Are Dogs Empathetic? It Depends on the Individual Dog

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iStock

You may be confident that your dog would save you from a burning building, but until recently, there wasn't much science to back you up. A new study reported by The New York Times takes a deeper look at the canine capacity for empathy. "Timmy’s in the Well: Empathy and Prosocial Helping in Dogs," published in the journal Learning & Behavior, suggests that the compulsion to help a human in distress may not be universal in dogs, but it is present in some.

For the study, researchers at Macalester College in Minnesota recruited 34 mature dogs. The test subjects varied in size and breed: The one thing they had in common was that they all had human owners. Their humans were shut away in a room with a window and a magnetically sealed door that could easily be opened with a nose or paw. To see what it would take for the dogs to break in, researchers told the owners to either hum, say "help" in a neutral tone, or say "help" while sounding distressed and crying.

The results indicate that not every dog has what it takes to be a hero. Only half of the dogs opened the door to reach their humans, and they were no more likely to act when their owners called for help than when they hummed a song.

But that doesn't necessarily mean your dog wouldn't feel empathy if it saw you in danger. When dogs did open the door, they reacted more quickly to the distressed sounds than the happy ones. And many of the dogs that stayed put still exhibited signs of stress when they heard their owners crying. In fact, they were even more anxious than the dogs who sprang into action, suggesting they may have been paralyzed by fear.

This reflects what other researchers have observed in humans: The people who acutely relate to the pain of someone in peril can be less likely to help them.

The study authors write:

"Based on this result, it appears that adopting another’s emotional state through emotional contagion alone is not sufficient to motivate an empathetic helping response; otherwise, the most stressed dogs could have also opened the door. One must both adopt that emotional state then suppress their own distress, as openers in the distress condition in contrast to non-openers seem to have done, before they are capable of providing help."

But if your dog doesn't come to your rescue right away the next time you cry out, don't automatically assume it's too overwhelmed with empathy to act. There were also dogs in the study that didn't show any stress at all or make any effort to open the door when faced with their crying owner.

[h/t The New York Times]

It 'Rained' Spiders in Brazil Last Week—and You Can Watch It If You Dare

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iStock.com/aury1979

If recent events are anything to go by, you should be less concerned about swallowing spiders in your sleep and more concerned about bird-eating spiders raining down on your head. As The Guardian reports, recent footage from the Brazilian countryside shows thousands of spiders seemingly suspended in mid-air. (Arachnophobes might want to give the video below a miss.)

In reality, they aren’t falling at all. The spiders, which likely belong to a South American species called Parawixia bistriata, are merely crawling on an ultra-fine and nearly invisible web that attaches to two objects, like trees or bushes, to form a canopy.

So why do they do it? To catch prey, naturally. They’re likely to snag a variety of insects and maybe even small birds in their communal web, which can stretch up to 13 feet wide. (And yes, they eat the birds, too.)

Brazilian biology professor Adalberto dos Santos tells The Guardian that P. bistriata are some of the rare “social” spiders that do this. They leave their webs up overnight, hide out in the nearby vegetation, and then return at dawn to feast.

While this natural phenomenon is certainly unsettling, it isn’t exactly rare. Residents of the southeast municipality of Espírito Santo do Dourado, where the video was shot, said these “spider rains” are common when the weather is hot and humid.

Here’s another video from Santo Antônio da Platina in southern Brazil in 2013.

Other species of spider have been known to jump into the wind and "surf" on strands of silk as a means of getting around. They do this to escape threats or get to food or mates in other locations, and cases of "spider flight" have been recorded all over the world. Some especially adventurous spiders have even been known to cross oceans by “ballooning” their way from one land mass to the next.

[h/t The Guardian]

FDA Recalls Several Dry Dog Foods That Could Cause Toxic Levels of Vitamin D

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iStock.com/Chalabala

The FDA has recalled several brands of dry dog food that contain potentially toxic levels of vitamin D, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports. While vitamin D is essential for dogs, too much of the nutrient can result in kidney failure and other serious health problems.

The FDA has already received reports of vitamin D toxicity in dogs that consumed certain dry foods. Pet owners are advised to stop using the following products:

Old Glory Hearty Turkey and Cheese Flavor Dog Food (manufactured by Sunshine Mills, Inc.)

Evolve Chicken & Rice Puppy Dry Dog Food (Sunshine Mills, Inc.)

Sportsman's Pride Large Breed Puppy Dry Dog Food (Sunshine Mills, Inc.)

Triumph Chicken & Rice Recipe Dry Dog Food (Sunshine Mills, Inc.)

Nature's Promise Chicken & Brown Rice Dog Food (Ahold Delhaize)

Nature's Place Real Country Chicken and Brown Rice Dog Food (Ahold Delhaize)

Abound Chicken and Brown Rice Recipe Dog Food (sold at Kroger in Louisville, Kentucky, as well as King Soopers and City Market stores in Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, and Wyoming)

ELM Chicken and Chickpea Recipe (ELM Pet Foods, Inc.)

ELM K9 Naturals Chicken Recipe (ELM Pet Foods, Inc.)

ANF Lamb and Rice Dry Dog Food (ANF, Inc.)

Orlando Grain-Free Chicken & Chickpea Superfood Recipe (sold at Lidl stores)

Natural Life Pet Products Chicken & Potato Dry Dog Food

Nutrisca Chicken and Chickpea Dry Dog Food

For the full list of UPC and lot numbers involved in the recall, visit the FDA's website.

Symptoms of vitamin D poisoning usually develop 12 to 36 hours after pets consume a suspect food, according to PetMD. The FDA says those symptoms include vomiting, loss of appetite, increased thirst, increased urination, excessive drooling, and weight loss. "Customers with dogs who have consumed this product and are exhibiting these symptoms should contact their veterinarian as soon as possible," the FDA writes.

The agency says the situation is still developing, and it will update the list of recalled brands as more information becomes available. According to WKRN News, veterinary professionals recommend sticking to dog foods that have an AAFCO label (from the Association of American Feed Control Officials) on them.

[h/t The Atlanta Journal-Constitution]

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