Questionable Behavior

Cat and Dog playing chess

We love our companion animals. But sometimes their actions are mystifying, if not altogether baffling. Fortunately, our own Dr. Jane is on-hand to offer some rationale behind some of the most perplexing pet behaviors.

Why Does My Dog Stare At Me?

Dogs stare at their human companions for any number of reasons. Often, it’s because they want something from you: a tasty snack, a walk around the block, an impromptu game of fetch, etc. Dogs can also stare as a form of attention-seeking behavior. Others are simply indicating neediness for human touch, praise or direction. With more perceptive dogs, they may actually be attempting to read an emotion in our facial expressions. Rest assured that in most cases, staring is considered to be a positive behavior, as most trainers encourage dogs to stare at their pet parents. There are instances, however, where staring at a dog can be considered confrontational or a direct challenge (in the wild, canines stare down their challengers). Staring deeply into a canine’s eyes is an activity that should only be engaged within the bounds of a healthy human-dog relationship. If you aren’t sure, don’t do it before talking it over with an animal behaviorist.

Why Does My Dog Turn in Circles Before He Poops?

Not all dogs do it, but many pet parents have watched with confusion at a dog who spins in circles, then steps from one back paw to the other before doing his business. No one knows for sure why dogs do this, but there are several theories. Twirling in circles may be evolutionarily beneficial, in that it enables wild dogs to scan the horizon for predators, so as not to be attacked while in a vulnerable position. Other experts believe the walking helps get the bowels moving. Canines have scent glands in their paws, so twirling might be another way for them to spread their scent around, letting other dogs know that the territory has been claimed.

Why Does My Cat Lick Me?

How many of you have had a cat that licks you incessantly? Well, experts in feline behavior believe that when a cat grooms and licks another cat or a human, they’re conveying trust, affection and caring. These licks are actually ‘kisses’ and a sign that your cat feels happy and safe. When a cat bonds to a human, there can be no limit to feline affection.

Why Does My Cat Meow At Me?

Anyone who has ever lived with a vocal cat has certainly asked this question. The experts say that when a cat meows at their humans, they’re asking for something. Over time, felines have figured out that meowing gets results, but why is this so effective? Feline behaviorists believe that ‘meowing’ is actually a cat’s way of imitating the cry of a human infant. It’s a behavior that kittens learn early on, as kittens meow to their mothers, often because they’re hungry.

I find it interesting that cat meows can vary depending on what they are asking for. For example, the meow to ‘go outside’ can sound very different from the one for ‘feed me’. Experts have also found that cats meow differently to different people.

For the most part, when a kitty is making a vocal request, it is out of pleasure and trust that their human companion will fulfill the feline’s every need.

If your cat is obsessively meowing and the behavior is increasing, it is always a good idea to get your kitty checked by your local veterinarian. Certain medical conditions, such as hyperthyroidism, can cause excessive vocalization.

If you have a question about your pet kid’s behavior, please share it with us in the comments section below!

Thank you for all you do to make the world a better place for companion animals.

Dr Jane Bicks  Dr. Jane Bicks

Comments (11) -

  • Diana Baker

    6/23/2014 1:02:20 PM |

    My cat drives me nuts at night. She jumps in bed with me and walks on me, circles me and the whole time she is doing this she is meowing. I pet her, give her loving she doesn't stop. This routine happens every night.

  • Lynn

    6/24/2014 4:28:32 AM |

    My miniature dachshund often makes a sound like a purring kitten, with a sort of quiet, breathless whine underneath it.  I have no idea why he's doing that or what he's trying to tell me.  He's definitely not hungry at the time.  I worry, could he be in some sort of discomfort?

  • JoAnne

    6/24/2014 4:30:07 AM |

    Love this article.  My little 3# Chi, Sparky spins every time he poops.  Makes me dizy watching him.  LOL  I didn't know about the scent glands in their feet.  That makes sense.

  • Barbara Matusik

    6/24/2014 6:08:46 AM |

    My 4 year old Yorkie went to the groomer about a month ago and has been scratching as well as biting her back and hind feet nails. I cannot find any fleas or sign of dry skin. What's up?

  • Gail

    6/26/2014 10:02:21 AM |

    My dog wants to lick me all the time; does it have the same meaning as a cat licking?  Thanks.

  • Sarah wooten

    6/27/2014 9:11:16 AM |

    Hi Lynn:

    Dogs vocalize for different reasons:  pain, attention seeking, allergies, an elongated soft palate, inflammation in the back of the throat, or fear could be negative reasons why your dog is making odd noises.  My best recommendation to you is to try and get it on video (if he only does it intermittently) and have your veterinarian check it out.

  • Sarah wooten

    6/27/2014 9:15:01 AM |

    Hi Barbara:

    Sounds like your Yorkie is itchy!  It may or may not be related to the grooming session: my guess is that it is likely not. Dogs itch for a number of reasons, including seasonal allergies, bacteria or yeast infections or parasites such as microscopic mites or fleas. Feet chewing is often a sign of seasonal allergies, and many dogs (and people) have a tough time with allergies this time of year.  My best recommendation is to have your fur kid checked by your local veterinarian to determine the cause of the itching and the best course of treatment.

  • Sarah wooten

    6/27/2014 9:19:01 AM |

    Hi Gail:

    Some cats like to lick or suckle on people and clothes. They often purr and, at the same time, knead with their paws, as though they’re nursing. Some cats even drool profusely as you pet them. If your cat does any of these things, you may find yourself wondering if these peculiar behaviors are normal. Many cats develop these oral habits. They’re comforting and reassuring—somewhat like thumb sucking is to a child—so it may be hard to discourage your cat from engaging in them.

    There are many reasons why cats suckle or lick people excessively. Some experts believe that cats who do these things may have been orphaned or weaned too early. Suckling and licking can also occur in response to stress, anxiety, illness or just plain boredom. For some cats, these habits simply serve as comfort behaviors to enjoy during periods of relaxation.

    If you have an older cat who has recently started suckling or licking you, you should have him examined by a veterinarian.

    In dogs, licking can play a role in the getting something they want, as when pups lick their mothers as a precursor to feeding or when lower-ranking pack members lick their superiors in the hopes of an invitation to dine on communal prey. Licking (and tasting) for dogs is like reaching out and touching something –– a sort of slobbery exploration. Also, canine attention-seeking behavior often incorporates the tongue. Or, licking may be a way of playing.

    If the behavior seems extreme, please talk to your vet or an animal behaviorist.

  • Rebecca Forrest

    7/15/2014 12:07:55 AM |

    I didn’t realize that cat meowing could be a sign of a medical condition—other than the cat possibly expressing discomfort. Thanks for the info!

  • Fur Everywhere

    7/15/2014 6:43:34 AM |

    Great post!  I'll tweet this.

    It is interesting how different meows mean different things.  When Jewel's hungry, she has a very demanding sounding meow.  But when she's saying "hi" it sounds different.  

    It's really sweet to read about the kitty kisses.  Now I feel very honored as I've had kitties at the shelter give me kisses.  Very sweet babies! Smile

  • Karen Serafin

    11/16/2015 2:13:08 PM |

    How long should
    I expect my mother cat to correct her boy,who is now seven months.She hisses,spits,swats,growls at him if he wants to play with her or get physically close to her.
    Other than play,they are Ok Together.Both have been fixed.
    Persian kids.

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