Behaving like animals

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Humans are easy to talk to, but animals? Not so much. Our pets have some unique ways of communicating with us but what are they actually trying to say? By Krissy Mehri

We talk to our pets in a unique way. Often, our tone gets higher, we speak faster, and we ask ‘who’s a good boy?’ more than we would in normal conversation. 

While we’re pretty sure our dog knows what we’re saying, is this actually the case? Are our pets excited to see us or are they just excited to see food? 

To find out more about the unique ways animals communicate, Your Pet spoke to emergency and critical care vet, Dr Leanne Pinfold, and Dr David Cunliffe, head of Hospital at Lort Smith in Victoria. 

Here are some of the weirdest pet behaviours and what they mean.

Why does my dog yawn every time I do? 

Yawning isn’t just contagious for people, it’s contagious for dogs too. But it’s unclear exactly why dogs yawn after their humans. Dr Pinfold says it could be a “form of empathy, mild stress or a way to expel excitement. Or, it could just be pure coincidence.”

Why does my dog get so excited whenever I say the word “walk”?

All we have to do is say the word ‘walk’ and, suddenly, our furry friend is beside us wagging their tail. But do our dogs actually understand what we say? 

“Absolutely dogs can understand their humans’ language— both verbal and physical,” says Dr Pinfold.

“Just like teaching a dog to sit and stay, the term ‘walk’, when used often enough, is associated with the action that is carried out at the time.” 

Why does my dog smell my bottom? 

Dogs like to stick their noses in some choice places. It’s endearing and annoying and totally normal. 

“Reading scents is how dogs gather social information. Much like humans reading the daily newspaper,” Dr Pinfold says.

“Apocrine glands, a type of sweat gland, are where dogs sniff to gather the latest breaking news. Apocrine glands are only found in certain areas of the human body—armpits and groins.” Which is why dogs often make a beeline for our nether regions. 

If you think your cat is ignoring you, they probably are. “Cattitude is real,” says Dr Pinfold

Why does my cat nap in tight places? 

Like dogs, cats are also known to follow some unique behavioural traits. One of those: napping in what seem like uncomfortably tight places. But according to the experts, this sleepy habit serves a very practical purpose.

“Tight spaces help cats to stay warm and offer a form of self-protection,” Dr Pinfold says. 

“With cats sleeping much of the day, they seek out spaces where they feel safest and decrease the chance of being caught unawares.” 

Luckily for cats, they have flexible spines. This makes squeezing into the smallest spots much easier. 

Why is my cat ignoring me?

Cats can be unaffectionate jerks, to put it lightly. And no, you’re not imagining it. “Cattitude is real!” Dr Pinfold explains. 

“If you are getting no love from your kitty friend, it’s likely they just aren’t in the mood for socialising.

“It could also be that they are feeling uneasy or unsure about the situation. Try not to take it personally, it’s just their shtick!” 

Why does my cat scratch things? 

Apart from ruining your new couch, “scratching things, is a territorial trait that leaves both a scent and a visual mark”, Dr Pinfold says. “Like dogs, cats have scent glands on their paws.”

Scratching also helps cats to stretch and gives them “DIY mani-pedis as it removes the dead outer layer of claws”.

Why does my cat sleep on my laptop or keyboard? 

Even though they’re antisocial, cats still love their owners. Chances are they like to sleep on your keyboard because it’s their way of showing—and sometimes demanding—affection. “Cats are strongly influenced by scent. If they love you, they will gravitate towards areas that smell like you,” says Dr Pinfold. “The attention seekers among them use this as an opportune way to distract you for a cuddle break. Laptops often give off warmth so don’t be surprised if you return from a phone conference to find them curled up on the keyboard.” 

What about other kinds of pets?

Dogs and cats aren’t the only pets people like to keep; rabbits, hamsters, snakes and lizards (to name a few) also make good companions.  And, like all animals, they have their own unique behaviours. 

Why is my rabbit eating its own poop?

When it comes to rabbit food, things like lettuce and carrots typically come to mind. So, you might be confused when you catch your bunny eating its own poop. Except that it’s not, it’s eating something called ‘cecotropes’. “Cecotropes are soft nutrient-rich pellets which are expelled from the rabbit’s bottom and later re-ingested by the rabbit to ensure they get the nutrients they need,” Dr Cunliffe explains. 

“Cecotropes have more protein, less fibre and higher levels of vitamins than actual hard pellet poop.” 

Why is my snake yawning?

Snakes don’t do much. They eat and sleep and blink and sleep some more. But one weird behaviour you might catch your pet snake doing is yawning. Or, as Dr Cunliffe refers to it, “preparing themselves for a feast. If their meal is larger than their head, yawning opens their jaws up nice and wide to devour their prey.” 

Why isn’t my guinea pig blinking? 

It’s a survival tactic. “Guinea pigs have poor vision which make them easy prey,” Dr Cunliffe says. 

“Blinking disrupts what vision they do have, increasing their chances of being attacked. Their life depends on them staying alert at all times so not blinking is common.” 

Why does my lizard close its eyes when I pet it? 

Unlike most other pets, lizards do not enjoy being touched. If you try to give your pet lizard a cuddle and they close their eyes, this is not a good sign. “Closed eyes indicate stress or fear. Immediately return the lizard to their happy place, likely their enclosure.”′

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