogs were taken away, ostensibly for the purpose of vaccination and were never seen again.”

Dogs are considered “ritually unclean” according to Islamic hadiths, and some majority-Muslim countries, especially theocracies like Saudi Arabia, ban dog ownership completely with very few exceptions, such as seeing eye dogs for the blind.

By contrast, cats are widely tolerated and even welcomed into holy sites in most Islamic countries. In Saudi Arabia it’s not uncommon to see cats lounging on the grounds of mosques, while Turkey is famously hospitable to felines, with Istanbul earning an international reputation for its well-treated and ubiquitous street cats. In Turkey, cats are welcome in mosques, shops and homes, and tiny shelters for strays can be found almost everywhere.

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The late Gli, the most famous feline resident of the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul.

The proposed law has not gone over well with the people of Iran, who are often at odds with the country’s theocratic leaders on almost every aspect of social life.

“I have renamed my cat ‘Criminal’ since I heard this proposed law,” one Iranian wrote on Twitter, while journalist Yeganeh Khodami tweeted: “How many times have cats sought to devour you so that you consider them wild, harmful and dangerous?”

A common refrain among animal lovers is that the country’s leadership is once again focusing on something ultimately unimportant and harmful to Iranians instead of working to fix real problems like a depressed economy, widespread droughts and nationwide belt-tightening caused by international sanctions.

“Why should I imprison him at home?” a Tehran woman walking a dog told Agence France-Presse. “The MPs probably assume that young couples today don’t have children because they have a pet dog, but that’s stupid. It’s not the dogs but the economic conditions that don’t allow us to have children.”

Happy Thanksturkey from Buddy the Cat!

Dear Readers,

Today is a most wonderful day! Sadly I am NOT invited to my family’s Thanksgiving festivities, since there are dogs there, and Big Buddy’s relatives are worried that I would intimidate those canine snowflakes with my sleek feline musculature and imposing presence. Also, one of them claims to be “allergic” to me, which I find curious. What is this person “allergic” to, charm, wit and handsomeness?

Despite my unfair exile during the day, I try to look on the bright side, because I know Big Buddy will come home with thick slices of delicious home-cooked turkey, just for me! Then he cuts it into little Buddy-size pieces! Then I eat it!

Big Buddy, as you may know, stopped eating meat in 2015 not long after adopting me, because he saw how I wear my emotions on my paw and realized I’m, like, super duper smart. So he stopped eating animals, even though sometimes he threatens to sell me to Szechuan Garden for $15 when I don’t let him sleep. So there’s never any meat in the house besides my food. But on Thanksturkey Day I get more turkey than at any other time of year, and it’s glorious, fresh turkey! Mmmmmm mmmmm!

I love turkey. Have I told you guys that before?

roasted turkey on wooden tray
Credit: Monstera/Pexels

Anyway, I hope all of you enjoy your Turkey Days with your own families, and I hope you aren’t cruel like Big Buddy’s extended family and exclude your cats from the festivities in favor of dogs. Although to be honest it’s not that bad, because I get to nap all day and dream of turkey, and then I wake up to turkey.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Your friend,

Buddy the Cat

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Going To Asia? Leave Your Pets At Home, Plus: Aussie Former Soldier Pleads In Shelter Assault

The coronavirus pandemic hasn’t been kind to pets, but the virus itself has done little damage to animals compared to the actions of scared and misinformed people.

After finally admitting it had a human-to-human transmissible virus on its hands — months after it knew privately about the virus outbreak — the Chinese government waged a war on pets in the first few weeks of 2020 as the world watched in horror.

People abandoned pets en masse in empty homes and apartments, while government authorities shot dogs and cats on sight to prevent the spread of the virus even though there was no evidence they could be infected, much less pass the virus to people. As paranoia and misinformation spread, people even resorted to clubbing pets to death on the streets.

Now we know cats can get the virus, but there’s still no evidence they can transmit it to humans, which makes the practice of killing COVID-infected pets even more infuriating in addition to pointless.

The latest incident is from Vietnam, where authorities killed 15 dogs and a cat belonging to a local bricklayer who returned to his home province after work dried up. Authorities seized his pets and “destroyed them” last week in what a government official is now calling a mistake prompted by “COVID prevention pressure and local coercion.”

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Pham Minh Hung, 49, with his dogs as he returned home to Ca Mau, Vietnam. Credit: Pham Minh Hung

That story follows an incident in the Chinese city of Harbin, where three cats were euthanized in late September — over the owner’s objections — by authorities who said they were worried the pets would “re-infect” their owners.

Pet ownership and respect for animals among the public has increased in countries like China and Vietnam in recent years, prompted by an increase in disposable income and the influence of the internet. Both cases caused widespread backlash in their respective countries, with users defying laws prohibiting criticism of government to complain about the pet killings.

“It doesn’t seem very realistic that the cats would contaminate the environment so badly that they would be a risk for their owner to re-contract COVID,” Rachael Tarlinton, a virology professor at the UK’s University of Nottingham, told Reuters.

He REALLY Wanted His Cat Back

Meanwhile in Australia, a former soldier has pleaded guilty to reduced charges after he “stormed” a pet shelter in Melbourne’s suburbs to recover his cat in January.

Prosecutors say 45-year-old Tony Wittman was outfitted with a fake but real-looking rifle and full military gear when he went to the Lost Dog’s Home in Cranbourne West late on a January night, holding a female employee at gunpoint while demanding to know where the cats were kept.

Wittman had called the shelter 10 minutes before it closed earlier that night, Australian media reported at the time, and was told the shelter had recovered his cat, but that he’d have to wait until morning to claim her.

Wittman, who threatened to shoot the employee if she didn’t comply with his demands, told the court he suffers from PTSD and felt he needed to retrieve the lost feline immediately because he “loves his cat and relies on his cat for support.”

Wittman got spooked and left the shelter before taking his cat. He dumped his tactical vest and other gear in bushes not far from the shelter.

The incident was captured on the shelter’s security cameras, and Wittman was caught when he dropped by the following morning to pick up his cat as if nothing had happened.

“The victim and her work colleagues are absolutely traumatised by what’s happened,” a detective told the court in an earlier hearing. “He’s aware of their workplace. He lives close by. He has shown a complete disregard for the safety and wellbeing of the general public.”

Wittman’s lawyers were able to negotiate a deal with prosecutors in exchange for a guilty plea to lesser charges