Solutions to some common problems
Playing with Food
Why does my cat literally torture a mouse when he captures it? Wild animals don’t do this, do they?
No, they don’t. Observation reveals that feral, or wild cats, simply kill their prey and start chewing down. Domesticated cats, on the other hand, act like a human with a brand–new computer and zippy modem. It may be that they’re so excited by the pleasure of a catch that they can’t stop playing with it. This may not seem so weird when you realize that many trout fisherman also indulge in “catch and release.” Your cat would understand this.
The sound of thunder makes my big strong dog run and hide under the bed. Since thunder and lightning are natural, this extreme behavior seems a bit bizarre. Remember, your dog’s hearing is much more acute than yours. Not only does thunder seem a lot louder to him, he may also hear very high and very low frequency sounds that we don’t sense. A thunderclap may give a dog a sensory overload that’s hard to imagine. Theoretically, dogs can be desensitized to loud noises by gradually exposing them to louder and louder noises played on a stereo. This could take many weeks, though. And while it could relax your dog when a truck rumbles by, a thunderstorm is something else. You might need to add flashing lights to excruciatingly loud music in the desensitizing process and do the whole thing at night, when storms usually strike. All this could leave you with a blown–out stereo, partial deafness, and complaints from neighbors. Hiding under the bed is not such a bad thing.
Why does my dog do “Circles” before he lies down for a nap?
Your dog may be doing what the Chinese call “Feng Shui”–aligning himself optimally with energy fields. Studies have shown that when a dog is in repose with his head facing north, his circulation improves, heartbeat slows, and metabolism improves. Sensitivity to the earth’s magnetic field is also a leading explanation of how many dogs manage to find their way home from far distances.
Biting the Hand that Strokes You
My cat loves to be stroked. But sometimes, just when I think she’s in heaven, she’ll bite me, jump off my lap, and then act like nothing unusual has happened! This is more common than you may think. Some experts think that a cat may go to sleep while being stroked, then wake up suddenly and interpret the contact as a threat. Others think that while cats like some contact, they get irritated when they get a big dose. Behaviorist Dr. Karen Overall says you should be able to predict the “Danger point” when you see or feel your cat’s claws unsheathing, her tail swishing, body stiffening, or pupils dilating. When this happens, don’t push the cat away. Just stand up and let her fall off your lap. If none of these aggression signs occur, the solution would be to just stroke your kitty for a short while, then let her be happy sitting on your lap.
A Fit of Dashing
My cat sometimes dashes madly around the house as if she is possessed. Is this a seizure of some kind?
No, it’s not a seizure. It’s just letting off steam–like humans dancing. Zoologist Desmond Morris calls this a “Vacuum activity” brought about by your pet’s lack of “wild” activity in a comfortable home. Young dogs do it too.
Eau de Carrion
My dog loves nothing better than to roll around over the carcass of a dead squirrel or rabbit. And he sleeps with us! What’s his major malfunction?
Lots of dogs do this, unfortunately. The leading explanation is that they’re instinctively disguising their own scent so that prey animals won’t sniff a predator upwind. Megan Parker, research biologist at the Wolf Education and Research Center in Seattle, says that, yes, wolves–the ancestors of dogs–regularly roll in carrion. But she’s not so sure the reason is to disguise their scent. Both wolves and dogs have plentiful scent glands, she told us, so disguise is probably imperfect at best. “It could be they roll in carrion to take the scent back to the pack, telling them they’ve found something interesting.” Kind of like a restaurant review. “It could also be that they’re marking the carrion with their scent, to tell anyone else who comes along ’this is mine.’rse, there’s always the possibility that some dogs may simply enjoy rolling around in carrion, the way we enjoy a scented bubble bath.
My dog likes to eat–are you ready for this?–cat droppings out of the litter box. Arrghh!
Dogs who are fond of eating “tootsie rolls” out of kitty litter are not necessarily psycho. More dogs do it than you’d imagine–it’s just that most of their human companions are loathe to admit it to friends who may well be face–kissed by their dog. Our friend Dr. Stanley Coren, a dog expert and psychologist at the University of British Columbia, gave us several reasons why this revolting behavior might occur. They include your dog is hungry, feces may contain attractive nutrients that were undigested by the “original” animal, boredom, and anxiety. He specifically suggests putting a baby gate around the kitty litter box that has openings big enough for your cat but too small for your dog. Dr. Karen Overall agrees that there may be dietary goodies in feces, citing research that one of the components of feces, deoxycholic acid, may stimulate brain and immune function in young pups. She adds that this behavior should be halted immediately. Besides the danger of parasites and tummy upset, dogs can develop intestinal blockage by eating kitty litter along with poop.