If You Find Baby Wildlife: Important Tips

It’s very common to find baby wildlife this time of year.  While you may want to spring into action and “rescue” baby squirrels, rabbits, birds, etc. when you don’t see their mom around, wildlife experts will tell you that well-meaning “rescuers” are actually “kidnappers”—taking babies away when their mother is alive and well.

The best advice from the experts is wait and observe…as this neat infographic from Colorado’s Greenwood Wildlife Rehabilitation Center explains:

Here in California, the San Diego Humane Society’s Project Wildlife program has great information on its website about what to do if you find wild critters in your neighborhood that look like they might need rescuing, whether they’re babies, injured, or just made their way into your home.

As a general rule, when you see babies without mom nearby, don’t assume that they are orphans in need of rescuing.  Keep an eye on them if you are not 100% sure that mom is really gone.

Defenders of Wildlife has these great common-sense tips to keep in mind if you find wild babies in your yard:

  • Keep your distance if you want to take a photo, or better yet, skip the photo session!
  • Keep your cats and dogs inside to make sure that the babies stay safe. It’s also a good idea to make sure that children stay away from the babies.
  • It’s OK to place a baby bird back in its nest. If you don’t see the nest you can place it in a small container in the likely tree.  It’s a myth that the mom will reject the baby bird if you touch it.
  • Avoid pruning trees and shrubs during nesting season.
  • Sick or injured babies should only be cared for by specially-trained wildlife rehabilitators.

 

Thyroid Disease in Cats Linked to Chemical Found in Our Homes

One of the more perplexing feline health issues seen by veterinarians is the growing epidemic of hyperthyroidism (overproduction of thyroid hormone) seen in cats in the past few decades…a condition rarely seen by vets as recently as the early 1970s.  A new article in the New York Times sheds some light on this veterinary mystery…and may cause cat owners to take a second look at the presence of a common chemical in our homes.

Hyperthyroidism in cats (also called feline wasting disease) causes serious symptoms like weight loss (combined with increased appetite), restlessness, poor coat quality, rapid heartrate, and increased thirst.  This had been a rare condition in cats, but over the past few decades, cats have been developing thyroid tumors, causing the thyroid gland to secrete large amounts of thyroid hormone into the body.

According to the article, several veterinarians began taking a closer look at feline patients with this wasting disease, starting in the late 70s and early 80s, and discovered that many of the cats had thyroid tumors and high levels of thyroid hormones.  These feline thyroid problems were rare until the late 70s.  The condition continued to grow and spread throughout the U.S. and to other countries into the 1990s.  Today, 10% of older cats will get hyperthyroidism.

An epidemiological study of cats with hyperthyroidism found some common risk factors that proved to be very important clues:  spending most of their time indoors, sleeping on carpets and our bedding materials, eating certain kinds of foods, and living in a home with a gas fireplace.  Researchers have narrowed their focus to one culprit:  a chemical substance that is commonly used as a flame retardant, called polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs).

Starting in the 1970s, this chemical was added to everyday household materials like carpeting, furniture upholstery, and even electronics.  Tiny particles of this substance migrate from the household item into the air…and bodies of our pets.  Cats seem to be especially sensitive to the fact that the structure of PBDEs mimic thyroid hormones and affect bodily functions.

This chemical has largely been removed from the manufacture of household items, although many people still have things containing it in their homes, and it also takes a very long time to degrade.  Feline behavior like sleeping on furniture and, more importantly, grooming, makes cats especially vulnerable to ingesting PBDEs.

As veterinarians continued to look into feline hyperthyroidism and PBDEs, they also found that there are high levels of PBDEs in certain canned cat foods, particularly fish-flavored food.  Cats exposed to high levels of PBDEs in their home environment are at increased risk of developing hyperthyroidism as they age.

The article notes that cats and other pets can often be seen as the “canary in the coal mine” when it comes to discovering how toxic substances in our environment can harm all living creatures, including us humans.  Pets that spend most of their time indoors, exposed to all of the toxins in the home environment, are especially good at telling us when something is wrong.  Testing reveals that virtually all humans have some PBDEs in the body.  Humans are also experiencing more cases of thyroid disease and thyroid cancer.

Want to learn more?  There is a Canary Database that actively tracks environment-related diseases in animals that may also affect humans.

 

Lost German Shepherd Returns Home After 4 Years

A German Shepherd named Molly vanished from her home in North Carolina 4 years ago.  Her owners tried to find her but they were unsuccessful and assumed Molly was gone forever.  Then a dog who looked an awful lot like Molly showed up at their doorstep 4 years later.

She put her head in her owner’s lap but he still couldn’t quite believe it was her.  They took the dog to get scanned for a microchip they had placed in Molly 9 years ago.  Sure enough, it really was Molly!  It’s still a mystery where Molly has been for the past 4 years, but that doesn’t matter much to her grateful owners now that they have her back after assuming she was lost forever.

Watch the heartwarming news video about Molly HERE.

 

Scientists Create a Dog Breed “Family Tree”

At first glance, a new visual representation of the canine family tree looks more like a pinwheel than a maple, but the researchers who recently mapped out a genetic history of over 160 dog breeds (published in the journal Cell Reports) have provided us with fascinating new insights into the evolution of dog breeds and how they are related to each other…and human history.

Click image to enlarge.

A study was conducted on the genetic data of 1,346 dogs representing 161 different breeds from all over the world.  The researchers discovered that while many breeds are interconnected, there are also some interesting outliers that have few connections with other breeds.  The connections between breeds can happen by chance, with human migrants who bring their dogs with them to other parts of the world, or through direct human intervention via cross-breeding.

As an example, the researchers highlight genetic variation among three breeds in the study (the Tibetan Mastiff, Saluki, and Cane Corso).  DNA collected from populations of these dogs in the US was quite different than DNA collected from the breeds in their countries of origin.  For example, American Cane Corso dogs show much more evidence of intermixing with other breeds (Mastiffs and Rottweilers) than those in their country of origin, Italy.

What are some other interesting findings of the study?

The researchers were able to confirm historical accounts of our creation of bull terrier breeds (for the purpose of dog fighting) through genetics.  All bull and terrier crosses can be mapped to the terriers of Ireland during the years 1860-1870, according to the study.

Speculation that the domestication of dogs first occurred in Central and East Asia is confirmed by genetic testing that identifies Asian spitz-type dogs as among the very earliest breeds.

Dogs traveled from Asia to the Americas 10,000 years ago with the first human migrants.  But the original New World dogs, like the distinctive Xoloitzcuintle, eventually encountered the dogs brought to the Americas by later European migrants and extensively interbred with them, especially herding breeds.

The authors point to two breed types—sighthounds and livestock guardian dogs—as examples of how breeds can develop in different geographic regions (the UK and the Mediterranean in this case) and share similar characteristics but not the same genetic material.  So a trait like speed or large size can be developed in isolation, but the resulting dog can be similar to unrelated dogs from other areas.

Interested in learning more?  You can read the full text and see more illustrations HERE.