Do Cats Lick out of Affection?

Cats show their affection in different ways. A lingering body lean against your leg, a cuddle in your lap as you read the paper, a heart-warming cheek rub — these are all ways that our furry felines let us know we’ve got their stamp of approval. But what about licking? If you’ve been licked by a cat, you’ve probably been surprised by the rough texture of a cat’s tongue. It might be bubblegum pink and adorably tiny, but a feline’s tongue contains papillae, which feel like sandpaper and help cats properly groom themselves and effectively remove meat from bones. 

So why is your four-legged friend repeatedly licking you? For one, they lick to form and strengthen bonds. Allogrooming, a behavior in cats and other social animals, creates a familiar group scent, reinforces the relationship and social connection between members and (bonus!) keeps everyone in tip top shape. “I usually take my cats’ licking as a compliment,” states certified feline behavior consultant Marci Koski, who explains that a licking cat with relaxed body language like kneading or nuzzling is generally a sign of a calm and content feline. They could also be tasting something unfamiliar that spilled on your arm, having a moment of affection, or requesting your attention. Of course, compulsive self-licking could be a sign of an anxious kitty — especially if you notice thinning or bald spots — and should be addressed with your veterinarian. The takeaway? Social grooming by licking is a key feline behavior indicative of affection between cats and between cats and humans. 

Dog’s Personalities Evolve with Age

When we bring puppies home, we can’t wait to see their little personalities take shape. As they grow, we come to understand them as unique and special, whether they’re fearless, friendly, cuddly, sensitive, smart, loyal, or shy. When I brought Juniper home, I couldn’t have predicted all the qualities that make her who she is. As she grew, I took note of her quirks, big and small — how she prefers gentle music like Norah Jones, enjoys an ear scratch more than a belly rub, is sensitive to people crying, and could sleep through her morning walk if I let her. Through the years, I’ve noticed changes, too; as a six year old, she prefers a good squirrel chase over the dog park, doesn’t like to eat her dinner unless I’m eating mine, and has finally come around to enjoying a dip in the ocean.

Apparently, I’m not alone in seeing my dog’s personality evolve with age. In a study by psychologists in the Journal of Research in Personality, dog owners were instructed to closely observe their four-legged friend’s personalities and behavioral histories throughout their lifespan. The research indicated that people seemed to notice their dog’s specific character traits take shape over time. And characteristics such as aggression, timidness, and anxiety were often contingent on the owner’s personality traits. This is not so surprising as we’ve seen, time and time again, just how attuned our furry canines are to our emotional state. But the study pointed out an interesting find: “When humans go through big changes in life, their personality traits can change. We found that this also happens with dogs—and to a surprisingly large degree,” stated William Chopik, lead psychologist and author of the study. While it’s been previously assumed that dogs personalities are somewhat fixed, Chopik proved that our furry friends actually grow into their personalities and may exhibit shifts in characteristics and quirks throughout their lives. Fascinating!

What do you think? Have you noticed your furry pal’s personalities change with age? We’d love to hear in the comments!

Cat News for the State of NY

Last month during Animal Advocacy Day, New York became the third state to push forward a bill by the Humane Society banning cat declawing, joining other countries that have long since banned the procedure. The bill awaits the signature of Gov. Cuomo to be passed. Read more, below…

The surgical removal of a feline’s claws has been mistakenly considered a quick fix for unwanted scratching and the destruction of furniture. But cats scratch for a reason — in fact, it’s a trait specific to cats — just as a bear will scratch its back on a tree or a monkey will groom its offspring; a good scratching session is part of what makes a cat a cat, helping him or her to remove dead husks from their claws, have a sense of marking territory, and flex their muscles. Plus, there are adverse effects to a declawed cat. Without their claws, cats are more likely to bite, often feeling defenseless without their number one tool. It is also reported that a declawed cat will avoid the litter box after the surgery, perhaps because of pain or discomfort.

In addition, cat declawing can result in lifelong pain for your cat, since it is essentially an amputation procedure. Cats that have undergone cat declawing surgery are more prone to infection, nerve damage and tissue death. While there are many in opposition of the surgery, there are some in favor, including those who believe that owners with blood diseases such as hemophilia should be given the option to declaw their cat. The bottom line? There are several ways to keep unwanted scratching at bay. Keep your kitty’s nails trimmed (we wrote a blog post about it here – link attached) and provide plenty of scratching posts throughout the house, replacing them as needed. 

What do you think? While the ban has both those in favor and those in opposition, lawmakers are uniting over a common sentiment: our pets give us so much love and happiness, we’d do what it takes to keep them safe.

Clever Evolution to Explain Puppy Eyes

We’ve all been on the receiving end of it: a wishful dog peering out from under the table gives you his best shot at puppy eyes as you lift a forkful of chicken into your mouth. We’ve loved reporting on the various ways dogs have evolved to cohabitate with humans, and especially how some characteristics reflect the species keen adaptation to our human ways. The newest research on the matter hasn’t let us down, so we knew we’d share with our readers…

A few weeks ago, a team of researchers at the National Academy of Sciences reported that dogs make puppy eyes — that look of quizzical anticipation — more frequently than wolves. In fact, officially coined “AU101: inner eyebrow raise” the look we so often see as a dog cocks its head may be a result of clever evolution and positive reinforcement. The proof is in the pudding here; dogs have evolved to have muscles above their eyebrows that make for a more expressive face, while wolves, despite having similar muscle construction, don’t lift their eyebrows. This bit of domesticated biology has been working in dog’s favors, perhaps passing the favorable trait down through the generations. For example, an expressive dog with puppy eyes is more likely to be adopted from a shelter, and in studies conducted on human preference, research has shown that people prefer pets which infant like features — such as wide, hopeful eyes — a characteristic that kicks our “nurturing” instinct into gear. Puppy eyes aren’t the only way dogs continue to steal our hearts – according to other research in the field, both human and dog share a boost of Oxytocin when reunited, the love hormone that reinforces bonds and keeps our canines so loyal.

All this to say, we’re happy these lovable companions continue to choose us and our couches over the wild woods!

Does Soothing Music Really Help My Pet Stay Calm?

Researchers have wondered for years: does soothing music have a similar effect on pets as it does on humans? Could a peaceful piano ballad put Fido at ease during a thunderstorm? According to extensive studies on shelter dogs, relaxing music with a steady tempo can lower cortisol levels, the hormone present in the blood responsible for stress. In fact, calming music and sounds seem to have a similar influence on many animals, causing a physiological response and the slowing of heart rates. This can be especially beneficial for canines, whose autonomic system is designed to swiftly recognize moments of fight or flight.

Interestingly, a study conducted in 2002 took the research a step farther and explored exactly what kind of music was most likely to calm an easily agitated pup. The takeaway? Dogs seem to respond most positively to simple music that has a tempo of around 50-60 beats per minute. “Classical music with a single instrument at a slower tempo has been especially shown to produce relaxed behaviors in dogs,” states Dr. Cornelius, founder of Last Wishes, an organization helping support families in end of care services for pets. Not surprisingly, fast music or tunes with especially heavy bases or loud percussions could have an adverse affect, causing your four legged friend to become anxious or on edge (it sounds like thunder!).

Wondering if this could apply to your kitty? Yes and no! With their keen sense of hearing, cats do prefer calming music similar to dogs, but they especially favor “species-appropriate music.” This includes music that mimics the sounds of birds chirping and cats purring or lightly scratching — think of it as a soundtrack of all the things cats love. In fact, with research backing just how beneficial cat-geared music can be for a jittery furry friend, it’s become an industry, with Kickstarter campaigns raising thousands of dollars to produce cat-friendly albums to be left on the stereo when owners leave for the day. Curious to have a listen? Music for Cats offers a free audio sample.

The real question is — if you have a dog and cat, would they both be happy to listen to the same album? We’ll leave that for them to decide.

Dogs Don’t Just Love us; They Want Us to Succeed

This just in: dogs really do have our best interests at heart. The evidence? A fascinating study conducted in Japan, in which researchers created social scenarios with dogs and their owners, plus two strangers who was instructed to behave either helpfully, neutrally, or disagreeably. Here’s what happened…

With their pack mentality, we know canines are attuned to social scenarios, especially involving their owners. As a member of a group (whether human or canine), it’s their job to pay attention to the social dynamics at play. This is why, for example, if a scuffle breaks out in a dog park, the other dogs will quickly rush over to see the commotion.

But just how nuanced is their ability to read the room? According to the University of Kyoto, dogs are “extremely sensitive to social signals from humans” and are quickly gathering information on who they can and cannot trust. In the study, 54 dogs were divided into 3 groups, with the same scenario and slightly different outcomes. In each test, the dog owner was instructed to struggle with the lid to a clear jar. A bystander/stranger was then instructed to either assist and successfully open the lid, or refuse help and abruptly walk out. Meanwhile, another bystander was instructed to stand nearby, acting neutrally and disengaging by looking down at the ground. After the test was completed, both bystanders were instructed to reach into their pockets and simultaneously offer a treat for the dog. Across the board, the dogs showed significant negative bias against the “non-helpers” in the various situations. This is especially remarkable considering the jar had little to no importance or value to the dog, they were simply looking out for the humans.

And there it is! What do you think? Are you surprised by this study or not at all? Please feel free to discuss in the comment section below.

Should I let my Dog Drink From a Puddle?

This spring has been especially rainy in New York and New Jersey, with heavy rain showers resulting in large puddles in the park that are especially tempting for thirsty pups after a long walk. Unsurprisingly, when rainy season comes around, vet offices are getting the same phone call all the time: “My dog just drank from a puddle. Should I be worried?” Here’s what you need to know…

The long and short of it? It isn’t ideal, but in all likelihood, there won’t be serious harm. Even so, there are risks, and owners should stay vigilant during a rainy walk. The issue with rain water, even freshly fallen, is that it quickly becomes contaminated with animal droppings, environmental factors, litter — and in parking lots, antifreeze, which is toxic and can cause acute kidney failure. In terms of bacteria, dogs can contract Leptospirosis, which is spread through urine from wild animals such as deer and rodents. Studies have shown that the more rain has fallen, the more likely the bacteria is present in bodies of water — including puddles. Giardia is a protozoan that is contracted through fecal matter in other dogs and animals, and it is also found in puddles and other areas frequented by furry creatures such as popular trail hikes, dog parks, and streams. The most common symptom in dogs is diarrhea. Luckily, it’s treatable, and veterinarians will often include the Giardia test if your four-legged pal frequents such areas.

So what can owners do? Increasing your awareness is a big part it – so you’re halfway there! In addition, it’s important to speak to your veterinarian about which vaccinations are appropriate for your dog’s lifestyle. Of course, the most surefire way to prevent your dog from drinking puddles is to keep him sufficiently hydrated with fresh clean water during long walks. And our tried and true advice remains: if anything doesn’t seem right, get your dog to the vet right away.

Confirmed! Cats Know Their Names

As you may already know, we’re a big fan of feline and canine studies. They give us insight into the four-legged friends in our lives, and many of them yield surprising results. More recently, a study was conducted by Japanese researchers to see if domestic cats can discern their names from other words.

“In contrast to dogs,” stated the study, “the ability of domestic cats to communicate with humans has not been explored thoroughly. We used a habituation-dishabituation method to investigate whether domestic cats could discriminate human utterances, which consisted of cats’ own names, general nouns, and other cohabiting cats’ names.” Interestingly, among the cats that were chosen to participate in the study were house cats as well as cat café cats. While the domestic cats could recognize their names and could distinguish their owner’s voice from a stranger’s voice, the cat café cats recognized their names plus the names of the other cats at the café. This could be simply because the café cats were exposed to the names of all the cats so often with people coming and going, and (adorably so), they recognized not just their own names, but the names of their fellow cat friends as well.

Researchers aren’t just interested in whether cats know their names; they’re interested in how cats choose to communicate with their owners in general. Recently, feline studies are being conducted to find out more about the “social referencing behavior” in our furry friends. So far, we know that cats are attuned to their owners in that they understand the human pointing gesture, and will look to their owners if they are put in a potentially fearful situation. There is some research to suggest that cats can even discern a positive versus negative affect or mood on a human face. While fascinating, these research studies sometimes just confirm what we already know – cats are geniuses!

What do you think? Are you surprised cats know their names, or have you always known with your kitty? Share in the comments below!