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Animal Food Allergies May Be More Common Than We Think

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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.

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This Just In
Criminal Gangs Are Smuggling Illegal Rhino Horns as Jewelry
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Valuable jewelry isn't always made from precious metals or gems. Wildlife smugglers in Africa are increasingly evading the law by disguising illegally harvested rhinoceros horns as wearable baubles and trinkets, according to a new study conducted by wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC.

As BBC News reports, TRAFFIC analyzed 456 wildlife seizure records—recorded between 2010 and June 2017—to trace illegal rhino horn trade routes and identify smuggling methods. In a report, the organization noted that criminals have disguised rhino horns in the past using all kinds of creative methods, including covering the parts with aluminum foil, coating them in wax, or smearing them with toothpaste or shampoo to mask the scent of decay. But as recent seizures in South Africa suggest, Chinese trafficking networks within the nation are now concealing the coveted product by shaping horns into beads, disks, bangles, necklaces, and other objects, like bowls and cups. The protrusions are also ground into powder and stored in bags along with horn bits and shavings.

"It's very worrying," Julian Rademeyer, a project leader with TRAFFIC, told BBC News. "Because if someone's walking through the airport wearing a necklace made of rhino horn, who is going to stop them? Police are looking for a piece of horn and whole horns."

Rhino horn is a hot commodity in Asia. The keratin parts have traditionally been ground up and used to make medicines for illnesses like rheumatism or cancer, although there's no scientific evidence that these treatments work. And in recent years, horn objects have become status symbols among wealthy men in countries like Vietnam.

"A large number of people prefer the powder, but there are those who use it for lucky charms,” Melville Saayman, a professor at South Africa's North-West University who studies the rhino horn trade, told ABC News. “So they would like a piece of the horn."

According to TRAFFIC, at least 1249 rhino horns—together weighing more than five tons—were seized globally between 2010 and June 2017. The majority of these rhino horn shipments originated in southern Africa, with the greatest demand coming from Vietnam and China. The product is mostly smuggled by air, but routes change and shift depending on border controls and law enforcement resources.

Conservationists warn that this booming illegal trade has led to a precipitous decline in Africa's rhinoceros population: At least 7100 of the nation's rhinos have been killed over the past decade, according to one estimate, and only around 25,000 remain today. Meanwhile, Save the Rhino International, a UK-based conservation charity, told BBC News that if current poaching trends continue, rhinos could go extinct in the wild within the next 10 years.

[h/t BBC News]

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Big Questions
Do Cats Fart?
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Certain philosophical questions can invade even the most disciplined of minds. Do aliens exist? Can a soul ever be measured? Do cats fart?

While the latter may not have weighed heavily on some of history’s great brains, it’s certainly no less deserving of an answer. And in contrast to existential queries, there’s a pretty definitive response: Yes, they do. We just don’t really hear it.

According to veterinarians who have realized their job sometimes involves answering inane questions about animals passing gas, cats have all the biological hardware necessary for a fart: a gastrointestinal system and an anus. When excess air builds up as a result of gulping breaths or gut bacteria, a pungent cloud will be released from their rear ends. Smell a kitten’s butt sometime and you’ll walk away convinced that cats fart.

The discretion, or lack of audible farts, is probably due to the fact that cats don’t gulp their food like dogs do, leading to less air accumulating in their digestive tract.

So, yes, cats do fart. But they do it with the same grace and stealth they use to approach everything else. Think about that the next time you blame the dog.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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