I have a cat. I have never had a cat before, and 60 percent of the time, I find I have no idea why on earth she's doing anything. (The other 40 percent of the time she's eating or sleeping.)
Pet behavior is, for some of us, a complete mystery, but a great deal of it can actually be solved fairy easily by veterinary science and animal expert knowledge. Why do cats like high places? They want to be vigilant about their surroundings. Why do dogs howl? It's an expression of their distant genetic relation to wolves and a way to communicate.
There are some pet behaviors, however, that may look cute, but actually have serious (and sometimes not completely good) explanations. You'd be surprised at how many things you may think are just your own precious Snowball's idiosyncrasies, but are actually common. It's important to be able to "read" a certain amount of pet language to be able to understand their moods. Are they happy? Secure? Ill? Needing something extra? Just being annoying because you haven't given them attention in 20 minutes?
So if you've been staring at your cat or dog for the past half an hour in utter bemusement while they do something completely inexplicable, check to see if it's explained here. (There is a possibility, of course, that they may just be weird. Sorry.)
1. When Your Cat Head-Butts You & Your Possessions
This isn't just them being aggravating. (My cat has decided the best time to do this is 4 a.m., every morning. While also sitting on my chest.)
Head-butting is actually a means of cat communication, indicating affection, and combining bodily contact with the spread of their facial "scent," using glands on their cheeks. That act is actually called "blunting," and indicates that they're saying it's mine, often as a signal to other cats in the area. Cats are, after all, highly territorial and bond very firmly to places.
The chair? Mine. The floor? Mine. You? Definitely mine. The practice of blunting is most often associated with greeting. Yes, cats are literally welcoming you home by excitedly covering you in signs of their possession. How sweet?
2. When Your Dog Drags Its Butt Across The Ground
If you think it's adorable that your dog drags its butt flat on the ground across the room, know that it's actually a sign of irritation. Dogs possess anal glands in their rears; that's what they sniff in other canines when they socialize. Sometimes, however, these anal glands can get blocked or irritated, and because they're not exactly in a position to scratch, they have to improvise. Hence the floor-dragging routine.
If your dog starts doing this, they need to be taken to the vet, where somebody friendly will sedate them and evacuate the painful glands. They won't be particularly happy about it, but you'll see an end to the drag-on-the-carpet routine.
3. When Your Cat Kneads Your Lap
Why is Fluffy treating you like a personal throw pillow? What possible purpose can pushing one set of claws, then the other, rhythmically into your lap or breasts serve? It's not actually a way to reshape the surface and make it more comfortable — it's a very early behavior linked to their infancy.
If you observe kittens (or puppies) breastfeeding on their mothers, you'll notice that their legs "paddle" slightly, or knead the area around them. This act against the stomach of their mothers is what stimulates milk production, and it's associated with a rhythm of deep comfort and satisfaction. Your cat is effectively remembering the childhood ritual associated with its greatest happiness (namely, milk). It's a compliment and shows they're seriously happy.
4. When Your Dog Gives You Presents When You Come Home
Has anybody in contact with a dog ever not been charmed by the species' occasional habit of bringing "gifts" to people as they arrive? The practice of gift-giving among dogs isn't universal, but it's certainly an extremely adorable behavior. According to experts, however, it's a combination of deeply innate behavior in the entire dog kingdom, and a specific set of breeding characteristics in some animals in particular.
All dogs like fetch because carrying things in their mouths is an inherent part of hunting, the ancestral way they found food. But when it comes to giving gifts, the behavior appears almost exclusively in breeds who've been bred to bring things back after they've been shot or hunted by humans. To these hunting dogs (golden retrievers, terriers, and other dogs bred for fetching geese or game), the act of "fetching" something soft and depositing it with a human is a guaranteed way to get approval. Genetics, it seems, is behind the original act, but if you react with total delight (because duh), you'll reinforce it. Hence a dog that thinks it's Santa.
5. When Your Cat Rolls Around Like An Idiot
It turns out that, if your cat seems prone to suddenly rolling onto their back and being adorable just when you're starting something vital, you're not hallucinating. It appears to be a behavior designed almost exclusively to get attention, play, and treats; cats know very well that we think it's sweet as hell when they show their tummies, and are prepared to milk it for all it's worth.
Showing stomach, however, does not actually mean the cat wants to be rubbed there. The rolling often signals that they want to play, but said "play" usually involves attacking your hands if they come anywhere near their precious tum-tum. It seems, however, that they're willing to manipulate our love for the pose to get us to do what they want. Sneaky bastards.
6. When Your Dog Cocks Its Head To One Side
The doggy practice of shifting a head from one side to another when shown something interesting has absorbed watchers of dog YouTube videos for years. But what on earth are they actually doing? Is there any benefit in this signal for the curious pooch?
It turns out that the act of switching the head position from side to side is actually a tactic to help the dog assess precisely what's going on. The muzzle is actually an impediment to full vision, so the dog moves its head from side to side to get the maximum picture of the thing in front of it. Shifting the position of the ears may also gather more information. Basically, the dog isn't deliberately acting dopey; they're actually trying to make an informed judgement on the unfamiliar element in their environment, before deciding whether to attack it, eat it, ignore it, or sit on it. Hey, I didn't say they were hugely complicated.