50 Secrets Your Pet Won’t Tell You | Reader's Digest

50 Secrets Your Pet Won’t Tell You

We asked animal behaviorists, nutritionists, veterinarians, and pet groomers to shed some light on what your furry friends would tell you if they could.

By Michelle Crouch
Also published in Reader's Digest Magazine May 2014
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    You think my tail wagging is always an invitation for you to pet me more. Wrong!

    Italian researchers found that dogs wag their tails slightly to the right when they see something they like and to the left when they’re confronted with something they want to back away from.

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    You might buy any old dog-grooming brush at the pet store...

    ...but you should really pick the right one for my coat. A rubber brush will promote circulation and loosen dirt. A bristle brush removes dead hair.

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    Your favorite cat game to play with me involves a laser pointer. The result:

    I get really frustrated because I can’t catch it, and I live for the hunt. So if you’re going to use a pointer, please sub in an actual toy at the end so I have something to catch and kill. It makes the game worth it.

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    You’re giving me too much food.

    How can you tell? I don’t seem motivated by food treats when you’re trying to train me. Cut back, and I’ll start to pay attention.

    Evan Kafka for Reader's Digest

    Grooming day means you bring out the big blow-dryer. Don’t!

    To make dogs like me look fluffy, shake a little cornstarch into the base of the fur and then brush. It will absorb oil and grease and detangle matted fur.

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    Please don’t rush me when I’m going to the bathroom.

    There’s a reason dogs circle around before getting down to business: We have an instinct to be aligned with the earth’s magnetic field before we poop. In fact, researchers watched 70 of us engage in 1,893 defecations over a two-year period just to figure this out.

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    You may think it’s nice to let me sleep all day, but too much nap time can affect my personality.

    A lot of behavioral problems can be solved by just taking your dog on a daily walk or by playing with your cat for 20 minutes every day.

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    Since I’m an old dog, I get to eat whatever I want, yes? No!

    If I have arthritis, I’ll be much happier if you give me a daily supplement that contains glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate, which protect joint cartilage. And switch me to a food formulated for an animal my age.

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    If you lose me...

    ...the first thing you should do is call every animal shelter within 100 miles of home, and visit the nearest shelters every day if you can. Many animal control bureaus euthanize animals if they go unclaimed for a specific amount of time. (For good measure, be sure to get me a microchip when I’m young.)

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    If you’re getting me spayed...

    ...ask your vet if she can remove just my ovaries, not my uterus. A much less invasive procedure, it’s the way cats and dogs are spayed in Europe, and many U.S. veterinarians have already made the switch.

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    Because I’m a creature of habit, even a subtle change in my behavior is a red flag that I might be sick.

    So if it takes me an hour to eat my food instead of 60 seconds as usual, if I’m tiring out faster when we play, if there are more urine clumps in the litter box than usual, or if I seem to be drinking more water, call the vet right away.

    Evan Kafka for Reader's Digest

    There’s no question that if you keep me inside and don’t let me wander the neighborhood...

    ...whether I’m a dog or a cat, I’ll have a better chance of living a longer life. I won’t get hit by a car, stolen, or just plain lost. But once I’ve been allowed to roam free, it’ll be hard to change me.

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    Please introduce me around when I’m young so I’m not afraid of strangers.

    Some experts say I should meet 100 new people of different sizes, genders, and ethnicities in my first 100 days at home, even if it’s just a quick greeting. Make sure you include people wearing hats and sunglasses, since those accessories can look awfully scary to me.

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    You may think it’s cute when I rub my butt on the carpet...

    ...but it probably means that I’m itchy and would like to see a vet.

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    When you’re choosing a new furry friend, ask a vet or trainer for simple tests you can do to gauge temperament.

    For example, you can try rolling me over on my back to see how I handle it. If I really struggle, I’m probably going to be tougher to train than an animal who lies there placidly.

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    Forget the Milk-Bones!

    If you want me to really pay attention when you’re training me, use a treat that’s moist, something so gross, you don’t even want to hold it in your hand, like a piece of greasy chicken.

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    While some of us gulp down grass only if we’ve eaten something that doesn’t agree with us and we’re trying to regurgitate it...

    ...others of us just love to munch the lawn. So let me graze—just make sure the grass I’m eating is free of pesticides.

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    Beware, Mom, because I will eat your underwear...

    ...especially if they’ve been worn. Veterinarians surgically remove hundreds of pairs from dogs’ bellies every year.

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    Please, please can I choose my own bed?

    The most comfortable one will depend on how I sleep. Let me try out a few in a pet store. If I usually sleep with my legs sprawled out, I’ll be more comfortable on a flat bed without side bumpers. But if I like to curl up, I’ll probably love a bumper bed.

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    You say I’m great with kids, but...

    ...if I’m licking, pulling my ears back, turning my head away, or yawning (all signs of anxiety) while they play with me, I’m probably just barely tolerating them. If you keep letting them pull my tail, one of these days, I might lose it.

    Evan Kafka for Reader's Digest

    Hold those clippers!

    No matter how high the mercury climbs or how long my hair is, I don’t need to be shaved. My undercoat actually insulates me from heat, so it helps me stay cool. Just make sure you keep my coat brushed and mat-free to promote good air circulation.

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    If you leave me in the backyard when you’re not home...

    ...don’t fool yourself that I’m going to run around and have fun. The truth is, I’m probably going to sit in one spot and wait for you to return. Dogs are den animals, and many of us prefer to be inside, ideally with you.

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    I love to fetch and would like to learn how to catch a flying disc...

    ...but those hard plastic Frisbees can hurt my teeth and gums. Instead, look for a soft one at a pet store.

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    If I’m not used to strangers and you reach out toward me when you first meet me...

    ...your hand may as well be a meat cleaver. Instead, crouch down on one leg and look slightly away. Then let me approach you and give you a sniff.

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    Let’s get one thing straight: Declawing is not the same as cutting our nails.

    It’s a hideous, painful surgery that’s much more like amputating the last two knuckles of your fingers. If my scratching is really bad, try glue-on nail caps.

    Evan Kafka for Reader's Digest

    If I’m spraying outside the box, I’m not being spiteful.

    Something is stressing me out. It may be a new person, a new pet, or even a new piece of furniture in the house that seems to be encroaching on my territory.

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    Before you buy a fancy cabinet to put my litter box in...

    ...keep in mind that most of us don’t like to feel cornered. I prefer an uncovered box that’s out of the way but where I have a view of the room and can escape if I see anything threatening.

    Evan Kafka for Reader's Digest

    Excuse me, but I am not untrainable.

    I can learn to sit, come, touch a target with my nose, jump through a hoop, give you a high five, and even use the toilet—as fast as
    or even faster than a dog. Check YouTube for some great tutorials.

    Evan Kafka for Reader's Digest

    If I stiffen every time you run a hand down my back, take the hint.

    A 2013 study published in Physiology and Behavior found that cats who didn’t like the sensation but allowed their owners to stroke them anyway were more stressed-out than those who avoided touch.

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    Remember, I see the world as vertical, not horizontal.

    So instead of getting mad when I knock things off the mantel, build me a cat superhighway around the room. Put up a shelf that leads up to a bookcase that leads to a mantel that leads to a chair that gets me down.

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    Just because I’m purring doesn’t mean I’m happy and content.

    I also purr when I’m in pain or mortally afraid because it’s a self-soothing mechanism. 

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    Thinking about getting me a buddy?

    I’ll get along best with a cat who’s of the opposite sex and slightly younger than I am, but don’t just throw us in a room together. Talk to your vet or a trainer about how to introduce us gradually. If I’m an older cat and I’ve lived alone with you for years, I don’t need a friend. Really. I’m already too set in my ways. 

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    Excuse me for putting my bottom in your face...

    ...but you should actually consider it an incredibly high compliment. It harks back to when I was a kitten and would do the same thing to Mom so she could clean my bottom. It means I perceive you as a maternal figure.

    Evan Kafka for Reader's Digest

    I love the Cat Dancer and other fancy toys and gadgets...

    ...but I can have just as much fun with a paper bag with the handles cut off, an aluminum foil ball, or a plain box. It’s actually quite easy to create a homemade toy that I’ll love. Anything that is shiny or that I can scratch is going to make my day.

    Evan Kafka for Reader's Digest

    Don’t wait until I’m six months old to start correcting bad behavior.

    By then, I’ll be used to drinking out of the toilet and chewing shoes. Experts say it’s easier to instill good habits from the beginning than to untrain bad habits.

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    I’m confused. When I jumped up on you earlier...

    ...you gave me such a nice pet. But now you’re mad at me for jumping on Aunt Martha. Am I allowed to jump up or not? 

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    To stop me from scratching a piece of furniture...

    ...cover the entire area with an old bedsheet, aluminum foil, or strips of double-sided tape, because those don’t feel good under my paws. Then put a tall scratching post right in front of it.

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    If you let me on the furniture now, while I’m young and cute...

    ...I will always think it’s OK, no matter how big I get.

    Evan Kafka for Reader's Digest

    What do you mean you can’t teach an old dog new tricks?

    My owner taught me to fetch the newspaper from the driveway and take it to him when I was ten.

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    Remember when I was little and you shoved my nose in a puddle of pee I left?

    I have no idea why you did that. Instead, get me outside as quickly as possible and praise me whenever I pee outdoors.

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    Want me to learn to walk by your side on a leash?

    Well, give me some incentive. As soon as I start to pull ahead, stop walking. When I turn and look back, offer me a treat right next to your leg. I’ll quickly figure out I need to stay next to you in order to keep doing what I love most: moving and exploring.

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    Whether I’m a cat or a dog, if you’re tired of finding pet hair on your sofa and want to keep me off...

    ...try a Scat Mat, which gives out a small, harmless electrostatic pulse when it’s stepped on. Or buy a car mat and turn it upside down on your couch, so the little rubber prongs are facing up. I hate those.

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    When I bark, jump, and grab the towel off the countertop...

    ...I’m not trying to be bad. I’m just bored! I want your attention! Please, get off your smartphone and play with me.

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    If I’m a dog who is scared of thunderstorms or loud noises, get me a snug-fitting Thundershirt.

    Or you can make your own. Wrap an Ace bandage across my chest, cross it over the top of my body and then back under, going over and under until it’s midway down my back, and then secure it. The constant pressure against the middle of my body will help ease my anxiety and calm me down.

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    Remember, my digestive system is very different from yours.

    Raisins and grapes can shut down a dog’s kidneys. Other dangerous foods include chocolate, coffee, macadamia nuts, and avocado.

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    Want my coat to be thick and shiny?

    Make sure my diet has plenty of essential fatty acids. Most high-quality commercial pet foods have enough, but pets on low-quality foods or homemade diets that aren’t balanced may develop a dull coat.

    Evan Kafka for Reader's Digest

    Every bag of pet food has an Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) statement on the label...

    ...although you might need a magnifying glass to read it. Look for one that says the food has undergone animal feeding trials rather than one that’s been “formulated” by a computer. The trials are expensive, but they indicate that real dogs actually ate the food for six months with good results.

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    Check with a board-certified veterinary nutritionist before giving me a homemade-food diet.

    Researchers at the University of California, Davis, who examined 200 recipes last year for home-prepared dog food found that 95 percent had some serious nutritional deficiencies.

    Evan Kafka for Reader's Digest

    Did you hear the hype about grain-free cat and dog food?

    That’s what it is: hype. There’s nothing wrong with feeding me grains—they can actually be an important part of a balanced diet. Before you make any change, talk to your vet.

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    If you switch me to a raw diet, I may end up with cracked teeth or a bacterial infection.

    Also, exposure to my feces could put anyone with a weakened immune system at risk. That’s why the ASPCA, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and other institutions all strongly discourage raw diets.

    Sources: Jackson Galaxy, cat behaviorist and host of Animal Planet’s My Cat from Hell; Brian Hare, PhD, codirector of the Canine Cognition Center at Duke University; Rebecca Remillard, PhD, DVM, DACVN, a veterinary nutritionist at North Carolina State University and founder of petdiets.com; Jorge Bendersky, a groomer and pet stylist in New York City; Spencer Williams, owner and president of West Paw Design, a company that makes pet toys and beds; Nancy Kay, DVM, author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life; Jennifer Coates, DVM, veterinary adviser to petmd.com; Victoria Schade, dog-training and behavioral expert at pet360.com and author of Bonding with Your Dog: A Trainer’s Secrets for Building a Better Relationship; Sophia Yin, DVM, a veterinarian and animal behaviorist and the author of How to Behave So Your Dog Behaves; K. C. Theisen, director of pet-care issues at the Humane Society of the United States; Amy Farcas, DVM, DACVN, a veterinary nutritionist at the University of Pennsylvania; Marilyn Krieger, cat behavioral consultant and author of Naughty No More; Karen “Doc” Halligan, DVM, author of Doc Halligan’s What Every Pet Owner Should Know; Stephen Zawistowski, PhD, animal behaviorist and adviser at the ASPCA.

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