Nice video on cat domestication from June from SciAm

Science Caturday: Kitty Biome, DIY Guide

Dr. Jennifer Gardy provided a step-by-step guide to making science out of cat poop on Twitter, which was subsequently catalogued by our own Michele Banks, guru of Science Cats and Science Scarves (yes, this is a subtle reference to Dr. Gardy wearing an Artologica scarf in the photo series – now rendered unsubtler).


Filed under: Science Caturday Tagged: cats, Jennifer Gardy, Kitty Biome, Michele Banks, storify

Science Cat Scientific Name

catusphilosophusOur Chief Cat Wrangler is busy sharing her art with the world. So, today, you are stuck with me and a joke that occured to me in the middle of the night. Yes, I wrtie jokes about latinized scientific names for Science Cats.

Filed under: Science Caturday Tagged: cats, felis catus

Science Caturday: Mysteries of the Sofa

For once, you should listen to the dog.


Filed under: Science Caturday Tagged: cats, dogs, science caturday, sofa

Guest post from Student Alex Martin on Kittybiome & Animal Shelters

We are nearing the end of our Kitty Kickstarter to fund research on the microbiome of cats (only three days left).  We have received some requests to learn more about our work with animal shelters. Here is a blog post by Alex Martin, a UC Berkeley junior who is working with us to study shelter cats in Berkeley.

The Berkeley Animal Shelter takes in all cats from within Berkeley city limits. Thus, cats who once varied markedly with regards to diet and home environment come to live under a fairly uniform set of conditions. It typically houses between fifteen and forty cats, but has held as many as seventy during the peak of breeding season. Recently we have begun collecting samples from cats at the Berkeley shelter in order to better understand their gut microbiomes.

A major dichotomy in the shelter cat population is the one separating house cats from feral cats. Both are considered domestic cats, members of the species Felis catus. If a kitten during its first few months of life is not exposed to humans, it develops behaviors to facilitate surviving in the wild, and grows up to become a feral cat. Some see feral cats as a nuisance, but the animals also tend to live difficult lives, enduring food shortages and a lack of medical care. Thus, a relatively new effort referred to as “trap-neuter-return”(TNR) aims to spay and neuter feral cats to slowly and humanely diminish the size and number of feral cat colonies. Differences in the gut microbiomes of feral cats versus their tamer counterparts is perhaps expected, as the two groups have vastly different diets and levels of environmental exposure. However, these differences have yet to be characterized.

In addition to the differences between feral and house cats, a small but important FIV(Feline Immunodeficiency Virus) population can potentially serve as an interesting point of comparison. Much like Human Immunodeficiency Virus, FIV attacks the immune system of infected individuals, making them markedly more susceptible to other infections. We think that this virus will affect the microbiome of FIV-positive cats in measurable ways. By identifying any differences, we will gain a better understanding of FIV as a whole and will hopefully be better positioned to one day develop more effective methods of treatment.

Geronimo is one Berkeley shelter cat whose gut microbiome will be analyzed. He was picked up as a stray just a few blocks from the shelter, and is three years old. Geronimo is exceptionally friendly, and loves playing with his wand toy and hiding in his cat tree to nap. He gets along well with other cats and was even introduced to a rabbit without incident. After spending about two weeks in the shelter, Geronimo was adopted into a loving home.

Holly Ganz @hollyhganz on Why She Started the @Kittybiome Cat Microbiome Project

The Story Behind the Launch of the Kittybiome Cat Microbiome Project

Guest Post by Holly Ganz (Project Scientist in the Eisen Lab)

Recently a group of us launched a Kitty Kickstarter campaign where we offer to sequence the bacteria in your cat’s gut microbiome as part of a long term research project to learn more about how microbes may affect cat health, behavior and evolutionary history (and vice-versa). Jonathan has written about the origins story here. This project complements our interests in the microbiology of animal shelters and the evolution of bacterial communities in the Felidae. In addition, we thought that other people like cats too and might be interested in learning more about the hidden life of their cats. We have had an overwhelming response that vastly exceeded our expectations (and we are still welcoming more kitty “pawticipants”).

We have been asked “Why cats?” Personally I think it’s hard not to be fanatical about cats. The diversity of cats is astonishing and most people agree that cheetahs, leopards, lions and tigers are amazing. And when you see a lion in the wild for the first time, it’s hard not to see some of your house cat in there, in the way that it walks, naps, yawns, and even pounces (but not so much the roar). Also it’s really interesting that domestic cats have been associated with people for something like 10,000 years. Several years ago I decided to take what I learned from studying microbial ecology in soil (and how it might affect the transmission of anthrax in zebras) and apply it towards understanding the microbial ecology of the animals themselves. I believe that research in the microbiome of cats (and humans) will eventually lead to useful interventions.

In our kittybiome project, we aim to sequence the gut microbiome of 1,000 cats and by doing so begin to capture the variation in gut bacteria in different populations of cats (both domestic and wild). In domestic cats, we will compare cats living in houses with cats living in shelters and feral cats. We are starting to compare cats with different health conditions and have had some cats with diabetes and IBD join the project. This aspect of the project is really important because these conditions are fairly common and there is a lot of room for improvement in how cats suffering from IBD in particular are treated.

We are also collaborating with Adrian Tordiffe at the University of Pretoria, South Africa and the Africat Foundation on a study on how the diet of captive cheetahs might affect the gut microbiome. Here we hypothesize that the unnatural diet of captive cheetahs produces changes in the gut microbiota that may result in some of chronic diseases common in captive cheetahs.

In addition to being fanatical about cats and passionate about poop, I am especially interested in how social behavior affects the composition and function of microbial communities in cats (in their poop and their anal glands!). (My life was changed by reading about hyena scent gland bacteria.) The evolution of the interaction between cats and their symbiotic scent gland bacteria fascinates me. In the Serengeti, residential territorial cheetahs have been observed scent marking on an hourly basis. Domestic cats are really interesting because feral cats form social colonies. The only other cats that are social are lions (who form prides) and cheetahs (who form coalitions). We are comparing these cats with some social structure with some of their close relatives who are solitary (black-footed cats, leopards, and pumas).

With claws bared, a kitten attacks its own mirrored reflection,…

With claws bared, a kitten attacks its own mirrored reflection, 1964. Photograph by Walter Chandoha, National Geographic Creative

Science Caturday: Self-Cleaning


A team of scientists from University College London report that they have developed a tough new self-cleaning paint. In a paper published in this week’s issue of Science, the researchers say the paint, made from coated titanium dioxide nanoparticles, is not only extremely repellent to water, but won’t get ruined even if it’s scratched or exposed to oil. Because it is so hard-wearing, it could be used for a wide range of applications, from clothing to cars. Reached for comment, our Caturday correspondent Professor Kibble said, “Big deal. I haz been self-cleaning since I was a itty-bitty kitty. I iz also extreemly rezistant to water (see Fig. 1 above).”





Filed under: Science Caturday Tagged: cats, caturday, materials science, science caturday

Pet Preparedness


Countless disasters have shown that pet owners can quickly become a vulnerable population in the face of a natural disaster or emergency. Should you stay at home with your pet? Should you take your pet with you? Where can you go with your pet? Should you leave your pet behind?

It is extremely important for the safety of pet owners and pets, to have a plan for caring for pets during a disaster. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) helped provide emergency shelter and care for more than 8,500 animals displaced by Hurricane Katrina. Following Hurricane Sandy, the ASPCA assisted more than 30,000 pets in New York and New Jersey. It is estimated that 30 to 40 percent of the people who refused to leave their homes after Hurricane Katrina were staying to care for their pets, and over 600,000 pets were killed or left without shelter. If you evacuate your home, take your pets. Plan ahead and do not leave them behind. Pets most likely cannot survive on their own, and if by some remote chance they do, you may not be able to find them when you return.

Identift pet friendly sheltersWith pets, the best way to protect your furry, scaly, or slimy family member is to plan ahead. They can’t do it for themselves and so it is up to you to have an emergency plan in place for your pets.

In many emergency situations, people will risk their lives to stay behind with their pet. If you think it through and prepare in advance, you will know what to do in order to protect yourself, your family, and your pets.

Things you can do:

1)      Pet-Friendly Shelters. Not all shelters accept pets. Before an emergency, make sure you figure out where you will go that is safe for you and your pet. Find out which hotels are pet-friendly, and make sure you look into hotels in your community (for short-term needs) and hotels out-of-town that are pet-friendly in case you have to evacuate. Contact your vet for a list of boarding kennels and facilities that will be open to taking pets in an emergency.   Does your local animal shelter provide emergency shelter or foster care for pets? Find out!

2)      Designated Caregivers. There are a few reasons why it is a good idea to identify friends or relatives that will be willing to care for your pet if you are unable to do so. You may not be home when an emergency occurs, so line up a neighbor or friend that can check on and care for your pets. Also, ask friends and relatives outside of your immediate area if they would be willing to take in your pet should you have to evacuate.

pet emergency kit checklist3)      Emergency Kit. Before you find yourself in an emergency situation, pack a pet emergency kit so that you are ready to care for your pet if a disaster hits. Pack 3-7 days worth of pet food (dry or canned), bottled water, medications, veterinary records, a pet carrier, litter and disposable litter trays, manual can opener, food dishes, first aid kit, and other supplies with you in case they’re not available later. For a complete list, see our Ready Wrigley pet emergency kit supply list.

4)      Vet records and identification. Keep paper copies of your pet’s vet records in a safe and accessible place. Make sure identification tags are up-to-date and securely fastened to your pet’s collar. Pet-friendly shelters, kennels, or boarding facilities that you arrange ahead of time will need to be able to identify your pet and know your pet’s medical history.

5)      Microchip your pet. If you are separated, this is the best and easiest way to be reunited with your pet! A typical microchip costs around $45, but shelters and organizations often hold events where the cost is much cheaper.

6)      Download the Pet First Aid App from the Red Cross, or the ASPCA app.

ASPCA sticker7)      ASPCA sticker. Get a free pet emergency alert sticker for your home. The ASPCA stickers are used to make sure rescue workers know that you have pets inside your home, the types of pets, and your vet information.

Pets rely on you to care for them every day and you rely on them for comfort and companionship. Don’t let an emergency or disaster prevent you from caring for or separate you from your pets. Have a plan, get a kit, and be prepared for your pet’s safety as well as your own.

Coop’s Citizen Sci Scoop: The nine simultaneous lives of cats

Discover Magazine’s September print edition featured an infographic called “20 Things You Didn’t Know About Cats.” Felines seem to lead elusive, mysterious lives. Fortunately, the citizen science project Cat Tracker allows you to track your cat beyond what we can

The post Coop’s Citizen Sci Scoop: The nine simultaneous lives of cats appeared first on PLOS Blogs Network.