Our nation’s pets are currently experiencing a health epidemic, at least according to Banfield Pet Hospital statistics. In case you missed it, Oct. 9th was National Pet Obesity Awareness Day, and the Association for Pet Obesity uses the day as a platform to promote healthier pet habits. Most of us don’t even perceive a weight gain in our beloved canines and felines, as The Huffington Post points out. But that doesn’t change that fact that the number of overweight dogs has increased by a third in the last five years. For cats, the number of overweight pets has almost doubled in the same time frame.
Chubby little doggy or kitty faces might enhance a pet’s adorability, but the extra weight also increases a pet’s chances of developing diabetes, arthritis, coronary disease, and pulmonary disease. Therefore, it’s important to consult a veterinarian or a pet nutrition specialist concerning ideal feeding schedules when one is acquiring a new family pet.
The realization that trends in pets’ health issues might be mirroring those of human beings is startling. What is more startling is recent evidence that illustrates a dog’s similarity to human beings when it comes to emotional processing, or basic feelings. The New York Times recently presented an article by Gregory Berns, an animal behavior specialist who has constructed a custom MRI machine in his home. Berns has been training his terrier mix, Callie, to stay on command while the specially designed machine takes images of neuro-activity. His methods were also applied to several trainable volunteers amongst his colleagues.
His results indicate that the canine caudate nucleus, a region also found in the human brain that activates when pleasure is anticipated, responds the same way for dogs following positive stimuli. While dogs were trained to stay for up to thirty minutes at a time, positive activities such as an owner returning to the room, affirmative commands, and displayed treats would cause the dogs’ caudate region to activate. How dogs perceive that region’s activity is still unclear.
Berns suggests that these findings open the door for more research into neuroscience with dogs when they are not under anesthesia. By designing experiments that monitor a dog’s brain while conscious, researchers hope to gain a new understanding of canine behavior.