Animal Food Allergies May Be More Common Than We Think

iStock
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.

This Stylish Cardboard Box Is Designed to Be Your Cat’s New Favorite Hideout

Scott Salzman
Scott Salzman

You can buy your cat a fancy bed or perch, but when it comes right down to it, your feline friend is probably going to be more eager to curl up in the cardboard box that it arrived in. So why not just cut out the part where you spend time and money picking out something your cat couldn’t care less about? Just get a really nice box. That’s the premise behind the Purrfect Cat Box, a cardboard box specifically tailored to cats’ needs.

While every cat is finicky in his or her own way, almost all cats love a good cardboard box. (Seriously, it’s science.) Squeezing into a cozy box makes cats feel protected, and, since cats like warmer temperatures, the insulating cardboard also helps keep them at their preferred level of toasty.

Designed by Colorado-based inventor Scott Salzman, the Purrfect Cat Box is made to be just the right size for ultimate kitty comfort. At about the size of a shoebox, it’s big enough for most cats to squeeze into without being cramped—though Salzman doesn’t specify whether it will work for big breeds like Maine Coons—but small enough that they still feel protected inside. It has a small cutout in the front to allow your cat to peek his head outside the box, and, most importantly, to get in a really good chin scratch.

While we humans might find cardboard cars or cardboard Taj Mahal replicas adorable, most cats just want a plain box that makes them feel safe and comfortable. The geometric-patterned Purrfect Cat Box walks the line between utilitarian and chic, making the empty cardboard box in your living room a little bit less of an eyesore.

Plus, it’s cardboard-priced. At $6 a box, it's about what you'd pay to have a regular cardboard box full of anything from Amazon delivered to your door, but it’s still inexpensive enough that if your cat destroys it, it’s easy enough to throw in the recycle bin and get a new one.

Get it on Indiegogo.

Signalman Jack: The Baboon Who Worked for the Railroad—and Never Made a Mistake

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

One day in the 1880s, a peg-legged railway signalman named James Edwin Wide was visiting a buzzing South African market when he witnessed something surreal: A chacma baboon driving an oxcart. Impressed by the primate’s skills, Wide bought him, named him Jack, and made him his pet and personal assistant.

Wide needed the help. Years earlier, he had lost both his legs in a work accident, which made his half-mile commute to the train station extremely difficult for him. So the first thing he trained the primate to do was push him to and from work in a small trolley. Soon, Jack was also helping with household chores, sweeping floors and taking out the trash.

But the signal box is where Jack truly shined. As trains approached the rail switches at the Uitenhage train station, they’d toot their whistle a specific number of times to alert the signalman which tracks to change. By watching his owner, Jack picked up the pattern and started tugging on the levers himself.

Soon, Wide was able to kick back and relax as his furry helper did all of the work switching the rails. According to The Railway Signal, Wide “trained the baboon to such perfection that he was able to sit in his cabin stuffing birds, etc., while the animal, which was chained up outside, pulled all the levers and points.”

As the story goes, one day a posh train passenger staring out the window saw that a baboon, and not a human, was manning the gears and complained to railway authorities. Rather than fire Wide, the railway managers decided to resolve the complaint by testing the baboon’s abilities. They came away astounded.

“Jack knows the signal whistle as well as I do, also every one of the levers,” wrote railway superintendent George B. Howe, who visited the baboon sometime around 1890. “It was very touching to see his fondness for his master. As I drew near they were both sitting on the trolley. The baboon’s arms round his master’s neck, the other stroking Wide’s face.”

Jack was reportedly given an official employment number, and was paid 20 cents a day and half a bottle of beer weekly. Jack passed away in 1890, after developing tuberculosis. He worked the rails for nine years without ever making a mistake—evidence that perfectionism may be more than just a human condition.

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