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!

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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.~~

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