By Langley Cornwell
Cats and dogs are a source of unending discovery. The more time I spend with my pets, the more questions I have about certain behaviors – like why my cat purrs or why my dog wags her tail. We all have a general idea but I wonder, specifically, why animals do what they do. I’ve read loads of books about animal behavior and I’ve just added a few more to my list of ‘must reads.’ One thing I’ve noticed is that a few common theories about basic pet behaviors are being reexamined. Some of these findings may surprise you, and some you may already know.
Cats Purring – Most of us believe purring indicates that a cat is happy. That’s part of the story. Purring by domestic cats is not just a sign of contentment; it’s also used as a method of self-calming. Our cat Margaret was a loud, enthusiastic purrer. Once when she was injured and we took her to the vet, they had a hard time checking her heartbeat because she was purring so loudly. In general, purring is a way for cats to communicate.
Dogs Wagging Their Tails – Like a cat’s purring, a wagging tail is believed to indicate a happy dog. When a dog wags his tail, it can actually mean a range of emotions from approachability and excitement, to anxiety and aggression. A dog’s tail is an important communication tool. To fully understand what a dog is trying to convey, the tail needs to be considered along with the rest of the dog’s body language.
Cats Rubbing Against People (and other animals) – Yes, getting a nice rub from a cat signifies affection, but it also serves another significant cat function: scent-marking. Our cat always greets our dog by rubbing his face all over hers. Cats have scent glands in various places on their bodies and they use them to ‘mark their territory.’ Leaving their scent on things they come in contact with helps cats become familiar with the smells around them, which helps them claim a particular person, animal or object as ‘theirs.’