Animal Hospital
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Hours of Operation:

Monday: 8:30 a.m.-7 p.m.
Tuesday: 8:30 a.m.-7 p.m.
Wednesday: 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m.
Thursday: 8:30 a.m.-7 p.m.
Friday: 8:30 a.m.-7 p.m.
Saturday: 8:30 a.m.-2 p.m.
Sunday: Closed

Weird, wild and wacky behaviors of our pets

Now that I've been in general practice for a few years away from the hustle and bustle of the animal ER, I've been asked some of the same questions many times over. These questions focus on some of the quirks of our furry family members. After some research on my part I think it's time I clarified some of these mystical (and sometimes disgusting behaviors).

• Why do dogs and cats eat grass? The most common answer among pet owners is that dogs and cats will eat grass because they are sick. Experts theorize that if a dog or cat is feeling nauseous for any reason they will instinctively eat grass to stimulate vomiting (if the animal ate something rotten or poisonous this will purge its stomach before harmful bacteria or toxins are absorbed).

However, of those owners whose pets eat grass on a regular basis, only a small percentage of owners surveyed noticed that their pet was either acting ill before eating grass or vomited after. Studies have proven that other species (i.e., chimpanzees) will eat grass and other plant material to reduce the number of intestinal parasites. Animal behavioralists believe that eating grass may also be an innate behavior in dogs and cats inherited from their wild ancestors as a natural dewormer.

• Why do dogs roll in poop? This is another behavior inherited from wild dogs. It is theorized that dogs (we don't really see this behavior as much in cats) will roll in excrement or the remains of dead animals to cover their scent for hunting purposes. Observing the hunting behavior of wild dogs, biologists have noted that the pack has to get quite close to its intended target before breaking into a sprint for the kill. Therefore, if the wind were to change direction as the pack was stalking its prey the stink would hopefully cover the scent of the predator and not give the prey a head start.

• Why do dogs love cat poop? Although the abnormal behavior of dogs eating their own poop is rarely a case of nutrient deficiency there is something about cat poop that makes it especially tasty. Cats are true carnivores. This means that not only can they tolerate a higher level of protein and fat in their diet, but they also actually need it. Some of these nutrients do pass through the cat and it makes for a tasty little treat for the dog — gross to us, however.

• Do dogs and cats mourn? Yes. Although not well documented yet, many animal behavioralists and pet owners report grieving after a pet or human member of the family has passed. Although it is always a good idea to bring your pet to the vet's office if you notice unusual behavior (sometimes the stress of losing a loved one can bring out undiagnosed disease), such as loss of appetite, decreased play behavior, or persistent searching for the lost pet or owner. Fortunately, almost every case of animal grief is short lived (usually limited to a few days) and the instinct to bond to other pets or family members overrides the mourning.

• Why do some dogs bark so much? Experts that study wild dogs have noted that although barking and howling is used to communicate between members of the pack, it is rarely used as much as domesticated dogs. As a matter of fact, it is theorized that domesticated dogs may be mimicking our behavior and have become "Chatty Cathy's" due to human influence.

I know that these questions only scratch the surface of many of our pet's quirky behaviors. I promise to keep my listening ears open for more questions and put out a follow up to this article. Right now I have to clean the litter pans before the dog does.

Dr. Kearns is a veterinarian with a special interest in emergency and critical care. He has been in practice for eight years. Dr. Kearns is pictured here with his son Matthew and his cat, The One Eyed Guy.


Matthew Kearns, DVM