People love to collect, and it seems everyone has something they just can't get enough of. For us, pet-related trivia seems to hold endless fascination. We collect it, we share it from our homes a thousand miles apart, and we file it. Because, well, you never know when pulling out that file will remind you of something you've been meaning to write about.
This week, we've pulled out some of the quirkiest pet-related tidbits for sharing. Hope you enjoy them, and if you have some yourself, we'd love to hear from you.
-- Cat got her tongue: If you look at a cat's tongue with a magnifying glass, you'll see it's covered with row after row of barbs. These little structures that line the surface of a cat's tongue are called filiform papillae. They're hooked, and they are directed toward the throat.
These barbs help to hold prey while eating, and they also help a cat keep her fur in perfect (or should we say "purrfect"?) condition, pulling out dead and dying hairs, along with any debris picked up in the day's travels. Cats can actually feel when a few hairs are out of place, so that tongue is also a convenient, built-in hairbrush.
-- Doggone grass-eaters: Don't assume "tummy ache" when your dog grazes. Your dog may just be a bit of an omnivorous gourmet, seeking out the best of the available vegetation.
Dogs are predators, which means that their ancestors survived by eating meat. In the wild, however, it's not all cuts of juicy sirloin but the entire animal -- including the vegetation found in the stomachs of herbivores.
Many dogs show a distinct preference for tender shoots, especially those glossy with morning dew or damp from a cooling shower.
-- The colder the day, the rounder the cat: Cats sleep in one of two basic positions -- upright (think the New York Public library lions) or on their sides. How curled a cat is when sleeping on her side will depend on how hot or cold the animal is. The more tightly curled a cat is, the colder the air temperature. Curling into a tight ball helps to conserve body heat. When cats stretch out, they expose their bellies, allowing heat to escape and helping to cool them.
-- Dog tags for pets and people: Dogs have been taxed for centuries, but the idea of using a tag to signify that a dog was "street legal" seems to date to the late 19th century, when Cincinnati, Ohio, started issuing tags on an annual basis, and other cities and states soon followed suit.
Although wooden tags for soldiers were used in the U.S. Civil War to help identify the injured and the dead, it wasn't until World War I that American soldiers got metal tags as standard issue. The resemblance between the tags of soldiers and of dogs -- along with a good dollop of droll military humor -- soon had the new tags called "dog tags," a term that sticks to this day.
-- Keeping the weapons covered: A cat's claws can slow him down, which is why claws come out only when they're needed.
It's a mistake to refer to claws as retractable, by the way. The normal, relaxed position of a cat's claw is retracted, or sheathed. To bring out those daggers, a cat must voluntarily contract muscles and rubber band-like elastic ligaments underneath her toes. If it were the other way around, the poor cat would have to keep her muscles tensed all day long to keep her claws sheathed.
We'll have more pet trivia another day!
True grit story: Most don't need it
Q: After a gap of more than a decade, we gave in and now have another cockatiel. We had to start from scratch with a cage, dishes and more, so we figured we'd look into what's the latest and greatest. In your book "Birds for Dummies," you say birds don't need grit. But the pet store sold it to us anyway and said you were wrong. Not sure what we should think now. What's the story? -- T.E., via e-mail
A: In the last decade or so, our knowledge of what it takes to keep pet birds healthy has changed dramatically, and some sources haven't kept up with the latest information. Grit (which is finely ground rock) was thought to help birds grind their food, but it's no longer recommended for most birds by avian experts such as my "Birds for Dummies" co-author, Dr. Brian L. Speer, a board-certified avian specialist and past president of the Association of Avian Veterinarians (AAV).
Indeed, grit is now thought to have a negative impact on bird health, removing vitamins A, B and K from the digestive system. And grit occasionally leads to a potentially life-threatening problem, when the amount of the stuff in the bird blocks the digestive system.
Still, some birds can make use of a small amount of grit. Canaries and other finches should be allowed a couple of grains every few months. Other birds, from budgies, cockatiels and lovebirds on up into the rest of the parrots, don't need grit at all and shouldn't be offered it.
I find that misinformation is more commonplace for birds than for any other pet. And it's everywhere -- from bird clubs to pet shops to the Internet and even some general-practice veterinarians. The best advice I have for anyone who wants the latest and best bird-care information is: Find a veterinarian who's a board-certified avian specialist, or find one who takes the extra time to stay current on avian care. You can find such a veterinarian through the AAV (aav.org).
(Do you have a pet question? Send it to email@example.com.)
ABOUT PET CONNECTION
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "Good Morning America" and "The Dr. Oz Show" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Gina Spadafori. The two are also the authors of several best-selling pet-care books.
On PetConnection.com there's more information on pets and their care, reviews of products, books and more. Contact Pet Connection in care of this newspaper by sending e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or by visiting PetConnection.com.
Rabies shots for more than canines
-- The American Veterinary Medical Association reports that cats have a higher incidence of rabies than dogs, while horses and ferrets have less chance of being rabid than either dogs or cats. Talk to your veterinarian about vaccinating all -- for the health of your entire family, two- and four-legged both. In other rabies news: Alabama recently became the last state to accept three-year vaccinations for rabies. The immunization has long been known to last at least three years, but the progress in getting the recognition into regulations in all states has been slow.
-- More than half of pet owners sleep with their pets or allow the animals to lick their faces. A study by Kansas State University notes that this practice, along with not washing hands after handling pets or pet food, was a contributing factor in the development of new strains of E. coli. Remember our motto: Get rid of the risk and keep the pet! Wash those hands!
-- Remains of the oldest relative of modern seals, an animal who roamed the Earth some 20 million years ago, were discovered on Devon Island in the Canadian arctic. The fossil has a head like a seal but a body similar to an otter with large, webbed feet. Science Daily reports that the fossil will be used to help scientists study what led the ancestors of seals and walruses to evolve into mammals spending most of their time in the water.
-- Respondents to an informal poll with 2,000 participants on Dogster.com said that concern over pet-food quality and ingredients was the most likely reason for them to switch pet foods. Three-quarters of respondents had this concern when it came to food choice, far surpassing veterinary recommendations at 14 percent or price at 8 percent. -- Dr. Marty Becker and Mikkel Becker Shannon.
Food is not love: Get the pounds off your pet
Obesity in pets causes a lot of the same problems it does in people. An overweight pet is prone to a host of related problems, including diabetes, joint, ligament and tendon difficulties, breathing and heart challenges. Overweight cats can even develop skin problems from not being able to groom themselves properly. The overall impact on comfort and longevity can be dire.
Is your pet overweight? Healthy pets have some padding on them, but a little is plenty. Rub your hands over the ribs of your dog or cat. The skin should move easily back and forth, and you should be able to feel the ribs. Your pet should have a definable "waist" at the bottom of the rib cage, a small tuck-in at the stomach. Take a look from the side: If your pet looks pregnant, he's fat. From above, a bump out from the middle into an apple shape is equally bad news. In birds, look for a thicker breast or rolls of fat.
Crash diets aren't good for pets, especially not for fat cats, who can develop a fatal liver problem if forced to reduce too quickly. A pet doesn't get fat overnight, and he shouldn't be forced to change course any more rapidly. What you'll need to do is change your pet's eating and exercise habits gradually.
The best place to start is with a trip to your veterinarian. You'll want to make sure your pet doesn't have any problems that might make lifestyle changes difficult or dangerous. Your vet can also suggest a food plan that might help.
Carve some time out of your schedule to walk your dog or play with your cat -- three times a week, at least. Be sure to work in some aerobic exercise, anything that gets a cat or dog really moving. Dividing the daily food ration into small portions and making pets work to find them or putting food in puzzles that require work to get at will also help. -- Dr. Marty Becker
PETS BY THE NUMBERS
Smaller birds have bigger popularity
Parakeets and cockatiels both increased in popularity by more than a third between 1998 and 2008, but the popularity of all other birds kept as pets took a 44 percent tumble during the same period. The percent of pet owners who had pet birds of any kind, by year:
1998: 3.3 percent
2000: 2.7 percent
2002: 2.6 percent
2004: 2.6 percent
2006: 2.5 percent
2008: 2.5 percent
Source: American Pet Products Association
Lidded trash cans an easy mess to fix
Do you have a pet who likes to rummage in bathroom wastebaskets or the kitchen trash bin? This behavior is very rewarding to the pet who indulges in it, so it's a very hard habit to break. You can try to booby-trap the cans by buying motion-detector noisemakers or mats that give animal trespassers a small electric shock.
An easier, kinder and more reliable way to solve the problem is to simply remove the temptation. For some pets, a lidded trash bin will solve the problem. For others, you'll need to put the bin behind the door of a cabinet or pantry. Sometimes changing your behavior is the most efficient way to change your pet's behavior -- and the strategy is easier on you both. -- Gina Spadafori
Pet Connection is produced by a team of team of pet-care experts headed by "Good Morning America" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Gina Spadafori. The two are also the authors of several best-selling pet-care books. Contact Pet Connection in care of this newspaper, by sending e-mail to email@example.com or by visiting PetConnection.com.