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.’
Dogs and Cats Eating Grass – I’ve always thought dogs and cats ate grass when their stomach is upset, and that grass acts as a digestive aid. Recently I read that dogs and cats eat grass for a variety of reasons, and one is simply that they like the taste. This was a relief because my cat chomps on grass first thing every morning when I let him out. As an aside, if your cat chews on houseplants, be careful of toxicity. You may want to grow your own cat grass.
Mixed-Breeds – Haven’t we all heard that mixed-breeds are healthier than purebreds? This may not be completely true. True, mixed-breeds aren’t subject to some of the genetic diseases found in purebred lines, but there is no assurance of genetic health in either type of animal. All pets are vulnerable to rabies, distemper, parasite infestation and other non-genetic conditions.
Additional random and interesting facts:
• Cats’ bodies are tremendously flexible. Their skeleton has over 230 bones (compared to 206 in a human skeleton). The feline pelvis and shoulders are loosely attached to the spine which increases their flexibility and permits them to fit through small spaces.
• Dogs have roughly 100 facial expressions, most of them made with their ears. They swivel their ears like radar dishes, and experiments indicate that dogs can pinpoint the source of a sound in 6/100ths of a second.
• Cats have been known to jump seven times their height.
• Dogs don’t have an appendix.
• Cats’ tongues are rough because they’re lined with papillae, which are tiny elevated backwards hooks that help to hold prey in place. The nose pad of each cat has unique ridges similar to a human’s fingerprints.
• Dogs are not color blind; they see shades of yellow, blue, green and gray. It’s the color red that registers on a grayscale for dogs.
• Cats have more than a hundred vocal sounds but dogs only have around ten.
• Dogs only sweat from the bottoms of their feet and can only release heat by panting. Cats don’t have sweat glands at all.
• Most domestic dogs can run almost 19 miles per hour at full speed whereas an adult cat can run almost 12 miles per hour. Cats can sprint at close to 30 miles per hour.
• Tests conducted by the University of Michigan determined that cats have better memories than dogs. A dog’s memory lasts about five minutes but a cat’s memory can last as long as 16 hours—which is longer than monkeys and orangutans.
Photo by Lucas Hale
Read more articles by Langley Cornwell
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