Why do cats knead? Why do dogs lick you? The science of pets’ quirks.
The photos and videos lack context, so the ideas expressed by the researchers should be considered anecdotal and speculative. “Many experts and nonexperts will vary in what they believe is happening here,” Byosiere said. “There may be more explanations. Only with more footage and insight can we begin to narrow down our thoughts.”
Responses have been edited for clarity and space.
Ghost, the dog who just discovered she has feet
Ghost, a 1-year-old Australian cattle dog, decided to attack her own leg, says her human, Joan Houston.
MacLean: “This could be playful, but sometimes this kind of behavior actually reflects a problem. Sometimes it’s a result of trauma and a stereotypical behavior associated with ‘floating limb syndrome,’ which happens with the tail, too. Or the dog could be responding to an unpleasant sensation on the leg, which might reflect an underlying physical condition. Cute if it happens once or twice playfully, but if it’s a regular behavior, this is a good one to share with the vet.”
Udell: “There are several different reasons a dog may appear to attack or bite parts of its own body, like a paw or leg. If this is new behavior, the first thing to rule out is a medical condition like allergies or an injury that could be drawing attention to the area. Dogs sometimes also chew or lick themselves in unusual or excessive ways when under-stimulated or stressed. Some dogs may also compulsively respond to the movement of their own body parts as prey. While the behavior may not always cause a problem, often this behavior can signal an underlying condition that is causing the dog distress and should be discussed with a veterinarian or animal behaviorist.”
Evie, the cat who loves to play with bunnies
“Evie is a very quirky cat,” says her human, Lucy Kershen. “She is very talkative and still has a kitten voice, even though she is over a year old. She is a very sweet cat and loves to play with our other pets, including our bunnies. Perhaps her most distinguishing feature is her third eyelid, which is often visible over the corner of her eye. The eyelid does not hinder her ability to see, but it does make her unique.”
Vitale: “This cat has formed a friendship. Despite common stereotypes of cats being socially aloof, given the correct life experiences cats can develop affectionate relationships with many different animals. I’ve heard other stories of cats being unexpected friends with potential prey animals like birds and rodents.”
Delgado: “I would check in with a veterinarian as my understanding is that the third eyelid showing is typically related to a medical issue. This isn’t a behavioral quirk. Cats and rabbits can be great friends and playmates, when introduced and supervised properly.”
Milo, the cat who eats baskets
“Milo likes to chew up his beds,” says pet parent Chris Lindeman. “He did this with his basket and made such a mess, I took it away, now he’s doing it with a cardboard box. He doesn’t eat it, just chews it up and spits it out. He’s a shelter cat. We got him when he was 2 years old in January 2018. He’s missing one canine, which was decayed and had to be removed when we adopted him. He’s big and healthy and very happy, doesn’t scratch or chew anything else. We’ve never had a cat do this particular weird thing before.”
Vitale: “Playing involves natural behaviors, like hunting, chasing, or even ripping up baskets. Except for the occasional mouse or insect, house cats don’t usually find prey animals in the home. Because of this, cats sometimes treat household items like prey. This cat is likely tapping into their natural predatory behavior to dissect something, only it is playfully directed at a basket rather than a bird or mouse.”
Delgado: “Cats can chew nonfood items for various reasons, including digestive issues, dental discomfort, boredom, or just because they enjoy it. When the cat ingests the nonfood items, it is a condition called pica. It sounds like we just have chewing and no swallowing going on. I always recommend mentioning this to your veterinarian to make sure there’s not a medical issue related to the behavior. I think cardboard is safer to chew than the basket, as those little bits could be swallowed. When I’m presented with a client who has a ‘chewer’ we always look for ways to create a more stimulating environment, such as climbing perches, scratching posts, bird feeders to watch through the window, and interactive playtime where the human moves a wand toy for their cat a few times a day. You may also want to try some of the safe ‘chew toys’ designed for cats, or ask your veterinarian if your cat can have the larger dental kibbles that are larger and give cats an outlet for crunching and chewing.”
Douglas, the dog with the ‘death roll’
Douglas, a 2-year-old golden retriever likes to “plop down and play dead mid walk,” says his human, Ethan Lee. “I call it the ‘death roll’ because he rolls and just stops moving.”
Wilson: “Dogs are quick learners, and many behaviors that seem random to us are often serving a function for your dog. When your dog starts doing something new, you can ask yourself: ‘what is the outcome for my dog when they show this behavior?’ Adorable Douglas may have learned that rolling onto his back during walks results in attention — even if inadvertent. All eyes are now on him, belly rubs, strangers coming over to interact, the walk lasting longer, or maybe even treats offered as an incentive to walk again.”
Byosiere: “If you watch the video slowly, you’ll see the golden put his or her nose down to the ground for a few seconds before flipping upside down. Once upside down you see lots of licking the nose. You see this nose licking when dogs are trying to obtain olfactory sensory information. For example, in scent detection dogs or dogs that do nose work, you’ll see them do this while searching. My thought here is that there’s something extra yummy smelling and the dog would like to learn more about it! It’s taken a pause from the walk to gather all the scent info and there is some ground rolling which dogs sometimes do when they find fun smelling things — to them; we generally don’t like what they roll in.”
MacLean: “Sometimes you just need a break.”
Sophie, the cat who snoozes in a lamp
“Sophie loves to sit and sleep on one of the arms of my sofa,” says her pet parent, Ruth Faerber. “There is a table next to that part of the sofa with a tall table lamp. Sophie sits on her hind legs on that arm, puts her head under the lampshade, places her paws on either side of the lamp, and goes to sleep. If that lamp isn’t on, she goes to two other tables with table lamps and takes her siesta or sunbathes under her own personal heat lamp. I’ve had cats for 46 years and while she’s very sweet, she’s definitely the quirkiest.”
Wilson: “Despite most wild cat species remaining in seclusion during daylight hours, it has been recorded that some wildcats emerge from their hideouts to bathe in patches of sunlight. The domestic cat appears to have retained this attribute, as we often see cats attracted to the light and warmth found where sunlight hits. Sophie has likely cleverly realized that, even on a rainy day, the lamp provides a perfectly suitable source of warmth and light to relax in.”
Udell: “Cats have a higher natural body temperature than humans, so what may feel like a comfortable room temperature to us may feel a bit cold to them. Many cats also like resting in enclosed spaces, one of the reasons boxes, drawers and other hidden locations are among favorite sleeping places for cats. While this cat’s choice of napping upright on a lamp is definitely quirky, it may be gaining both warmth and a sense of protection from the location.”
Lizzie, the dog who ‘talks to ghosts’
Lizzie is a 5-year-old English bulldog rescue. Lizzie talks to ghosts in our historic home, says pet parent Joshua Levin. She becomes animated and barks enthusiastically at … nothing. She often stops, appears attentive for some period, then barks more as if reacting. She does this only before the sun comes up in that one part of the house.
Wilson: “It is possible that Lizzie is picking up on ways that the indoor lights are reflecting off the glass. This could be why it only happens when there is low natural light outside, as these reflections would fade as the sun comes up. Some dogs, especially herding breeds, have been reported to respond in similar ways to light reflections, which can become problematic if the behaviors become obsessive. Further investigation would be needed to understand the basis of this behavior but given that it occurs only in a certain place and a certain time, there is likely something that triggers it.”
Udell: “Dogs can hear and smell things beyond the range of human perception, so often our dogs may appear to be barking at nothing when there may really be something there. For example, in a historic house at dawn, it is possible that a dog may be barking at the sounds and smells of a mouse scurrying in a wall — something that would be very salient to a dog but may be impossible for us to detect ourselves. Looking at the video of Lizzie, however, suggests she could be looking at the windows which are reflecting the image of the room and the individuals in it. When it is dark outside, and light are on inside, windows often act as mirrors. Many dogs fail to recognize themselves in mirrors, so it seems likely that Lizzie may have become accustomed to barking at the mysterious visiting dog that disappears at daybreak — also known as her reflection.”
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