Animal Food Allergies May Be More Common Than We Think

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iStock

Experts at the European Academy of Allergy and Clinical Immunology (EAACI) say we might be underestimating the prevalence of lactose intolerance and other food allergies among our furry friends. They published their report in the journal Allergy.

Rates of allergies and other autoimmune conditions are climbing in countries around the world. The cause of this increase is not totally clear, although many studies suggest that our sterilized environments and processed diets may be damaging our microbial ecosystems.

But it’s not just our bodies that are itching (or cramping, or wheezing). It’s Fido’s, and Fluffy’s, and Mr. Ed’s, too, says lead author Isabella Pali-Schöll of the University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna.

"Not only humans but basically all mammals are susceptible to developing allergies, as their immune system is capable of producing immunoglobulin E," Pali-Schöll said in a statement.

Immunoglobulin E (IgE) is an antibody released when the body meets an allergen. It’s meant to help keep us safe. The problem is that when we have allergies, our immune systems mistake harmless foods like wheat, eggs, milk, peanuts, or seafood for deadly poisons. The flood of IgE can cause hives, difficulty breathing, nausea, and anaphylaxis.

Most people with allergies are diagnosed because they decide to see a doctor about their symptoms. Animals don’t have that option (and probably wouldn’t go even if they did). The report, which reviews what we know and don’t know about our pets’ food allergies, finds that their reactions can be harder to spot.

“The true prevalence of food allergy in dogs, cats, and horses is unknown,” the authors write. Estimates vary widely depending on how the animal was diagnosed; studies have found that food allergies may affect anywhere between six and 25 percent of dogs, and 0.22 and 22 percent of cats. “In horses,” they write, “there is only anecdotal evidence with few cases documented in peer-reviewed literature.”

Diagnosing a pet’s allergies is not unlike diagnosing a person’s, except that the patient can’t describe his or her own symptoms. Veterinarians often use an elimination diet to determine the root of the pet’s problems.

"During this period of diagnosis, the animal will be fed homemade food or diet food prescribed by a veterinarian. Only then, and if there have not been any dangerous allergic reactions before, can 'normal' food be gradually reintroduced,” Pali-Schöll said.

As with human allergies, the best treatment is often just to avoid problem foods altogether. Most commercial pet foods are made with grains, meat, and soy products, which means this may be harder than it sounds, but a healthier, happier pet is worth it.

Scientists are working to develop medicines that will knock pets’ allergies out altogether. "The first few trial phases have already achieved some success,” Pali-Schöll said. “But it will take several more years for any products to see market launch and standard application.”

The bottom line, the authors concluded, is that we’ve still got a lot more to learn about how—and how commonly—these conditions affect our animal companions.

Could Gigantic Coconut Crabs Have Played a Part in Amelia Earhart’s Mysterious Disappearance? At Least One Scientist Thinks So

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Getty Images

Amelia Earhart's disappearance during her attempt to fly around the world has captivated historians and conspiracy theorists for more than 80 years. One organization is now suggesting that her fate may have been sealed by giant crabs.

The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) believes that Amelia Earhart and navigator Fred Noonan may have landed their plane on Nikumaroro Island when they couldn't find their target, Howland Island, and that Nikumaroro's endemic crustaceans may have played a part in the ensuing mystery.

According to National Geographic, there are several clues supporting TIGHAR's theory. The large reef that hugs Nikumaroro’s coast makes it conducive to emergency aircraft landings. In 1940—just three years after Earhart’s disappearance—British colonists found 13 human bones beneath a ren tree on the island and shipped them to Fiji, where they were lost. The colony's administrator, Gerald Gallagher, sent a telegram back to England positing that it was Earhart’s skeleton. Then, in 2001, researchers uncovered U.S.-made artifacts around the ren tree including a jackknife, a woman’s compact, a zipper, and glass jars. The plot thickened even further in 2017, when four forensic bone-sniffing dogs all indicated that a human had indeed died at the site, though excavators failed to dig up any more evidence.

If those 13 bones beneath the ren tree did belong to the unfortunate castaway, where are the rest of her remains? Tom King, TIGHAR’s former chief archaeologist, thinks that coconut crabs can answer that question.

Nikumaroro is home to thousands of the colossal creatures, which can grow to a terrifying 3 feet across and weigh 9 pounds. They’re sometimes called robber crabs because of their penchant for absconding with objects that smell like food, and they’ll eat practically anything—coconuts, fruit, birds, rodents, other crabs, their own discarded body parts, and carrion.

It’s not unreasonable, then, to think that coconut crabs may have feasted on Earhart’s corpse and then taken her bones home with them. In one experiment to test the theory, TIGHAR researchers deposited a pig carcass on the island and filmed the aftermath. With the help of small strawberry hermit crabs, coconut crabs stripped the pig down to the bone in two weeks. After a year, some of the bones had been dragged 60 feet from the carcass’s original location, and some were never recovered at all.

King believes Earhart’s missing 193 bones could be hidden in the burrows of various coconut crabs. As in the pig experiment, crabs may have scattered some of Earhart’s bones dozens of feet away, but maybe not all of them—after all, the forensic dogs smelled bones near the ren tree that haven’t yet been located. Right now, TIGHAR is working with the Canine Forensics Foundation to further explore the area.

While we wait for more answers, dive into these other theories about Earhart’s disappearance.

[h/t National Geographic]

The Cat Sanctuary That Sits Near the Ancient Roman Site Where Julius Caesar Was Murdered

ClaireLucia/iStock via Getty Images Plus
ClaireLucia/iStock via Getty Images Plus

Cats will sleep anywhere—even in ancient ruins. Located in Rome, Colonia Felina di Torre Argentina is a cat sanctuary on the site where conspirators stabbed Julius Caesar 22 times outside the Theatre of Pompey, on March 15 44 BCE. Centuries later, in 1929, Mussolini excavated the area to reveal four temples that are 20 feet below the street level. Today, it’s the oldest open-air spot in Rome.

Bystanders can view the temple complex known as Largo di Torre Argentina from the fenced-off street, but according to Conde Nast Traveler, after a $1.1 million restoration process, the sanctuary will open to tourists in the second half of 2021. For now, the only living things allowed in the sacred area (area sacra) are feral cats.

According to Colonia’s website, they are "the most famous cat sanctuary in Italy” and also the oldest in Rome. Many of the cats fall into the special needs category: Some are disabled, missing part of a paw, or are blind; the special needs and elderly cats live in a walled-off area. Volunteers—a.k.a. gattare, or cat ladies—take good care of them, and some cats are available for adoption.

Atlas Obscura reports that “since the mid-1990s, the population has grown from about 90 to a peak of 250” cats and notes that the sanctuary has a spay/neuter program. From the street, visitors can watch gatti like the three-legged Pioppo and Lladrò—known as “poisonous kitten” because of how angry he was when he got there—sunbathe and sleep under pillars.

It’s unclear if the cats are respecting Caesar or disrespecting the fallen leader. However, a gift shop is open to visitors, and people can donate money toward the cats and/or volunteer.

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