Short Takes: September 2012

The Cat’s Speedy Cousin
Biologists at the Royal Veterinary College in London may have discovered the reason for the cheetah’s record as the fastest living land mammal. Researchers at the college’s Structure and Motion Laboratory compared the cheetah’s gait to that of racing Greyhounds, whose speed tops out at 37 miles per hour. The big cats have been clocked at 64 miles per hour.

“Cheetahs and Greyhounds are known to use a rotary gallop [in which the limbs fall in circular sequence around the body] and physically they are remarkably similar, yet there is this bewitching difference in maximum speed,” says researcher Alan Wilson, Bsc., Ph.d.

His team videotaped cheetahs at a London zoo and a cheetah center in South Africa, using lures and embedded force plates, instruments that measure the forces generated by a body standing on or moving across them. They tested Greyhounds at the lab.

Among their findings, published in the Journal of Experimental Biology: Cheetahs used strides of 2.4 per second at low speed, increasing to 3.2 strides per second at high speed while Greyhounds used a constant 3.5 strides per second at all speeds. When they were at the same speed, however, the cheetahs’ strides were slightly longer than the Greyhounds‘.

“Unfortunately, in this study the team couldn’t tempt the cheetahs to run any faster than the racing Greyhounds, with both species achieving top speeds of around 40 mph,” the researchers say. “It is thought that this is due to a lack of motivation in the [captive] cheetahs rather than a lack of ability.” They don’t have to work for their food.

Both species put a greater proportion of weight on their hind limbs at high speed rather than the forelimbs, as was generally believed. But cheetahs supported 70 percent of their body weight on hind limbs, compared to 62 percent in the Greyhounds. “This will enhance the cheetah’s grip for acceleration and maneuvering using their powerful hind limbs,” the researchers say.

The length of time the cheetahs’ limbs remained in contact with the ground — called the stance — was also longer, perhaps imparting an advantage in their speed in the wild. Increased stance time reduces the peak load on the legs.

New Help for Pain Control
Novartis Animal Health has introduced Onsior (robenacoxib) tablets, a three-day non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug for postoperative cats weighing 5½ pounds or more and at least 6 months old.

The drug is intended to control pain and inflammation after orthopedic surgery, ovariohysterectomy and castration. It’s the first multidose oral NSAID approved for cats, Novartis says.

The drug is quickly eliminated from blood while persisting longer at the site of inflamed tissue, the company reports. Side effects in clinical trials and field tests included surgical site bleeding, infection, lethargy, vomiting and inappetence, although studies suggest that robenacoxib is generally safe in cats if used properly.

Taking a Pass on Sweets
A team of a dozen scientists from institutions ranging from Capital Medical University in Beijing to the University of Pennsylvania to the Waltham Centre for Pet Nutrition in the U.K. may have found why cats have no interest in sweets. They probably lack the gene to detect them.

A taste bud receptor consists of the products of two genes, but in cats one of the genes for the receptor that senses sweetness isn’t functional and isn’t expressed, the researchers say. “In contrast to most other mammals, both domestic cats and their wild cousins, the big cats, do not show a preference for and, most likely, cannot detect sweet-tasting compounds. Other than this …the cat’s sense of taste is normal.”