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Neurological Research May Provide New Hope for Dogs

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For most of us, canine epilepsy is an abstraction if we know about it at all. But for hundreds of thousands of epileptic dog owners it is very real. It is a tragic condition that causes seizures that are painful for dogs and horrible for their helpless owners. And because it is a neurological issue that is still shrouded in mystery, the causes and remedies for canine epilepsy remain unclear.

Most owners of epileptic dogs go down a similar pathway after the initial diagnosis. They begin with a medical regimen that inhibits the neural processes thought to be responsible for the seizures. A low dose of the medication tends to be effective at first, but as time goes by and the condition worsens, the dose has to get higher and higher. Eventually, the dog is so drugged up that she barely knows her surroundings or the people who love her.

Other owners of epileptic dogs avoid the pharmaceutical approach entirely, keeping their pet conscious and “with it” throughout the course of the disease. Ultimately, however, epilepsy will make life unbearable for these dogs, and if the seizures don’t cause mobility-limiting injuries they will eventually run away, never to be heard from again.

So far, the only effective way of coping with canine epilepsy is through diet. Based on the idea that the normal dog’s diet is a far cry from what wild dogs eat, a number of high-end dog food companies have developed raw diets, specifically aimed at pets who have food allergies.

Many epileptic dogs experience a dramatic decrease in symptoms when they go onto a raw food diet. For example, Emma, the dog whose condition inspired the establishment of the resource Website canine-epilepsy.com, was severely epileptic until she went on a raw food diet. After she did, she only experienced 8 seizures between 2000 and 2007.

However, there is some hope that research into canine epilepsy will produce concrete answers that will help both veterinarians and pet owners to understand and treat the condition more effectively. After Emma’s death, supporters of the website gave money in her memory to North Carolina State University for research. This is beginning what will likely be a long process of applying the techniques and knowledge built from years of studying human epilepsy to the canine version of the same condition.

The researchers hope that by understanding the neurological underpinnings of canine epilepsy, they will be able to determine its causes more precisely. Knowing what causes the condition, how it takes shape, and how it evolves, will also provide important insight into treatment.

This kind of research moves slowly, and it may seem like small consolation to those who deal with the effects of canine epilepsy in a beloved pet every day. However, progress is progress, and this research represents an important step in the right direction.

Environmentalist. Consumer Tech Journalist. Science Explorer. And, a dreamer. I've been contributing informative news content since 2010. Follow me on all socials!

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All You Need To Know About The #AgeChallenge Meme

The new meme is taking over social media and allows you to see what your 40 or 50-years-old self look like.

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Photo: Charlene Mcbride | Flickr.com | CC BY 2.0

A new meme challenge is making rounds on the Internet. Faceapp, an artificial intelligence-based photo app that edits your selfies to show how you look like when you’ve aged, is starting the #AgeChallenge trend.

Also known as the #FaceAppChallenge, the meme uses AI to augment a portrait photo to look old. Also, users can choose between the app’s templates to quickly edit a photo. Are they not smiling in a photo? You can select the Smile template to add a smile across their face. Users can also choose a different hairstyle or make themselves look younger using the app.

FaceApp does not require users to use their camera to take a selfie before using the filters. Users can upload pictures of other people then apply the filter of your choice.

In Twitter, netizens are having quite the fun in uploading pictures using the Age filter. Users trade pictures of how each other will look like in 40-50 years.

Pictures of celebrities like Tom Holland, Jennifer Aniston, and the cast of the Harry Potter film franchise are also making rounds on Twitter. Fans are ecstatic to see their favorite actors and actresses age beautifully.

Athletes such as Dwayne Wade and Kevin Love are also joining in, posting a picture of themselves on Instagram and Twitter. An England soccer team named Tottenham Hotspurs posted photos of their team members using the age filter in their official account.

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🤔🤷🏾‍♂️ Grandpa Wade huh

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FaceApp was initially released on iOS and Android last January and February 2017, respectively. The app is free to download but has options for in-app purchases.

Because of the meme challenge, FaceApp has since top the charts for ‘Most Downloaded’ in the App Store this week.

This year, SnapChat also released new filters that change a photo’s gender. A person could view what he or she looks like if he or she was born of the opposite gender using the app’s Female and Male filters. It also has one that turns a person’s face into a baby version of themselves.

Issues on Privacy

However, questions on the app’s privacy security are now being raised, as the app’s popularity started to rise.

Speculations on the app extracting photos directly from the user’s phone without extra permissions started when Joshua Nozzi, a software developer based in the US, posted his speculations on Twitter.

The developer based in Virginia claims that it seems that the app was uploading all of his photos when the app started listing all of his pictures one row at a time. The instance resembled a network delay, which Nozzi took for the app getting access to his camera phone storage.

Because he was alarmed, Nozzi turned on his Airplane mode and realized that the app doesn’t let him proceed without an internet connection.

After Nozzi posted his claims last Monday, cybersecurity experts like Will Strafach and Baptiste Robert tested the app and refuted Nozzi’s claims.

Strafach shared in his Twitter that the FaceApp does not upload a user’s full camera roll to remote servers. However, he does mention that when a user selects a photo to apply the filter, the picture is uploaded in the app’s server so that the filters can be used.

Robert also called out Noozi for his claims without sharing any pieces of evidence. Robert looked at the traffic when using the app. Similar to Strafach’s findings; the app does upload your selected photo from your phone. He emphasized that the app only uploads “one photo” in their server.

Aside from calling out Noozi, Robert also reminded the public and the media to verify their claims to avoid spreading panic based solely on speculations.

Another concern raised against the app is its vague Terms and Conditions. However, Robert also mentioned that the FaceApp’s Terms and Conditions are not different from the other apps in one’s phone. He asked the public to check out Snapchat’s Terms and Conditions if they are concerned.

FaceApp’s developer company is based in Russia. Twitter users also submitted questions to Robert if that is a factor for possible concern. The French cybersecurity researcher stated that there’s no need to worry because there are a lot of legitimate developers in Russia. “I don’t see why the nationality of the developers is an issue,” he writes in a tweet.

Further reports from Forbes verify that the photos are uploaded in servers in America, not Russia as speculated by some.

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Look: France’s ‘Cat-Fox’ — The New Unidentified Specie

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Cat Fox

Recently, the team from France’s National Hunting and Wildlife Office (ONCFS) released the news of a formerly unknown species of wildcat called the Cat-Fox or “chat-renard” in French. At first, it was only believed to be part of the French Island of Corsica’ local legend as ghjattuvolpe, a nocturnal beast which attacks sheep and goats.

During an interview with AFP, the ONCFS chief environmental technician Pierre Benedetti stated that “We believe that it’s a wild natural species which was known but not scientifically identified because it’s an extremely inconspicuous animal with nocturnal habits,” Benedetti has been studying the species for more than ten years already.

How is it different from our pet cats?

These cats have black ringed tails that are fox-like, “highly developed” canine teeth, “very wide” ears, short whiskers. And they are bigger. Cat foxes can grow up to 90 centimeters (35 inches) from head to tail-tip, while normal cats usually grow up only to 76 centimeters. They are nocturnal (active/awake at night). Also, they have stripes on their front legs, “very-dark” hind legs and a russet-colored stomach. Their silky and thick coat is designed to repel ticks, fleas, and lice naturally.

Why is it called Cat fox?

It’s not a type of fox, neither, is it a combination of a cat and a fox. But it is believed to be a wild cat. “It’s their size and their tail that earned them the name ‘cat-fox’ across the island,” says Benedetti. Some experts stated that its ears and tail resemble a fox, but its fur and facial characteristics are somehow similar to a typical cat.

Its existence was first popularly known last 2008 when a single cat-fox was caught by accident in a hen house at Olcani in Cap Corse.

Last 2012, to get and determine the golden stripped creature’s DNA, the team created traps with wooden sticks that have an irresistible smell to cats. As a result, they were able to get its fur, when the cats rubbed their bodies against the sticks.

After some analysis, they discovered through its DNA, that it is somehow related (but can be differentiated) from the European wildcat, Felis silvestris. It’s closely related to the African forest cat, F. silvestris lybica. However, it’s “exact identity is still to be determined,” Benedetti added.

The first cat was captured in 2016 using modernized photographic traps. Afterward, the team was able to catch 12 of the 16 total cats that they’ve seen using non-violent methods.

According to an ONCFS field agent, Carlu-Antone Cecchini, the cats were found in a location where “water and plant cover offering protection against its main predator, the golden eagle.” After examining and tagging the cats with electronic chips to track their adventures, the ONCFS releases them to the wild unharmed. One of the cats they’ve captured is a male cat with a one golden and one brown eye — a result of a cat fight.

The cat-fox may turn out like the mysterious wolf-like dog found in Montana last May 2018. It was revealed that it’s just an old type of wolf.

Today, it is still uncertain whether the cat-fox is new species or an old species that hasn’t been formally recognized. But some people argue that this may be a new species which is a combination of two types of species (species hybridisation). This hybridization is possible since a new bird species was discovered in the Galapagos.

The answer behind the lineage of these cats is one of the mysteries that are yet to be known. It’s diet, and ways of reproduction, are however to be discovered and learned in the future. Also, Benedetti has a theory that these cats may have been living on the French island of Corsica since 6,500 years BC.

He added that farmers might have brought these cats in the island. Meanwhile, Scientists believe that the cat could have originated from Africa or the Middle East.

According to CNN, the wildlife rangers from ONCFS expect that by catching, studying and tagging the cat foxes, they can somehow help these cute furry friends to be known and protected shortly, hopefully in two to four years.

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Look: Exotic Pets Turned Invasive Pests

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Exotic Pets
Marcie Kapsch from Loxahatchee NWR holding the exotic sailfin catfish (FL). Photo: USFWS Fish and Aquatic Conservation | Flickr

A recent study published in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, a journal from the Ecological Society of America, documented how researchers gain more awareness in the dynamics of the exotic pet trade and the role it plays in introducing nonlocal and invasive vertebrates worldwide.

As exotic pets become more popular, we need to have a clearer understanding of the factors that affect the trade to minimize the threat of having a pet-to-pests invasion soon.

Lockwood, the lead author of the study, said that since the 1970s, the market for exotic pets is continuously growing and the amount of vertebrate animals that are traded globally is surprising, even to the experienced biologists. Over the past decades, the population of reptiles and marine fish significantly increased — caused by their viral popularity as exotic pets.

Researchers take a closer look at the socioeconomic and socioecological factors that affect the exotic pet trade of vertebrates (animals with the backbone; namely fishes, birds, mammals, amphibians and reptiles).  The mentioned factors depend on the unique economic, social, regulatory, and cultural contexts of a particular country. There is an increasing and widespread demand for exotic pets worldwide, but it occurs mainly in developing countries like South America and Asia. In the United States, Australia, and the United Kingdom, more than half of all households have at least one pet.

What are exotic pets? 

In the study, it is defined as “species without a long history of domestication that are legally captured from their native range or bred within facilities and sold to consumers as household companions,” and are kept for non-utilitarian reasons (characterized by or aiming at beauty or ornament rather than utility).

Lockwood explains that species of goldfish or monk parakeets are considered as common pets for decades. Other species appear in the market for only one or two years; after that, they disappear.

The reason for this dynamic is not yet known, but researchers noted that this might be because of some species are easy to take care and breed well in captivity (which makes them cost cheaper). She added that thousands of different species are sold yearly. If a small percentage will escape or be free, they are capable of forming wild populations.

Is it really bad if our former pets decided to form a big family in the wild?

Lockwood and her team said that invasive reptiles and amphibians could force local species into extinction.

For example, the red-eared sliders (Trachemys scripta elegans) are turtles popularly kept as pets in the United States. It is native to the south-central region of the US, but it has created non-native populations in other parts of the country. These turtles are the real-life counterparts of the Famous Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Red eared slider turtle Credits: Jim, The Photographer| Flickr | Unknown

The reasons why owners release exotic pet is not widely documented. But it includes difficulty in taking care of large, old, aggressive, or sick animals. Cute little animals don’t always stay the same; sometimes, they grow and live longer than the pet owners had expected. Most countries don’t have the proper documentation of imported pet species. Also, there are challenges in monitoring and regulating them; some animals are usually recorded as “unidentified” or wrongly identified.

Factors such as the popularity of owning exotic animals, the ease of buying exotic pets from websites, and the lack of adequately implemented regulations — made it possible for the species to spread not only in their original locations but also in other parts of the globe.

This increase the possibility of having invasions in the future. To avoid or minimize the chances of having an exotic pet invasion, we need to have a better understanding of the forces that affect the worldwide trade of exotic pets.

In conclusion, Lockwood said that first “we need to know the reasons why certain species are in the trade, or what factors lead them to escape or be released,” so that we can make the right policies. These policies should be able to make both sides happy. Some people are still free to love their exotic pets while minimizing the probability of invasion.

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