The Most Confusing Pet Behaviors, Explained
We might think we have our animal companions figured out, but if you live with a cat or dog, you've more than likely witnessed some pretty questionable acts over the years. Why does your dog suddenly run throughout the house with a burst of energy, otherwise known as a case of "the zoomies?" Why do dogs tilt their head in listening to your voice? Why does your cat insist on curling up into the tiniest, most cramped space possible? And why, once and for all, does your dog insist on eating grass off the lawn? Just like us humans, pets have their own share of strange, quirky habits.
These are just some of the questions that keep curious pet owners up at night. And the only troublesome thing about these odd behaviors is not being able to understand them. Without any logical or scientific reasoning, these weird habits can be more baffling than they are endearing.
That's why we've asked the experts and researched the reasoning behind some of the most confusing pet habits owners witness. Although strange behaviors like these seem to have no reasonable explanation, there's actually a logical reason for why our beloved four-legged friends do each and every one. Our panel includes nationally recognized experts in the field of pets: Russell Hartstein, certified dog and cat behaviorist, and trainer of Fun Paw Care; Lizbeth Molloy, training program manager at Canine Retreat by AKC; Kristi Benson, dog trainer; Sara Ochoa, DVM and veterinary consultant; and certified pet nutrition consultant Jodi Ziskin of Healthy Pet Coach. For the answers to all of your strange pet behavior worries, read on.
Why Does My Dog Eat Grass?
One of the most popular, well-known theories on this odd behavior is that dogs will eat grass in an attempt to induce vomiting when they feel ill. However, the experts say otherwise: "Contrary to popular belief, a dog does not eat grass because they are sick or want to vomit, Hartstein retorts. "There is no evidence proving this. Dogs eat grass because it is interesting to them. As carrion animals, they enjoy pungent, vile, smelly odors. Hence grass, with its many natural odors, smells interesting to them and it's just fun to do."
Our other expert Molloy concurs, "Considering that most dogs now eat good quality food, that intestinal parasites are controlled by medication, and not every dog vomits after eating grass, the most likely reason is that the grass tastes good or is just fun to eat."
Why Does My Dog Tilt His Head When I Talk?
Ah, the all-too-cute puppy head tilt that's known to melt the hearts of even the most rigid owners. But what does it mean? "Dogs tilt their heads when we speak to them or when they hear a strange sound," Benson explains, "not just to look cute, but to hone in on a new, significant, sound."
That makes perfect sense, but do some dogs play up this cute head tilt on purpose? "Normally, this response goes away after a dog gets used to the sound, so it won't happen naturally to a sound the dog has heard a few times before," Benson elaborates. "You've probably noticed you have to try increasingly odd, new sounds to get the cute head tilt. However, dogs are fantastic learners, including learning what it takes to get their humans happy and full of praise and patting. So, some dogs could certainly learn that the way to get a nice back rub and some glorious attention is to tilt their heads just so."
Why Is My Dog Eating His Own Feces?
This particular habit is definitely not a pretty sight. But, rest assured, it doesn't mean that your dog is deranged. Experts assure that this is normal, even naturally instinctive, for canines. Since dogs have evolved as scavengers, and since fecal matter contains protein, it's natural for your dog to be drawn to eating their own feces. It's gross, but at least it's reassuring to know that there's nothing inherently wrong.
Why Is My Pet Pressing Their Head Into Me?
If your dog or cat is pressing their head into your body, this is actually a sweet gesture. "This is their way of showing that they love you," Ochoa explains. "Pets have scent glands near their face and this is how they make you as their own. Some dogs will also wipe their face off on you, especially after they eat. This is similar to a mom wiping a kids face after they eat."
And as for cats, Ziskin says there is a scientific reason behind this behavior. "When a cat rubs their face or head butts their human's leg or face, they are actually marking with the scent glands located along the side of their face and top of their head. Intermingling scents is a sign of love and acceptance."
Why Is My Cat Kneading Me with Her Paws?
Also affectionately known as "making biscuits," kneading is an instinctive behavior to cats that begins when they are mere kittens. The kneading motion is the same movement of a kitten's paws on her mother to stimulate milk flow. This behavior continues into adulthood as a display of contentment, or as a calming mechanism when they are feeling anxious. Either way, your cat is most likely kneading you because they love and trust you. Unless it becomes abnormally excessive (in which case, consult your veterinarian), sit back and enjoy the free massage.
Why Does My Cat Force Herself Into Small Spaces?
"If it fits, I sit." Some cats are truly the master of this, squeezing themselves into drawers, baskets, and even shopping bags. This habit is instinctive and comforting to cats who, in the wild, hide from predators. With a natural need for warmth and protection, the snug feel of small, defined spaces brings comfort to cats, especially when they decide to take a little snooze.
Why Does My Cat Sit On My Head?
A face full of your cat's posterior isn't the most pleasant experience, but your cat is most likely doing this to show you that they love and trust you. "A behavior that is baffling to some, and gross to others, is when a cat sticks their adorable butt in their human's face," Ziskin says. "This goes back to the behavior from kittenhood when the cat's mother licked their bums to not only clean and stimulate stool, but to swap scents. So when a cat raises their tush to their human's face, it means they are inviting you to confirm they are a member of the family."