THE MOST INCREDIBLE THING ABOUT YOUR DOG MAY BE HIS NOSE
Is there anything a dog can't use his nose to figure out? Dogs have long been used to sniff out escaped cons and missing children (think bloodhounds), dinner (think spaniels, retrievers and hounds), and even truffles (think poodles).
But in recent years, trainers have come up with all kinds of new ways to use a dog's extraordinary sense of smell. Here are a few you may know -- and a few more we bet you did not:
-- Drugs. Dogs can be trained to sniff out all kinds of illegal drugs, finding them not only on people but also in massive cargo containers, long-haul trucks and school lockers.
-- Plant matter. Since fresh fruits and vegetables can carry insects and diseases that have the potential to cause great damage to agriculture, dogs are used to detect foodstuffs in the luggage of travelers coming through customs. Dogs are also used to sniff out invasive plants in fields, so they can be eradicated before they take hold.
-- Insects. Termites? No problem. Dogs are also being used to detect the resurgence of bedbugs in big cities.
-- Mold. It's not just the mold that bedevils homeowners, but also the mold that puts the vines at wineries at risk from the spread of disease.
-- Explosives. Meetings of important public officials would be hard to imagine without the diligent work of bomb-sniffing dogs. To take it a bit further, dogs are even being taught to sniff out cellphones that could be used to detonate a bomb.
-- Cows in heat. A lot of money depends on being able to artificially inseminate a cow without wasting time guessing when she's ready. While a bull could tell, he's not always available, as his contribution usually arrives on the scene frozen. A dog can tell when the cow is most fertile, although it's a good bet the dog couldn't care less.
-- Cancer. While cancer detection is still in the trial stage, it's looking pretty promising that dogs can spot a malignancy. Someday your doctor may order up a "lab test" and mean Labrador!
-- Chemicals. Dogs have been known to look for items as varied as mercury and the components of potentially pirated DVDs. They've also been used to detect the presence of fire accelerants in cases where arson is suspected.
While most of us tend to think scent work is the near-exclusive province of a handful of breeds -- bloodhounds, German shepherds and maybe a Labrador retriever here and there -- in fact, a wide range of breeds and mixes is trained to detect various scents. Because of their fine noses and friendly dispositions, beagles are used to work airports by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and any manner of mixed breeds -- lucky dogs pulled from shelters -- have been used for other kinds of detection work.
Because all dogs have keen noses filled with many more scent receptors than we humans have, a dog's future doing nose work relies more on enthusiasm, reliability and trainability than on the common canine ability to tell one scent from another.
Cat's rubbing about
more than affection
Q: Why are cats so eager to rub up against us? -- via Facebook
A: When a cat rubs against a person, it's a sign of friendliness and affection. But rubbing also performs a very important feline function: scent-marking.
Cats want everything in the world to smell as they do, and they spend their lives trying to accomplish that feat. When cats rub against people or furniture, they're depositing sebum from sebaceous glands on their heads to spread their own trademark scent on what -- or whom -- they're bumping.
That's the most "people approved" form of scent-marking in cats, but there are others. When cats claw, they're not only keeping the tips of their claws razor-sharp, but they're also depositing scent from glands in the paws. When they lick themselves -- or you -- they're putting scent-impregnated saliva all over. Smelling right to a cat is so important that they'll even start grooming themselves after being petted, to cover your scent with their own.
The least popular form of scent-marking -- from a human point of view, anyway -- is urine-spraying. Although many cat lovers believe this to be a litter box avoidance issue, in fact it's a completely separate behavior.
A cat squats when urinating in a box. A cat scent-marking with urine stands, backs up to the object he's intending to mark, twitches his raised tail and lets it fly. Although urine-spraying is commonly a problem of unneutered males, cats of both genders -- neutered or not -- have been known to indulge in this messy, smelly habit. -- Dr. Marty Becker
(Do you have a pet question? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
No problem telling
the girls from boys
-- In most species of parrots kept as pets, the only way to tell males from females is with a DNA test or surgical sexing. That's not the case with the Eclectus parrot: Males are a vivid Kelly green, while females sport feathers of bright red and royal blue.
-- Scientists at Cornell University have discovered the mutation that turns a benign intestinal virus into a cat-killer. In identifying the mutation that turns feline enteric coronavirus into feline infectious peritonitis, the research team's work may lead to accurate diagnostics and effective treatments for FIP, which is typically fatal. Led by virologist Dr. Gary Whittaker of the university's College of Veterinary Medicine, the discovery may also lead to effective treatments for related diseases that affect people.
-- Cats are able to squeeze through narrow spaces because they don't have a rigid collarbone to block their way. A cat's whiskers -- super-sensitive, specialized hairs -- spread roughly as wide as a cat does, helping the animal to judge which nooks and crannies are worth trying. But whiskers don't grow longer as a cat gets wider, which can lead some corpulent cats into sticky situations. -- Dr. Marty Becker and Gina Spadafori
ABOUT PET CONNECTION
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet care experts headed by "Good Morning America" and "The Dr. Oz Show" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Gina Spadafori. The two are affiliated with Vetstreet.com and also the authors of many best-selling pet care books. Dr. Becker can also be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker.