Pet Connection by Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker

Words With Animals

Words and phrases about pets and how they entered the language

By Kim Campbell Thornton

Have you ever thought about how many words and phrases we use every day that come straight from the horse's mouth? Expressions that are the cat's meow? You might even say our language has gone to the dogs.

Animal-related terms are delightfully descriptive. Some are built upon animal characteristics -- eagle-eyed, bird-brained, dog-eared -- irrespective of accuracy (birds are actually pretty darn smart). Others come to us from languages such as Greek, Latin or Icelandic. Learning about their origins is fascinating. Here are some fun facts about pet phrases and how they came to be.

-- "Animal attraction." A reference nowadays to strongly attractive personal charm, this phrase harks back (itself a phrase used in hunting with hounds) to the 18th century, when Franz Mesmer coined the term "animal magnetism" to describe his theory of an invisible natural force that could play a role in healing and other physical effects.

-- Other words describe our affinity for certain animals. An ailurophile is a person who loves cats. It comes from the Greek words "ailouros," meaning cat, and "philos," meaning loving. While people have been crazy for cats for more than 5,000 years, this term is relatively new, with its first known use in 1914.

Dog-lovers have their own distinctive description, also deriving from ancient Greek. They are cynophilists, or cynophiles.

-- Collective terms. You're probably familiar with the term "litter" referring to a group of kittens, but did you know that they can also be called a "kindle"? The word comes from Middle English "kindlen" and means "to give birth." The first-known use of the phrase occurs in the 15th-century "Book of St. Albans" as "a kyndyll of yong Cattis."

There are many different collective, or group, names for dogs, most of them related to hunting. These are called "terms of venery" and include "a mute of hounds," from the Old French "meute," meaning "pack" or "kennel"; "a leash of Greyhounds"; and "a couple of spaniels." In modern times, dog-loving wordsmiths have invented their own fanciful collective terms for specific breeds, drawing on wit and word play: a waddle of Pekingese, a snobbery of salukis, a rumble of Rottweilers, a snap of whippets, a grin of Japanese chin, a bounce of beardies, a shiver of Chihuahuas. I'm partial to a court of Cavaliers, myself.

-- "Hair of the dog." Did your English teacher tell you that humans have hair while dogs and cats have fur? Technically, there's no real difference. It's all made of a protein called keratin. The ground hairs -- soft, insulating fur -- and the coarser protective guard hairs on pets are considered fur. The hair on your head has a texture that's somewhere in between ground and guard hairs, so it's not wrong to describe pets as having hair.

But why do we call for "hair of the dog" the morning after a night on the town? The idea of taking a nip of the same alcoholic libation that gave you a hangover dates at least to the 16th century, when John Heywood wrote in "Proverbs" (1546): "I pray thee let me and my fellow have a haire of the dog that bit us last night." The concept is related to the even older folk remedy of placing the burnt hair of a dog who had bitten someone on the wound, according to Christine Ammer in her book "It's Raining Cats and Dogs."

-- "Chowhound." I think most of us who have dogs understand why this term is applied to enthusiastic eaters. It was also the title of a 1951 Looney Tunes animated short featuring a bulldog always in search of a meal. He probably would have enjoyed a hush puppy, a fried cornmeal cake supposedly named because it was tossed to noisy hounds with the admonition, "Hush, puppy!"

Lucky dogs!


Other conditions

may mimic seizures

Q: I found my 14-year-old dog trembling as if she were having a seizure. As far as I know, she doesn't have epilepsy, but she does take medication for mitral valve disease. Should I be concerned? -- via Facebook

A: Seizures, sometimes referred to as convulsions or fits, are a common reason that owners bring dogs and cats to the veterinarian. They result from uncontrolled electrical activity in the brain, and they may cause signs such as loss of consciousness, trembling or shaking, drooling, vomiting, urination or defecation.

One cause of seizures is epilepsy, a chronic neurologic condition. It's the most common chronic disorder of the nervous system veterinarians see in dogs and is often manageable with medication.

Dogs or cats with epilepsy have recurring seizures. Often, we don't know why pets develop epilepsy. Some forms of the disease appear to be heritable in certain dog breeds, including Australian shepherds, beagles, Belgian Tervuren, Bernese mountain dogs, border collies, boxers, cocker spaniels, English springer spaniels, German shepherd dogs, golden retrievers, Irish setters, Irish wolfhounds, keeshonden, Labrador retrievers, Shetland sheepdogs, standard poodles and vizslas.

Not everything that looks like a seizure is a true seizure, though. Conditions that can cause signs resembling seizures include syncope, a temporary loss of consciousness -- like a faint -- that can have a number of causes; vestibular disease, a sudden disturbance of balance that's not uncommon in older dogs; narcolepsy, a sleep disorder that's seen in Doberman pinschers, Labrador retrievers, miniature poodles and other breeds; and certain behavioral disorders.

If you note a recurrence, a medical history, veterinary exam and certain lab tests can help to determine whether your dog is having a seizure or some other problem. Always take your pet to the veterinarian if a seizure lasts for more than five minutes: That's a real emergency. -- Dr. Marty Becker

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Pet dental care

good for health

-- Does your dog or cat have pearly white teeth or grungy brown ones? In either case, if he has bad breath, he needs to see the veterinarian for a professional cleaning. Bad breath and tartar -- the hard brown stuff on your pet's teeth -- are signs of periodontal disease, which is bad news for tooth structure. It can lead to tooth loss, receding gums and even bone infection. February is National Pet Dental Health Month, which means there's a good chance your veterinarian is offering a discount on professional cleanings, which aren't just cosmetic, but get below the gumline, where bacteria lurk.

-- Going skiing? You might want to see if the ski area has an avalanche rescue dog on staff. The dogs, who are trained to find human scent rising up from the snow, can search an avalanche site the size of a football field in as little as five or 10 minutes, reports AP's Sue Manning. "The fastest thing is a dog -- faster than a beacon or echo," says Craig Noble, ski patrol and dog supervisor at Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows Resort in Olympic Valley, California. The dog and handler teams have specialized training and are recertified annually.

-- Zero to 60 in 1/100th of a second? We're not talking time trials for the latest Lamborghini, but the speed of a chameleon's tongue. Yes, you read that right. The small but mighty lizards can flick their tongues toward a cricket at up to 264 times the force of gravity, according to a study published in the journal Scientific Reports. The anatomy of the tongue gives it spring-loaded power, allowing chameleons to capture more prey, and its speed beats out that of any other reptile, bird or mammal. -- Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker


Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "The Dr. Oz Show" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. They are affiliated with and are the authors of many best-selling pet-care books. Joining them is dog trainer and behavior consultant Mikkel Becker. Dr. Becker can be found at or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.


Caption 01: The phrase "sleuth of hounds" comes from the Icelandic word for "trail." Position: Main Story

Caption 02: After a veterinary dental cleaning, regular brushing helps keep teeth and gums healthy. Position: Pet Buzz/Item 1