Sunday, August 28, 2011


Did any of the information on a cat's body language help you understand what a cat might be thinking?  You, neither, huh?  Well, don't feel too badly about it...that's all part of the mystique of a cat.  And, speaking of mystique, there are a lot of myths about cats (and dogs) that seem to keep the idea of mystique in vogue.  Consider this list of myths:

Don’t be fooled by these 12 common pet myths 

For centuries, people created fanciful stories to explain puzzling animal antics. Many of these "myth"-understandings about cat and dog behaviors linger on, even though modern veterinary and behavior experts have uncovered scientific explanations for these issues. Here we lay 12 common myths to rest.

Myth 1: Dogs and cats enjoy being hugged. People are by nature touchy-feely creatures. Dogs and cats on the other hand, grab and hold prey, and "hug" during mating or fighting. Pets may enjoy nuzzling and getting affection akin to hugging, or there may be a reason why they should be sensitized to being hugged, but it is good to remember that your pet may also confuse a hug with aggression.

Myth 2: Cats seek out people who hate cats. It can seem that way. A cat lover's admiring stares and "kitty, kitty, kitty" calls can be off-putting. So in a crowded room, a cat often seeks the only person ignoring her. Besides, cat lovers may already smell like strange cats, so she'll be more attracted to the cat-free-zone human.

Myth 3: Dogs that are aggressive are showing dominance. Actually, it is fearful dogs that most often aggress to make a scary situation go away. A top dog rarely aggresses because other dogs accept he's the boss. You do however see pushy dogs learn to use snarls to get their way, or clueless adolescent dogs act up because they've gotten too big for their furry britches and want to challenge the real boss.

Myth 4: Dogs and cats are jealous of the phone. The phone rings and suddenly your pet demands attention. This can certainly be annoying but their behavior is logical when you realize why they're doing it. From you pet's perspective, you're talking and there's nobody else around -- so you must be talking to your pet!

Myth 5: Dogs wag their tails when they are happy. Not always. Dogs wag when excited, when fearful, when happy or even to signal imminent attack. The position of the tail, and frequency of wags, is a better indicator of happiness. Low-held tails with slow, loose wags usually signal, "Come closer; I want to be friends."

Myth 6: Dogs and cats learn only if you punish them.  No. Punishment actually can interfere with pets' ability to learn. Punishment can make behaviors worse and can cause fear aggression. Instead, you need to teach an alternative to bad behavior.

Myth 7: Dogs catch on to house training more quickly when you rub their noses in their accidents. Absolutely not. But this does teach the dog that humans sometimes go nuts and seemingly want them to eat their poop! Talk about confusing. Punishing for a normal behavior like going to the bathroom encourages dogs to hide it better the next time. Instead, catch your dog in the act of targeting the right spot and reward with praise or treats for the most effective lesson.

Myth 8: Cats always land on their feet. It is true that cats have balance organs in the inner ear that allow a cat to contract and flex the spine, shoulders and flanks to land on her feet in amazing ways. But there are many factors involved. Falls from too short a distance -- being dropped by a child, for example -- won't allow enough time for a paw landing. Conversely, landing feet first from a fall from a great height can break bones and seriously injure the cat.

Myth 9: Cats purr when they are happy. Often they do. But think of the cat's purr as a feline smile -- do you smile only when happy? Purring soothes kitty emotions (and humans as well), and the vibration relieves pain and speeds healing, so purring can happen when a cat is happy, injured or just needs to comfort himself.

Myth 10: Cats wet the bed and dogs destroy furniture and other items in the house because they are angry. There are many possible physical, emotional and/or instinctual reasons for these normal behaviors -- none having to do with anger or vengefulness. Items that smell like you (bed, shoes, purse) are targeted because your scent comforts the pet. Consider that a back-handed compliment, not spite.

Myth 11: Cats suck the breath from babies. Yes, this old wives tale is still around. Curious cats may check out milky-smelling infant breath or be attracted to a warm crib. They are not trying to harm the baby, but pets should always be supervised around infants.

Myth 12: Dogs alpha roll each other. A study of captive wolves (later debunked) gave rise to this theory. Dogs roll onto their backs to expose their tummies to other animals -- or people -- and signal deference and nonthreat. Dogs willingly show their tummies to people or other dogs they want to placate or acquiesce. But even alpha dogs show their tummies to invite puppies and subordinate dogs to play. Dogs do not force other dogs onto their backs to prove leadership. Alpha rolling your dog may confuse or frighten him and some dogs even fight back. Don't risk it!

Adapted from: 

Combining what you already have learned about cat body language with the truth about these myths, do you think you are now ready to move into the arena of actual examples of unusual cat behavior?  That's good....

Amy Shojai, Certified Animal Behavior Consultant, offers:

7 Weird Cat behaviors and what they mean

We love our cats but don't always understand their seemingly bizarre behaviors. Sure, some things our cats do are unique to them but other actions are shared by felines the world over. Here are seven weird cat behaviors, and what they mean.

Head bonks. The first three months I had my cat, her head turned pink from head-bonking my lipstick. Rubbing behavior, which includes the forehead, cheeks, and full-body slams, is called bunting, and it transfers the cat's signature smell onto objects to mark territory. That means head bonks are kitty compliments declaring you to be so important, he's marked you as his personal property.
 Elevator butt. You've probably seen many cats perform an "elevator butt" pose with their front-end down and tail flagged high. In some instances, it is the equivalent of offering to shake hands as felines sniff each other's anal areas to say howdy. When your cat jumps into your lap, turns around and raises its tail, he or she is offering you the not-so-pleasant invitation to scratch that hard-to-reach itchy spot at the base of the tail. Intact female cats also do the elevator butt posture to entice male cats to get romantic!

Phone frenzy. Many cats come running when owners talk on the phone and they pester and meow like they want in on the conversation. What gives? Your cat sees you talking and since there is no one else there, thinks that you must be talking to them. Also, without realizing it, you may be rewarding that behavior by stroking the cat while you are sitting and talking on the phone, which encourages your kitty to come running next time the phone rings.

Flipping. Why do cats throw themselves onto the ground at your feet and flip back and forth? Sure, sometimes it is because a cat is under the influence of catnip but more often, rolling back and forth places a cat in a vulnerable position, and is a way for cats to request attention. If you you grant the kitty's wish and fuss over it, your cat knows to do this again the next time he wants your love.

Covering poo. Owners take for granted that all cats naturally choose to cover potty deposits but this isn't the case. Some cats -- especially unowned roaming felines -- may not cover at all as uncovered feces can announce who owns the territory. Some indoor cats also want their potty graffiti seen and admired by the other cats or humans. Though is mom-cat is fastidious about covering her mess, her kittens will copy-cat the behavior.

Kneading. There are many names for this common rhythmic paw-pushing kitty behavior -- treading, making bread, even "pawtycake." But one thing is clear, the behavior takes hold when felines are very young, as kittens knead against mom-cat's breasts to stimulate milk flow. When adult cats knead, it generally reflects deep contentment and safety, and yes -- love. Cats typically target soft objects such as fuzzy blankets, pillows, or a beloved owner's lap.

Privacy issues. Why do some cats immediately seek out their humans the minute they head into the bathroom? First, a closed door is a challenge and an affront to a curious cat which is one reason why you'll see furry paws reaching under the door or cats racing to join their people in the bathroom. More importantly, the bathroom gives cats a captive audience as people glued to the facilities aren't able to move away.

Adapted from:

Is there anything a cat owner can try that might be helpful in moderating undesirable behavior?  Yes, the Humane Society of the United States suggests this approach:

Training your cat with positive reinforcement

You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. That's the theory behind positive reinforcement. Don't punish your cat for unwanted behavior; instead, reward her for doing something you like.

With encouragement and plenty of treats, you and your cat can accomplish great things.

Do this, not that

If you want your cat to repeat a behavior, reward that behavior. People frequently reward a behavior that they don't really want to encourage. For example, when your cat talks to you, do you talk to him, do you pet him, do you give him a treat? You're teaching your cat that meowing brings rewards. If you don't reward his meowing, in other words you ignore him when he meows, he's unlikely to become a meower. If you really like a quiet cat, reward him when he's not meowing.

Crime and punishment

You may be sorely tempted to yell at your cat if you catch her sitting next to a broken vase or clawing the furniture, but punishing your cat after the fact is ineffective. She won't connect the punishment with something she's already done and forgotten about. Instead, she'll think you're yelling at her for whatever she's doing at that very moment, which might be welcoming you home from work.

Yelling, hitting, and shaking will only make your cat fearful and confused and could lead to her avoiding you altogether.


Motivation is the key to training. Money and love are great motivators for people. Toys, walks, car rides, and praise can do it for dogs. For most cats, it's food. They care less about "good kitty" than about good kitty treats.

So to motivate your cat, you're going to reward her with a treat every time she uses the scratching post, lets you brush her, or brings you a beer from the fridge. Scratch her head and tell her she's a pretty girl at the same time, but make sure you give her that treat.

Smart cats will soon link that behavior with getting treats.

Simmer down

Providing a reward can be helpful in training your cat to be calm during procedures she may not otherwise like, such as nail trims, brushing, going into the carrier, or being picked up. But for some cats, discomfort outweighs eating, so it may not work in all cases.


Timing is everything in training your cat. Cats have short attention spans, so the reward must come immediately (within seconds) of the behavior or your cat may not know what it's for.

For example, if you see her use the scratching post, throw some treats her way while she's scratching and tell her she's a good cat, but don't throw the treats if she has stopped scratching and is starting to do something else or it's that "something else" that she'll think merits the reward.


This is an important part of training. Use the same technique each time for each behavior, and make sure everyone in the family does the same.

Oh, behave!

You can also reward your cat for a behavior she does naturally, or you can introduce a new behavior and reward her for learning it.

Natural behavior. An example of rewarding natural behavior is giving treats for using the scratching post (see above) or standing on her hind legs.

New behavior. You use rewards to teach your cat a new routine—to come when you call, for example. Call her name and reward her when she responds. Move to another spot, call her name, and reward her when she responds, and so on.

When to train

The best time to train is right before meal time when your cat is most motivated by food. Only train for short periods at a time (15 minutes max) or your cat may lose interest. As soon as she stops responding, stop training.

Weaning off treats

Because too many treats lead to a fat cat, your goal is to gradually wean her off the food rewards and make her settle for emotional ones such as a "good kitty," a toss of her fuzzy ball, or a scratch under the chin.

Once your cat is displaying the desired behavior reliably, you can start cutting back on food. Give her treats three out of every four times she does the behavior, then reduce it to about half the time, then about a third of the time and so on, until you're only rewarding her occasionally with a treat.

Continue the praise and non-food rewards. Your cat will learn that if she keeps offering desired behaviors, eventually she'll get what she wants—your praise and an occasional treat.

Don't try this at home

There are a couple of things you shouldn't do when training.

Don't force a behavior. Don't pick your cat up and take her to the scratching post or litter box to get her to use them. She won't understand what you're doing and will likely get frightened and run away.

Don't turn your cat into a beggar. Use treats only for training. If you give your cat a treat every time she paws you,, she'll quickly learn that pawing equals treat and won't leave you alone.

Adapted from:

What about the cat that always seems to be fearful of something?  The Humane Society of the United States offers these ideas:

Fearful Cats

Fight, flee, or freeze are three terms that describe how cats usually respond to objects, people, or situations they see as threatening.

What causes fearfulness

Every cat is different, and each has his own way of dealing with a crisis and deciding what is a crisis.

A naturally timid cat may be afraid of many things and spend a lot of his life in hiding, while a naturally confident cat will be less fearful and will usually recover more quickly from scary events.

For example, one cat may confront a strange dog by hissing, spitting, and puffing out his fur to make himself look big. Or he may decide to cut his losses and beat a hasty retreat. Some cats are so overwhelmed with fear that they simply freeze, too terrified to run. A really laid-back cat, on the other hand, may not see the dog as a threat; he may simply sniff the dog and walk away.

What is fearful behavior?

Your cat might show the following behaviors when he's afraid:

  • Fleeing
  • Hiding
  • Aggression (which includes spitting, hissing, growling, swatting, biting, scratching, puffing fur and tail, arching back, swishing tail, and flattening ears)
  • Freezing in place
  • Losing control of bladder/bowels
  • Releasing anal glands
  • Refusing to use the litter box
Common fear triggers

You'll need to observe your cat carefully to determine the reasons for his fearful behavior. Some common triggers are:

  • A loud noise or a quick movement
  • A strange environment
  • A strange person or animal
  • An active child
  • A stressful event, such as a move or a trip to the vet
What's normal?

Some fearful behaviors are acceptable and normal. For example, most cats will feel insecure or frightened in a new environment. Often, your cat will hide for a day or two when introduced to a new home.

Sometimes a traumatic experience—such as taking him to the veterinarian or bringing a new animal into the home—can disrupt his routine and send him under the bed for a few days.

But some cats are so fearful that they seem to live in a near-constant state of anxiety, or they may redirect their fear into aggression toward people or other animals.

What to do

Take the following steps to reduce your cat's anxiety and help him become more confident:

If your cat is healthy, but hiding, leave him alone. He'll come out when he's ready. Forcing him out of his hiding spot will only make him more fearful. Make sure he has easy access to food, water, and a litter box. Clean the litter box and change the food and water every day so you know whether he's eating and drinking

Keep any contact with the fear stimulus to a minimum until you've had time to train your cat using desensitization and counter-conditioning techniques.

Keep your cat's routine as consistent as possible. Cats feel more confident if they know when to expect daily feeding, playing, cuddling, and grooming.

If your cat continues to hide or act anxious, take him to the veterinarian for a thorough physical exam to rule out any medical reasons for his fearful behavior. If he's not ill, he may benefit from a calming product like Feliway or a short course of anti-anxiety medication.

You may want to seek advice from a cat behavior specialist.  Your veterinarian can help you with locating one.

Food is a great motivator for cats, so if yours is afraid of someone in the house, give that person feeding duty.

What not to do

Don't punish your cat for his fearful behavior. Punishment only makes fear-based behaviors worse, and he'll likely become afraid of you.

Don't force your cat to experience the object or situation that's frightening him. For example, if he's afraid of a certain person, don't let that person try to pick him up and hold him. Instead, help your cat gradually overcome his fear through desensitization and counter-conditioning.

It's normal for you to want to help and comfort your cat when he's frightened. But that isn't necessarily the best thing to do from your cat's point of view. And he might redirect his fear into aggression toward you.

A note about aggression

If your cat seriously threatens you, another person, or an animal—and the behavior isn't an isolated incident—you should seek help as soon as possible from a cat behavior specialist.

To keep everyone safe in the meantime, confine your cat to an area of the house where you can keep all interactions with him to a minimum and have a responsible person supervise him.

Treat all cat bites and scratches seriously; remember that they can easily become infected.

Adapted from:

In next week's issue of Questions On Dogs and Cats, Helpful Buckeye will address some of the more common undesirable behaviors of cats.  Don't miss it....

The NFL pre-season is now more than half completed.  The Pittsburgh Steelers have looked pretty good so far, considering these games don't count.  Hopefully, they are feeling like they'd like another crack at the Super Bowl.


Desperado and Helpful Buckeye recently enjoyed an evening on our deck with our 2 favorite Okie buds.  In the words of Katie Tamony, Editor-in-chief of Sunset magazine:

"Dinner parties under the stars, on our deck.  Don’t rush.  Let your guests linger over wine at the table before you serve the first course, and don’t be in a big hurry to get the next one out.  Leave time to rest and enjoy the gift of talking to one another in the glow of a summer night.  Slow the pace down…it can make your dinners even more magical.  Dined at sunset…Laughed ‘til we cried…Left under moonlight."

Even when it started to rain, we didn't rush back inside but, instead moved closer together under the 2nd-floor overhang...a special evening!

~~The goal of this blog is to provide general information and advice to help you be a better pet owner and to have a more rewarding relationship with your pet. This blog does not intend to replace the professional one-on-one care your pet receives from a practicing veterinarian. When in doubt about your pet's health, always visit a veterinarian.~~

Sunday, August 21, 2011


My Dad passed away today in Pennsylvania after a debilitating illness.  Desperado and I will be in western PA for a couple of weeks, attending to the funeral, sharing memories with our extended family, and looking back over Dad's almost ninety years of life.

I won't be able to put together a fresh issue of Questions On Dogs and Cats for this week but there will be a new issue next week...actually Part 2 of Are Cats Crazy, Goofy, or Just Different?  Thanks for your patience.




Sunday, August 14, 2011


No, it's not that Helpful Buckeye isn't fond of cats...although our cat-loving readers may have concluded that from the lead-in line above.  Really, when you stop to think about it, even cat lovers will admit that their cats act in peculiar ways a lot of the time.  That's why there are more jokes and snide comments about unusual cat behavior.  Of course, that doesn't mean that cats don't find good homes, even with these peculiarities.  Anyone who follows the news can tell you that there are more pet cats in the USA than there are pet dogs.

Helpful Buckeye will present several items this week that illustrate some of the ridiculous, silly, wacky, and sometimes, undesirable things that cats are known for.  Even you dog owners should enjoy this presentation because it might help you better understand your friends who have cats when they tell you about some of their frustrating experiences.

Let's let Darlene Arden, Certified Animal Behavior Consultant, lead off with some general trivia about cats:

10 Things You Don't Know About Your Favorite Feline

After spending years with your cat, you may think you know everything there is to know about her. But here are 10 things that your favorite feline may not have gotten around to sharing with you.

1. A domestic cat can run about 31 mph. Running fast is something usually attributed to wild cats, gazelles and greyhounds, but your house kitty is pretty speedy.
2. It is possible for every kitten in a litter to have a different father. Hopefully, she is spayed so there's no risk of an unexpected pregnancy.
3. Cats walk on their toes, which probably accounts for their graceful movements. In ballet there is a step called pas de chat -- the cat step. It's a little jump to the side, but in truth nearly every move your cat makes is lovely.
4. A cat's collarbone isn't connected to his other bones; it's buried in the muscles, which is how kitty can fit through small places. He's not boneless -- even though it looks that way sometimes -- but he is adaptable. A cat actually has more bones than a human.
5. Your cat will respond only to catnip (an herb in the mint family) if she has the catnip gene. Not every cat is born with this gene, and it doesn't show up right away, so don't expect a young kitty to respond to catnip the way an older one will.
6. Thirty-two muscles control a cat's outer ear, and he can rotate it 10 times faster than a dog. In fact, kitty can rotate each ear 180 degrees.
7. Cats have scent glands in their cheeks, so if your cat rubs against you she is "marking" you as hers. She really does love you. She'll also mark furniture and clothing this way. Everything she likes is hers. It's also her way of leaving her "mark" to say that she was there.
8. Cats can move their jaws only up and down; they can't move them side to side like a dog or human.
9. Cats whiskers are extremely sensitive. They not only help the cat locate where she is in the dark, but how the cat moves them is an indicator of the cat's feelings at any given time. The top two rows of whiskers can move independently of the bottom two rows.
10. Cats are obligate carnivores. This means they must eat meat. So even if you're a vegetarian, you need to come to grips with the fact that your cat can't be. He will get very sick and die without meat in his diet.

As you probably already know, spending time learning more about your cat is time well spent. In fact, these cat facts are just the tip of the iceberg. Your cat has much more to tell you if you pay attention, watch and learn. As the late Ernest Hemingway said, "A cat has absolute emotional honesty: human beings, for one reason or another, may hide their feelings, but a cat does not."
Cats aren't exactly as mysterious as they are purported to be, but there is enough that isn't widely known about them to make that seem true. Your cat really wouldn't mind you knowing more about felines, and would welcome the extra interest.
Here are 10 more facts about your cat that you may not know.

1. Generally, a cat's purr is healing, not just for the cat but for anyone the cat is near--which means it's helping you as well.
2. On the flip side, purring doesn't always mean something good; it can mean that the cat is in pain or is terrified of something or someone.
3. A cat has more bones than a human. A human has 206 bones, while a cat has either 230, 240, or 245 (though some fuse together as the cat ages). The number is different for each cat because it depends upon how many bones are in a cat's tail.
4. The declawing procedure is painful for your cat. Even if a veterinarian uses a laser and the cat can walk sooner, your cat can't really be comfortable with part of its toes missing, especially since cats walk on their toes first. This means that your cat is in pain and has to walk differently, rather than in its normal manner.
5. Cats are extremely stoic and do not usually show illness. The owner must be aware of what's normal and what isn't, and be sure to locate the cat if it hides or stops eating. Chances are it is very sick or has a toothache.
6. Cats are taught by their mothers to hunt and kill. If a kitten hasn't been taught these skills by its mother, chances are that it will never hunt or kill prey.
7. Cats were so well regarded in Egypt 4,000 years ago that the death penalty was given to anyone who killed a cat.
8. A group of cats is called a clowder, while a group of kittens is called a kindle.
9. Cat urine will glow under ultra violet light (black light), so you can always find the place where your cat has been thinking (or tinkling) outside the box.
10. Cats don't kill their prey with their claws. The claws are used to hold the prey while the cat uses its teeth to kill the prey.

Adapted from her book, The Complete Cat's Meow, at: and

You can buy The Complete Cat's Meow on Amazon at:  for $7.65...brand new!

Be thinking about some of these trivial facts about cats as we move on into experiences with unusual cat behavior.  These facts may help you have a better understanding of why cats do some of the things they do...or not.

What can you tell from a cat by just watching the cat for a few minutes?  Well, quite a lot according to Amy Shojai, also a Certified Animal Behavior Consultant:

Understanding Felinese

We love our cats but don't always understand cat communication. Our feline friends use a combination of vocalizations, body language and smells to talk with each other and their special people. Here are 12 ways cats communicate.

1. Meows: These are rarely aimed at other cats. Instead meows are requests pointed at humans. For example, cats meow to be petted, for you to open the door or for you to wake up and fill their bowls. The more demanding Kitty becomes, the lower the pitch of the meow.
2. Purrs: These vocalizations signal nonthreat. A cat's purr has been described as a feline smile, and cats purr in the presence of other pets and humans. Purrs often express happiness.
3. Hisses: Keep your distance if you hear a hiss. Cats hiss at other pets and people. Hisses can be defensive or offensive, and arise from frightened or hostile felines.
4. Growls: This is a serious warning from a cat that an attack may be coming. Hisses that don't succeed turn to growls when the cat can't escape.
5. Chattering: This odd sound indicates frustration. Cats that watch critters through the window may chatter when unable to reach the evil squirrels.
6. Spit: This not-so-pleasant communication is the equivalent of a feline gasp of surprise.
7. Body Position: These movements indicate attitude. Confident cats face forward, while fearful cats stand sideways with arched backs to look larger than they really are. Defensive or submissive cats want to look small and nonthreatening, so they crouch low, with feet tucked, and ears and tail held close to the body. Cats show trust by placing themselves in vulnerable postures such as rolling.
8. Fur Position: The hair on a cat can telegraph emotional state. Fur is smooth in relaxed cats. Any kind of arousal -- fear, aggression, happiness, stress -- may prompt fluffed fur that stands straight off the body. For instance, you'll see a bottle brush tail when kitty becomes excited.
9. Ear Position: The ears of relaxed and interested cats face forward. Ears turn sideways in uneasy cats. Fearful kitties hold ears sideways like airplane wings. Ears that flicker back and forth very quickly indicate great agitation. The cat slicks his ears tight to the head in preparation for attack. Cats with one ear forward and one sideways aren't clear how they feel.
10. Eye Reactions: They dilate suddenly (pupils go from slits to round) any time the cat feels sudden excitement. That arousal might be anything from the sight of a dog to a bowl of favorite food or a feather toy. Cat stares indicate a challenge. Squinting shows strong emotion and possibly impending attack. But a slow eye-blink to other cats or people signals nonthreat and is known as a "kitty kiss" when aimed at people.
11. Tail Position: While these vary somewhat between cats, a tail held straight up, with just the end tipped over, is a feline "howdy" that signals to other cats and people a friendly greeting -- it means kitty wants to interact with you. Relaxed cat tails are held in a gentle U, and the greater his interest, the higher the cat holds his tail. Tails tucked between the legs or wrapped around the crouched body show fear. The end of the tail flicking back and forth indicates frustration that may progress to tail-thumping wags that warn of imminent attack. A bottle-brush tail held straight up or behind the cat shows aggression, but if it's held in an inverted U it is a defensive posture.
12. Rubbing/Scratching Behavior: When cats rub against you or scratch objects they are leaving the equivalent of scented Post-It notes. Scent glands in the forehead, cheeks, paw pads and tail leave behind the kitty's signature scent. Cats rub or scratch to mark territory as owned -- including scent-marking a beloved human with cheek rubs.
Understanding cat vocabulary can help you become more attuned to what your cat has to say. But every cat is different, so pay attention to what your favorite feline does. Some cats develop their own way of communicating -- a particular meow, for example -- the same way people who speak the same language may have different regional accents. Watch your own kitty to learn the way he or she talks.

Adapted from: and Amy's book, Complete Kitten Care, which is also available on Amazon at:

Now, take those 12 "communication" categories and read how the Humane Society of the United States goes into an even more descriptive portrayal of what a cat can show you:

Cat Chat: Understanding Feline Language

Body language, behavior, and vocalizations are keys to understanding the feline mind.

You and your cat might speak different languages, but you can still communicate with each other.

Indicators such as the look in your cat's eyes, the tone of her voice, the position of her ears, and the motion of her tail can provide important clues that reveal her feelings and intentions. You can learn to "read" these signals so you’ll get a good idea of what's on your cat's mind.

Vocalizing: Something to talk about

You'll learn a lot from your cat's wide vocabulary of chirps and meows. You'll know when it's time to get up (at least in your cat's opinion), when your cat's feeling affectionate, or when your cat's feeling threatened or is in pain.

Meow is an all-purpose word. This can be a greeting ("Hey, how ya doin'?), a command ("I want up, I want down, More food now"), an objection ("Touch me at your own risk"), an announcement ("Here's your mouse"). Some cats even walk around the house meowing to themselves.

Chirps and trills are how a mother cat tells her kittens to follow her. Kitty wants you to follow him, usually to his food bowl. If you have more than one cat, they will often converse with each other this way.

The purr is a sign of contentment. Cats purr whenever they're happy, even while they’re eating. Sometimes, however, a cat may purr when he's anxious or sick, using the purr as a way to comfort himself, like a child sucking his thumb.

Growling, hissing, and spitting indicates a cat who is annoyed, frightened, angry or aggressive. Leave this cat alone.

The yowl or howl is a loud, drawn-out meow. Your cat is in some kind of distress—stuck in a closet, looking for you, in pain. In unneutered and unspayed cats, it's part of the mating behavior (and very annoying). Elderly cats sometimes suffer from cognitive disorder (dementia) and may howl because they're disoriented. Screaming means your cat is in terrible pain.

Chattering, chittering, twittering is the strange noise your cat makes when he's sitting in the window watching birds or squirrels. Some experts think that this is an exaggeration of the "killing bite," when a cat grabs his prey by the neck and works his teeth through the bones to snap them.

Body language

A cat gets her whole body into the act when she's communicating.

Does your cat's back arch up to meet your hand when you pet her? This means she's enjoying this contact with you. Does she shrink away under your slightest touch? Save the petting for later: she's not interested right now.

Pay attention to her eyes, ears, body and tail—they're all part of the story.


Forward: alert, interested, happy
Backward, sideways, flat ("airplane ears"): irritable, angry, frightened

Swiveling: attentive, listening to every little sound


Pupils constricted: offensively aggressive; content

Pupils dilated: nervous, submissive (somewhat dilated); defensively aggressive (fully dilated); playful


Erect, fur flat: alert, inquisitive, happy

Fur standing on end: angry, frightened

Held very low or tucked between legs: insecure, anxious

Thrashing back and forth: agitated. The faster the tail, the madder the cat

Straight up, quivering: excited, really happy. If your cat is not neutered, he or she could be getting ready to spray something!


Back arched, fur standing on end: frightened, angry

Back arched, fur flat: welcoming your touch

Lying on back, purring: very relaxed, may be asking for a tummy rub

Lying on back, growling, upset, ready to strike


When your cat rubs her chin and body against you, she's telling you she loves you, right? Well, sort of. What she's really doing is marking her territory. You'll notice that she also rubs the chair, the door, her toys, everything in sight. She's telling everyone that this is her stuff, including you. But she does love you, too.


In the cat world, this is called "making biscuits," because the cat works her paws on a soft surface as if it she's kneading bread dough. This is a holdover from kittenhood, when a nursing kitten massaged her mother's teats to make milk flow. When your cat does this, she is really happy.

The Flehman response

You've surely noticed times when your cat, while sniffing your shoe perhaps, lifts his head, opens his mouth slightly, curls back his lips, and squints his eyes. He's not making a statement about how your shoe smells, he's gathering more information.

Your cat's sense of smell is so important to him that he actually has an extra olfactory organ that very few other creatures have—the Jacobson's organ. It's located on the roof of his mouth behind his front teeth and is connected to the nasal cavity.

When your cat gets a whiff of something really fascinating, he opens his mouth and inhales so that the scent molecules flow over the Jacobson's organ. This intensifies the odor and provides more information about the object he's sniffing. What he does with that information, well, we'll never know.

In the mood

Is your cat playing, meditating, or having a bad day? Here's how you can tell:

Content: Sitting or lying down, eyes half-closed, narrow pupils, tail mostly still, ears forward, purring. A really happy cat will often knead on a soft surface.

Playful: Ears forward, tail up, whiskers forward, pupils somewhat dilated. Playing is hunting behavior; your cat may stalk his prey (a toy, a housemate, you), then crouch down with his rear end slightly raised. A little wiggle of the butt, then … pounce! Kitty grabs his prey, bites it, wrestles it the floor, and kicks it with his hind feet. His toy is now dead.

Irritated, over-stimulated: Pupils dilating, ears turning back, tail twitching or waving. The cat may growl or put her teeth on you as a warning to cease and desist. Intense play can quickly turn to overstimulation in some cats, resulting in biting and scratching.

Nervous, anxious: Ears sideways or back, pupils dilating, tail low or tucked between legs. The cat may slink through the house close to the floor, looking for somewhere to hide. He may turn his face to the wall to shut the world out.

Frightened, startled: Think Halloween cat. Ears back and flat against head, whiskers back, back arched, fur standing on end, tail erect or low. May yowl, growl, hiss, and spit.

Defensive: Crouched position, ears flattened, whiskers back, tail between legs or wrapped around body, pupils dilated. May meow loudly, growl, hiss, and spit.

Angry, aggressive: Ears back, pupils very constricted, tail up or down with fur standing on end. An aggressive cat will stare down the other cat and growl or yowl until the other cat gives way. Cats don't really want to fight; they prefer standoffs, but this can progress to fighting if one of the cats doesn't back down.

Adapted from the Humane Society of the United States at:

The final portion of this week's installment on understanding what your cat is trying to tell you comes from a veterinarian's cat.  This cat, known as Christopher Cat, is featured in the Reading Eagle, from Reading, PA and answers readers questions about their pets.  The question in this column illustrates just how easy it is to misinterpret a cat's body language:

Dear Christopher Cat: My cats, Scarlett and Rhett, are picky eaters, and I need your advice. I've tried many brands of dry food, but they nibble only a little at a time and then walk away. During the day, they often rub up against me, telling me they're hungry, so I have to interrupt what I'm doing to give them a bit of canned food. Can you help?

Christopher responds: Rubbing behavior is often misunderstood.

When your cats rub up against you, they are not telling you they're hungry. They're letting you know they value you as a member of their family.We cats rub against our feline and human - and sometimes even canine - family members to deposit our scent on them, marking them as family.
Rubbing is your cats' way of telling you they love you. You humans send the same signal when you pet us.
Unfortunately, a common cause of obesity in cats is their humans' mistaken impression that their cats want food when they rub against them. We cats graze, nibbling only a few bites 14 to 17 times per day, on average. So Scarlett and Rhett are exhibiting normal feeding behavior.
When they rub against you, don't feed them. Instead, pet them, speak to them, or get a toy and play with them.

Adapted from:

In next week's issue of Questions On Dogs and Cats, Helpful Buckeye will delve into some of the more commonly seen examples of unusual cat behavior.  Be there...or be a dog!

Helpful Buckeye found this interesting news item while browsing through some articles on cats:

VANCOUVER — The northern British Columbia town of Kitimat has become a dangerous place for kitties — and residents say a family of wolverines is to blame.

As of Thursday, more than 80 cats have gone missing, while sightings of four wolverines — a male, female and two young — have been reported around town.  "They're the most vicious animals I know," Kitimat Mayor Joanne Monaghan told the Vancouver Province. "They can kill a bear, an elk, a deer."

While there have been no reports of wolverines attacking humans, townspeople are concerned that the wolverines might attack a child next.  "It scares the crap out of me," said Monaghan.  "I'm concerned about my community, especially the kids. I can see a situation where a young child seeing their cat being attacked might try to save its pet and get attacked by the wolverine."

Monaghan said the feline disappearances began in May when two residents reported their cats missing. A resident, who lives a block away, witnessed his cat being viciously attacked by a large wolverine.  "He ran out, the wolverine dropped the cat, but the cat was already dead," said Monaghan.  The wolverine retreated to the bushes, but continued to growl while the family buried the cat in the yard.

In this small community of 8,000 where each household averages two to four cats and where wildlife lurk in the forested areas around town, the occasional missing cat isn't out of the ordinary.  "We've never, ever (had) sightings of wolverines in all my time at the shelter and I've been there 16 years," said Maryann Baumbach, manager of the local animal shelter.

Most of the missing cats are from a neighbourhood in an area of Kitimat that's surrounded by bush, with a gully running across back yards, said Baumbach, who is worried the creatures are becoming bolder.  "It's a concern. They're presenting themselves to people and doing it in the daytime. If they're being that aggressive towards people's pets, what is going to happen when a child is with a pet?"

She said conservation officers initially didn't want to do anything because wolverines are not a threat to humans. Last week, an officer arrived to set a trap, but so far it has not been successful.  Aside from two confirmed cases, there is no proof the other missing cats were eaten by wolverines.

But Monaghan said they don't need bodies to put two and two together.  "Where else would they go?"

Adapted from:

Now, you might wonder why this caught the attention of Helpful Buckeye.  Regular readers of Questions On Dogs and Cats will understand why Helpful Buckeye was asking the question, "What is the University of Michigan football team doing in northern British Columbia?"  I'll let you fill in your own answer to that one, but my answer is that they must have figured that it is easier to fight with cats than to beat up on the Buckeyes!

It sure is good to be reading about the NFL training camps and their preparations for the upcoming season.  Most football prognosticators are looking seriously at New England, NY Jets, and the Baltimore Ravens as the favorites in the American Conference.  Hopefully, that will allow the Steelers to establish themselves as a dark horse contender while others are disregarding them.


With the widespread heat wave that has been gripping the country's midsection this summer, it's pretty easy to understand this approach taken by a bulldog in Texas...hope it works for him!

Helpful Buckeye came across this quote yesterday and it applies to me in a very personal way right about now.  I have had a lot of happy moments and I do hope I can carry those memories into my older years.

"Cherish all your happy moments; they make a fine cushion for old age."
--Booth Tarkington,  American novelist and dramatist

~~The goal of this blog is to provide general information and advice to help you be a better pet owner and to have a more rewarding relationship with your pet. This blog does not intend to replace the professional one-on-one care your pet receives from a practicing veterinarian. When in doubt about your pet's health, always visit a veterinarian.~~

Sunday, August 7, 2011


Well, we've gotten you through the initial step of deciding whether or not you wanted a new pet.  Then, we gave you some suggestions for how to go about looking for that new pet.  In last week's issue of Questions On Dogs and Cats, we presented some ideas on what to look for when choosing a veterinarian to take care of that new pet.  Hopefully, you're still with us as the final part of this topic discussion takes place this week.  We all agree that properly caring for your pet takes a firm commitment to do the right things.  As the introduction at the top of the opening page of this blog says, "Our goal is to not only help dog and cat owners take better care of their pets, but also to enrich the owner/pet relationship.  An educational experience for all who are interested.  Enjoy your pet and help your pet benefit from you!"

A well-informed pet owner will almost always be a better pet owner.  When I was still working in veterinary medical practice, I always appreciated a client who asked questions.  It didn't matter how many questions a client had for me...I made an effort to answer every one of them.  If I didn't  know the answer, I made sure that I found the answer.  With that in mind, look over this list of The Top 10 Questions Veterinarians Get About Pets:

No. 1: What Type of Food is Healthiest for Pets?

Any major brand of pet food is fine, says Peter Vyorst, DVM, a veterinarian at the Pet Health Center at North Shore Animal League America in Port Washington, N.Y. “Dry versus wet depends on what the owner and the pet prefer,” Dr. Vyorst says. You should feed puppy or kitten food for the first year and then switch to an adult food.

Look for food that has been certified by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), suggests Gregg Takashima, DVM, president of the American Animal Hospital Association and a practicing veterinarian in Lake Oswego, Ore. This demonstrates that the pet food company is meeting nutritional recommendation standards.

No. 2: How Much Food Does My Pet Need?

“Each pet food is different and each pet is different,” says Christina Buchter, DVM, a veterinarian also with the Pet Health Center at North Shore Animal League America, the world’s largest no-kill animal rescue and adoption organization. “Therefore, you should use the food bag and your pet as a guide.” Keep in mind that the amount of food fed depends on your pet’s lifestyle and metabolism — if you compare two identical healthy pets, the more active pet will need more food. In general, Dr. Buchter says you should feed your pet three times a day until it is 4 months old, and then reduce it to twice daily.

No. 3: Is My Pet Too Plump?

Many pet owners don’t know how to determine if their pet is overweight. “You should be able to feel your pet’s ribs, but also feel a thin fat layer covering over them. Behind the ribs there should be a waist,” Buchter says. If you think your pet is overweight, try cutting back on its food. Vyorst suggests decreasing the amount you feed by 5 to10 percent. If that doesn’t work, ask your vet about low-calories diets.

No. 4: What Vaccinations Should My Pet Get?

For a healthy pet, Vyorst says vaccinations should be started at 6 weeks of age and given every three-four weeks until the pet is 4 months old. He says puppies are given DHLPP vaccine, which protects against many contagious diseases including hepatitis. A kitten is given FVRCP vaccine to prevent many potentially deadly contagious illnesses. Both puppies and kittens are given a rabies vaccine at 4 months. Puppies also get a vaccine to guard against kennel cough. Dr. Takashima suggests asking your vet questions about specific shots for your particular pet — the recommendation will depend on where you live, your travel plans, and your lifestyle.

No. 5: Can My Puppy Go Outside Yet?

“It is safest to wait until the puppy has finished the series of vaccinations before letting it go outside,” Vyorst says. That is usually at 4 months old.

No. 6: Should I Brush My Pet's Teeth?

Poor pet dental hygiene can cause gum disease and that, Vyorst says, makes dogs and cats more prone to heart and kidney disease. A professional dental cleaning under anesthesia will remove plaque and tartar. Regular brushing will keep the tartar from coming back. “Two to three times weekly is a good goal to aim for,” says Buchter. If your pet does not tolerate brushing, there are dental chews and special diets available.

No. 7: What's the Scoop on Flea, Tick, and Heartworm Medicine?

Takashima and Vyorst generally recommend using this triple protection (against fleas, ticks, and heartworms) all year-round. But Takashima adds that where you live and your lifestyle will determine your pet’s individual medication plan.

No. 8: How Often Should I Bathe My Pet?

Most dogs without a skin condition don’t need a bath more than once a month, says Buchter. In fact, bathing your dog more than once a week could cause dry skin. But be sure to clean your pet’s ears more often to prevent infection — once or twice a week is recommended, depending on the amount of dirt or wax you find. Vyorst advises using your finger and a piece of gauze and any major brand of ear cleaner.

No. 9: Why Does My Pet Eat Poop?

This habit may turn your stomach, but it could be just that — a habit, says Takashima. Your dog or cat could also be doing it out of boredom or just have a huge appetite. Generally speaking, a pet isn’t eating feces because he’s missing an essential nutrient. “Perfectly healthy pets with no deficiencies will often do this,” he says. It’s best to discourage the behavior because “it is one way of introducing parasites, not to mention the bacteria.”

No. 10: Can My Pet Make Me Sick?

“In general, if your pet has a cold, or if you do, you cannot transfer it to each other,” Buchter says. However, she notes, there are a few conditions, including intestinal parasites and skin diseases, that could be transferred to people.

The most common question Takashima receives: Isn’t my dog or cat the best you’ve ever seen? “The answer is always … of course!” he says.

Adapted from:

Did you recognize some of the things you've been wondering about in that list of questions?  As you've often heard, there are no stupid questions...if something puzzles you enough to formulate a question, go ahead and ask your veterinarian the next time you see them.

Take a few minutes away from reading right now and listen to this podcast from the American Veterinary Medical Association, titled "Things To Ask Your Veterinarian":

By now, you should have a pretty good idea that better communication between you and your veterinarian is one of the most important things you can work toward as you strive to be the best pet owner you can be.

Just as a final reminder of the idea that "Chance favors the well-prepared," here is a last list of advice:

Pet Care Requires Planning

How do you mark summer's arrival? Do you stock up on suntan lotion? Buy yourself a new beach bag? Maybe you're thinking about a summer vacation and planning where and when you'll go. You've probably already sent in the deposits and medical forms for your children's camps and signed everyone up for swimming lessons. But have you given any thought to your four-legged friends? Start thinking now about what to do with your pet during summer vacation.

Take a few minutes and check off these five items for Fido or Fluffy:

1. Hydration. You don't leave for a day at the beach without packing a cooler of snacks and drinks, right? Well, dogs and cats need the same TLC during the hot summer months. If your animals are able to go outside, buy an extra bowl or two for outdoor hydration. If your exercise plans include taking along your dog, make sure you bring along a collapsible bowl or water bottle.

2. Fur care. You make appointments for your highlights and haircut, so make sure you give your pet the same amount of attention. Flea and tick baths and dips are a priority, so make appointments at your vet or groomer now to avoid problems later. And book a trim now for pets with longer hair, and you'll find your dog panting with happiness, not heatstroke.

3. Shade. If your animals spend a lot of time outside, see if your yard has appropriate spots for shade. If not, figure out where you can hang a temporary sheet in a corner of the yard and purchase the equipment you'll need. Or get a real doghouse.

4. Put together a pet-care bin. Throw one in your car and stash one by your front door or mudroom, especially if you live near the beach. Keep a towel, soft brush and collapsible water dish in a canvas bag. That way you'll always be ready for fun, and the wet sandy paws that tend to go with it.

5. Doggy day (and night) care. Going on vacation? Chances are, a lot of others are, too, so line up your pet care now -- not at the last minute. If you're giving the job to a neighbor's daughter, have her do a trial run while you are there so you're comfortable with her knowledge. No matter who's going to be in charge of your pet, make sure the person has critical information about your pet (including appropriate shots and paperwork) before you leave. If you don't have that organized, there are many great pet organizers on the market.

Adapted from:

Helpful Buckeye will be back next week with a completely new topic for your enjoyment.  Don't forget, you can always contact Helpful Buckeye at:  with an e-mail question.  We don't give out e-mail addresses to anybody.

Helpful Buckeye went to a couple of the AZ Cardinals' training camp practices this past week, held here in Flagstaff.  Desperado went with me to the second one...this was her first time to go to a practice in the 12 summers we've been in Flagstaff.  Desperado's OK with football, but it's not her favorite sport to watch.  That would be baseball.  However, she really got into the practice routines that the different position players go through.  There were good-sized crowds of spectators for these practices, especially the later one...because that was their first chance to see the new quarterback the Cardinals picked up.  If Kevin Kolb can get the ball to Larry Fitzgerald with anywhere near the recent success rate of Kurt Warner, the Cardinals should have a decent season.


Helpful Buckeye got several e-mail answers to the question last week about my herbs.  Only one reader, Helene from Richmond, VA, had the right answer.  Basil, Spearmint, Lavender, and Rosemary all are found in the Mint family of plants.

Helpful Buckeye and Desperado enjoy preparing AND eating different types of foods and recipes.  Normally, one or the other of us will take the lead in the preparation and the other will assist with chopping, slicing, and necessary clean-up.  This week, Helpful Buckeye decided to introduce 5 new entree recipes to our weekly plan of menus.  This means I will be doing mostly everything in getting the meal to the table.  Desperado deserves the break...meanwhile, two quotes from Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890) painter, born in the Netherlands, apply to my culinary efforts this week: "Great things are done by a series of small things brought together," and " lies in the joy of achievement, in the thrill of creative effort."

~~The goal of this blog is to provide general information and advice to help you be a better pet owner and to have a more rewarding relationship with your pet. This blog does not intend to replace the professional one-on-one care your pet receives from a practicing veterinarian. When in doubt about your pet's health, always visit a veterinarian.~~