Archive for the ‘Cats’ Category

A pair of new studies links childhood cat ownership and infection with the parasite Toxoplasma gondii (T. gondii) with later onset schizophrenia and other mental illness. Researchers published their findings in the online Schizophrenia Research and Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica.

In the Schizophrenia Research study, investigators compared two previous studies that suggested childhood cat ownership could be a possible risk factor for schizophrenia or another serious mental illness with a third, even earlier survey on mental health to see if the finding could be replicated.

“The results were the same,” researchers reported, “suggesting that cat ownership in childhood is significantly more common in families in which the child later becomes seriously mentally ill.”

If accurate, the researchers expect the culprit to be infection with T. gondii, a parasite commonly carried by cats. At this point, though, they are urging others to conduct further studies to clarify the apparent link between cat ownership and schizophrenia.

The Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica study was a meta-analysis of 50 previously published studies to investigate the prevalence of t. gondii infection in people diagnosed with psychiatric disorders compared with healthy controls.

In cases of schizophrenia, researchers said evidence of an association with T. gondii was “overwhelming,” CBS News reported. Specifically, people infected with T. gondii were nearly twice as likely to be diagnosed with schizophrenia as people never infected with the parasite, according to the report.

The meta-analysis also suggested associations between T. gondii infection and bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and addiction. No association, however, was found for major depression.

—Jolynn Tumolo

References

1. Fuller Torrey E, Simmons W, Yolken RH. Is childhood cat ownership a risk factor for schizophrenia later in life? Schizophrenia Research. 2015 April 18. [Epub ahead of print].

2. Sutterland AL, Fond G, Kuin A, et al. Beyond the association. Toxoplasma gondii in schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and addiction: systematic review and meta-analysis. Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica. 2015 April 15. [Epub ahead of print].

http://www.psychcongress.com/article/studies-link-cat-ownership-schizophrenia-other-mental-illness

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National Geographic attached tiny Kittycam cameras to house cats to find out more about their hunting skills when they head outside.

Orlando the ginger cat

The Observer’s panel of stock-picking professionals has been undone in our 2012 investment challenge by a ginger feline called Orlando who spent time paw-ing over the FT.

The Observer portfolio challenge pitted professionals Justin Urquhart Stewart of wealth managers Seven Investment Management, Paul Kavanagh of stockbrokers Killick & Co, and Schroders fund manager Andy Brough against students from John Warner School in Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire – and Orlando.

Each team invested a notional £5,000 in five companies from the FTSE All-Share index at the start of the year. After every three months, they could exchange any stocks, replacing them with others from the index.

By the end of September the professionals had generated £497 of profit compared with £292 managed by Orlando. But an unexpected turnaround in the final quarter has resulted in the cat’s portfolio increasing by an average of 4.2% to end the year at £5,542.60, compared with the professionals’ £5,176.60.

While the professionals used their decades of investment knowledge and traditional stock-picking methods, the cat selected stocks by throwing his favourite toy mouse on a grid of numbers allocated to different companies.

The challenge raised the question of whether the professionals, with their decades of knowledge, could outperform novice students of finance – or whether a random selection of stocks chosen by Orlando could perform just as well as experienced investors.

The result indicates that the “random walk hypothesis”, popularised in economist Burton Malkiel’s book A Random Walk Down Wall Street, is perhaps truer than we thought. Burkiel’s book explores the idea that share prices move completely at random, making stock markets entirely unpredictable.

“It’s time to crack open the Whiskas,” said a good-humoured Justin Urquhart-Stewart. “The cat’s got talent.” To celebrate his success, Orlando’s owner, former Cash editor Jill Insley, has bought him a red collar in the style of Urquhart-Stewart’s omnipresent red braces.

All but one of Orlando’s stocks (Morrisons) rose during the last three months of the year, including specialist plastics and foam company Filtrona, which Orlando had hastily swapped for under-performing Scottish American Investment Trust in September.

By contrast, the professionals refused to swap any stocks at the end of the third quarter and paid the price. British Gas fell by 19% and Imagination Technologies dropped by 16.8%, dragging their portfolio down by an average 7.1%.

The students may have finished last, but displayed the best performance of all the teams in the final quarter, their portfolio increasing by an average 5.4%, including a fantastic performance of 17.4% for property company Savills.

Their trading decisions were key: at the end of the final quarter they swapped Mulberry for Aviva and Betfair for Tesco. In the final quarter, Aviva’s share price increased by 17% (compared with a rise of only 6.6% for Mulberry during that time) and Tesco rose by 1.2% (far superior to a fall in the Betfair share price of 5.4%).

Nigel Cook, deputy headteacher at John Hoddesdon School, said: “The mistakes we made earlier in the year were based on selecting companies in risky areas. But while our final position was disappointing, we are happy with our progress in terms of the ground we gained at the end and how our stock-picking skills have improved.”

A spokeswoman for Orlando said he was not available to give an interview because of a claws in his contract.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/money/2013/jan/13/investments-stock-picking

20well-cat-tmagArticle

Nobody knows how it happened: an indoor housecat who got lost on a family excursion managing, after two months and about 200 miles, to return to her hometown.

Even scientists are baffled by how Holly, a 4-year-old tortoiseshell who in early November became separated from Jacob and Bonnie Richter at an R.V. rally in Daytona Beach, Fla., appeared on New Year’s Eve — staggering, weak and emaciated — in a backyard about a mile from the Richters’ house in West Palm Beach.

“Are you sure it’s the same cat?” wondered John Bradshaw, director of the University of Bristol’s Anthrozoology Institute. In other cases, he has suspected, “the cats are just strays, and the people have got kind of a mental justification for expecting it to be the same cat.”

But Holly not only had distinctive black-and-brown harlequin patterns on her fur, but also an implanted microchip to identify her.

“I really believe these stories, but they’re just hard to explain,” said Marc Bekoff, a behavioral ecologist at the University of Colorado. “Maybe being street-smart, maybe reading animal cues, maybe being able to read cars, maybe being a good hunter. I have no data for this.”

There is, in fact, little scientific dogma on cat navigation. Migratory animals like birds, turtles and insects have been studied more closely, and use magnetic fields, olfactory cues, or orientation by the sun.

Scientists say it is more common, although still rare, to hear of dogs returning home, perhaps suggesting, Dr. Bradshaw said, that they have inherited wolves’ ability to navigate using magnetic clues. But it’s also possible that dogs get taken on more family trips, and that lost dogs are more easily noticed or helped by people along the way.

Cats navigate well around familiar landscapes, memorizing locations by sight and smell, and easily figuring out shortcuts, Dr. Bradshaw said.

Strange, faraway locations would seem problematic, although he and Patrick Bateson, a behavioral biologist at Cambridge University, say that cats can sense smells across long distances. “Let’s say they associate the smell of pine with wind coming from the north, so they move in a southerly direction,” Dr. Bateson said.

Peter Borchelt, a New York animal behaviorist, wondered if Holly followed the Florida coast by sight or sound, tracking Interstate 95 and deciding to “keep that to the right and keep the ocean to the left.”

But, he said, “nobody’s going to do an experiment and take a bunch of cats in different directions and see which ones get home.”

The closest, said Roger Tabor, a British cat biologist, may have been a 1954 study in Germany which cats placed in a covered circular maze with exits every 15 degrees most often exited in the direction of their homes, but more reliably if their homes were less than five kilometers away.

New research by the National Geographic and University of Georgia’s Kitty Cams Project, using video footage from 55 pet cats wearing video cameras on their collars, suggests cat behavior is exceedingly complex.

For example, the Kitty Cams study found that four of the cats were two-timing their owners, visiting other homes for food and affection. Not every cat, it seems, shares Holly’s loyalty.

KittyCams also showed most of the cats engaging in risky behavior, including crossing roads and “eating and drinking substances away from home,” risks Holly undoubtedly experienced and seems lucky to have survived.

But there have been other cats who made unexpected comebacks.

“It’s actually happened to me,” said Jackson Galaxy, a cat behaviorist who hosts “My Cat From Hell” on Animal Planet. While living in Boulder, Colo., he moved across town, whereupon his indoor cat, Rabbi, fled and appeared 10 days later at the previous house, “walking five miles through an area he had never been before,” Mr. Galaxy said.

Professor Tabor cited longer-distance reports he considered credible: Murka, a tortoiseshell in Russia, traveling about 325 miles home to Moscow from her owner’s mother’s house in Voronezh in 1989; Ninja, who returned to Farmington, Utah, in 1997, a year after her family moved from there to Mill Creek, Wash.; and Howie, an indoor Persian cat in Australia who in 1978 ran away from relatives his vacationing family left him with and eventually traveled 1,000 miles to his family’s home.

Professor Tabor also said a Siamese in the English village of Black Notley repeatedly hopped a train, disembarked at White Notley, and walked several miles back to Black Notley.

Still, explaining such journeys is not black and white.

In the Florida case, one glimpse through the factual fog comes on the little cat’s feet. While Dr. Bradshaw speculated Holly might have gotten a lift, perhaps sneaking under the hood of a truck heading down I-95, her paws suggest she was not driven all the way, nor did Holly go lightly.

“Her pads on her feet were bleeding,” Ms. Richter said. “Her claws are worn weird. The front ones are really sharp, the back ones worn down to nothing.”

Scientists say that is consistent with a long walk, since back feet provide propulsion, while front claws engage in activities like tearing. The Richters also said Holly had gone from 13.5 to 7 pounds.

Holly hardly seemed an adventurous wanderer, though her background might have given her a genetic advantage. Her mother was a feral cat roaming the Richters’ mobile home park, and Holly was born inside somebody’s air-conditioner, Ms. Richter said. When, at about six weeks old, Holly padded into their carport and jumped into the lap of Mr. Richter’s mother, there were “scars on her belly from when the air conditioner was turned on,” Ms. Richter said.

Scientists say that such early experience was too brief to explain how Holly might have been comfortable in the wild — after all, she spent most of her life as an indoor cat, except for occasionally running outside to chase lizards. But it might imply innate personality traits like nimbleness or toughness.

“You’ve got these real variations in temperament,” Dr. Bekoff said. “Fish can by shy or bold; there seem to be shy and bold spiders. This cat, it could be she has the personality of a survivor.”

He said being an indoor cat would not extinguish survivalist behaviors, like hunting mice or being aware of the sun’s orientation.

The Richters — Bonnie, 63, a retired nurse, and Jacob, 70, a retired airline mechanics’ supervisor and accomplished bowler — began traveling with Holly only last year, and she easily tolerated a hotel, a cabin or the R.V.

But during the Good Sam R.V. Rally in Daytona, when they were camping near the speedway with 3,000 other motor homes, Holly bolted when Ms. Richter’s mother opened the door one night. Fireworks the next day may have further spooked her, and, after searching for days, alerting animal agencies and posting fliers, the Richters returned home catless.

Two weeks later, an animal rescue worker called the Richters to say a cat resembling Holly had been spotted eating behind the Daytona franchise of Hooters, where employees put out food for feral cats.

Then, on New Year’s Eve, Barb Mazzola, a 52-year-old university executive assistant, noticed a cat “barely standing” in her backyard in West Palm Beach, struggling even to meow. Over six days, Ms. Mazzola and her children cared for the cat, putting out food, including special milk for cats, and eventually the cat came inside.

They named her Cosette after the orphan in Les Misérables, and took her to a veterinarian, Dr. Sara Beg at Paws2Help. Dr. Beg said the cat was underweight and dehydrated, had “back claws and nail beds worn down, probably from all that walking on pavement,” but was “bright and alert” and had no parasites, heartworm or viruses. “She was hesitant and scared around people she didn’t know, so I don’t think she went up to people and got a lift,” Dr. Beg said. “I think she made the journey on her own.”

At Paws2Help, Ms. Mazzola said, “I almost didn’t want to ask, because I wanted to keep her, but I said, ‘Just check and make sure she doesn’t have a microchip.’” When told the cat did, “I just cried.”

The Richters cried, too upon seeing Holly, who instantly relaxed when placed on Mr. Richter’s shoulder. Re-entry is proceeding well, but the mystery persists.

“We haven’t the slightest idea how they do this,” Mr. Galaxy said. “Anybody who says they do is lying, and, if you find it, please God, tell me what it is.”

http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/01/19/one-cats-incredible-journey/?src=me&ref=general

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After so many tragic tales of waste-filled homes, animal deaths and human suffering on A&E’s “Hoarders,” it’s hard to imagine finding anything on the show truly shocking anymore. Well, it was hard to imagine that before Monday night’s episode, which featured a woman whose cat obsession went beyond anything viewers of the docu-series had seen before.

As the episode opened, hoarder Terry explained what inspired her feline fascination.

“I really feel like the reason I collect cats is that I have this feeling in me that I’m helping save something,” she said.

A glance around her living space soon proved that Terry wasn’t saving cats or herself the way she was living. Floors and counters were covered in excrement and sick animals crawled over the scene.

“The complete number is probably about 50 cats,” she guessed.

But that low-estimate only included the living cats, and the dead ones outnumbered them by far.

“I probably have, in frozen and refrigerated cats, between 75 and 100 — if not more,” Terry said.

Terry had hoped to have them all cremated, but finances didn’t allow for that, so over time, she “saved” them all in the appliance, which wasn’t up to the task of preserving the cats. In fact, once the cleanup was underway, the “Hoarders” crew discovered that many of the cats had liquefied.

The removal process was difficult for Terry who broke down many times and finally seemed to see her hoarding problem as others viewed it.

“I can’t even say anymore that I love animals ’cause I treated them so horrible,” she said through tears.

By the end of the show, most of the mess and all of the cats were out of the home.

If you want to see the episode for yourself — and be forewarned, the feline footage gets far more graphic than the photos above — it’s available to view online at the A&E website.

http://theclicker.today.com/_news/2012/12/04/15676370-hoarders-horror-woman-has-nearly-100-dead-cats-in-refrigerator?lite

Scientists say they’ve found the gene that sets the common tabby pattern – stripes or blotches.

It’s one of several genes that collaborate to create the distinctive design of a cat’s coat, and it’s the first of the pattern genes to be identified.

Cats with narrow stripes, the so-called “mackerel” pattern, have a working copy of the gene. But if a mutation turns the gene off, the cat ends up with the blotchy “classic” pattern, researchers reported online last week in the journal Science.

It’s called “classic” because “cat lovers really like the blotched pattern,” said one of the authors, Greg Barsh. He works at both Stanford University and the HudsonAlpha Institute of Biotechnology in Huntsville, Ala.

The research team, which included scientists from the National Cancer Institute, examined DNA from wild cats in California to identify the gene.

They also found that a mutation in the same gene produces the blotches and stripes of the rare “king” cheetah, rather than the spots most cheetahs have.

Leslie Lyons, a cat geneticist who studies coat color traits at the University of California, Davis, but didn’t participate in the new work, agreed that the research has identified the tabby’s stripes-versus-blotches gene. She noted that mysteries remain, such as just what genetic machinery gives a tabby spots.

Thanks to Dr. Mark for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.