SciSun: Frenemies   Leave a comment

As best friends go, the domestic dog (Canis familiaris) can be considered at the top of the list. For tens of thousands of years, (long before anyone was texting their BFF’s), dogs have been at mans’ side, seldom wavering in their protection, companionship, and re-assurance. Cats (felis catus), on the other hand, throughout history vary widely in their relationship with man: At times symbols of mystery and accomplices to evil; alternating with consorts among the gods and among some cultures, divinity themselves. Maybe this inequality among house pets is what’s led to the adversarial relationship between cats and dogs; or maybe it’s because dogs, seeking our best interest, know something about the felines that could be harmful to us….and deprive the dogs of their daily meals and soft beds.

The first dog to regularly associate with man wasn’t a dog at all, but a species of wolf that’s today extinct; all the ‘wolf’ of that ancient spices has, through time, been breed and tamed out so the dog of today is only a shadow of his wolfish ancestors (although it’s been said inside every dog is the heart of a wolf. Think of that every time a pocket-dog is yipping and growling at you). When man and dog-wolf first came together, our human ancestors were just learning how to become man: Exploring beyond the familiar and expanding into the unknown. It’s possible that certain types of wolves were struggling also; smaller or more timid species hoping to be un-noticed and left alone by larger, more dangerous animals. Interestingly, the cries of wolf pups, and of human infants, are very similar. Just as in the Roman legend of Romulus and Remus, possibly a wolf came across a lost or orphaned human child and, responding to the cry and rather than attacking, allowed it the comfort and relative safety of a wolf pack. (better than being alone!). Or maybe a human family group found – or took – wolf pups to raise (probably for food. Who knows how many wolves were eaten before it was discovered it might be better to have a dog guarding the cave entrance, rather than filling your stomach). In either case, both species learned it’s better to face the dangers of that prehistoric world together, rather than separately, and over time that’s developed into the relationship we share today.

And recent research has shown that is a unique, and exclusive, relationship where the dog, as a species and certainly in a one-to-one exchange, may know us better than we know ourselves. While they and we are only very distantly genetically related – dogs are far, far removed from any human ancestor – dogs are the only animal (other than other humans) who seem to understand and interpret human facial expressions, distinguishing only from the look on their owners face happy from angry and sad from sorry. While wolves see direct eye contact as a sign of confrontation, dogs seem to seek out eye contact as a way to understand the wants and intentions of the owner and often respond by changing their behavior. It’s been found that the hormone oxytocin, the same chemical naturally produced between mother and child or close friends, increases between a human and dog interaction up to 130% within the animal, and to an amazingly higher higher concentration of 300% within the human. It may be that we need the dogs more than they need us. In the same study wolves, and their owners, showed minimal increase in the hormone. And the wolves refused to look into the humans eyes. Maybe they’re self-conscious their ancestors never became dogs.

“Oh, I've closely examined your litterbox and found it very enjoya....TOTALLY DISGUSTING!”

“Oh, I’ve closely examined your litterbox and found it very enjoya….TOTALLY DISGUSTING!”

The same tests have not yet been administered to cats and their companions (as anyone who has ever lived among cats, you know they reject the concept of ‘ownership’). It’s probable there is an hormonal, chemical relationship between cats who have adopted a home, and the people who accept them. However in three separate studies, over thirty years and three different institutions, it’s been found cats may be driving us crazy. Literally. A significantly higher percentage of individuals with schizophrenia, along with other serious mental illnesses such as attention-deficit disorder, hyperactivity, and even suicidal tendencies, has been diagnosed in homes with cats than in homes cat-free. Over 50% of all people who developed schizophrenia owned a cat in childhood. While this does not directly connect the felines with mental illness, the relationship is hard to overlook and may be based upon the cat parasite Toxoplasma gondii, a devastating and potentially deadly protozoan (a single-celled, microscopic animal) that is also linked to heart and liver inflammation; childhood-development disorders; blindness; brain damage; and can be transmitted to humans through contact with cat feces. Which makes it all the more important to wear rubber gloves when cleaning out that litterbox. And a respirator. Maybe a HAZMAT suit.

It’s estimated almost 25% of the United States population has been exposed to Toxoplasma and while it’s relatively harmless to people with strong immune systems, resulting in little more than flu-like symptoms, continued research in the potential mental-disease connection are continuing. Overall, long term studies have shown humans with a connection to any pet enjoy a longer, happier, and healthier life; pet owners have a 30% lower risk of heart attack, and less incidences of loneliness and depression. Which is just what you’d expect from a best friend. You’d be crazy not to.


Michonne Says: Wolf-dogs aren’t that bad when they’re with men if the men keep them on the wires. When wolf-dogs are running loose they can be dangerous but they’re usually making all types of noise so you always know when they’re around. Cats are never with men. They’re very quiet so you never know where they are. But I think they’re up to no good.

Posted June 28, 2015 by ECOVIA eco-adventure® in SciSun

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