Three things to consider for a peaceful relationship with your cat

Cats certainly have a mind of their own, but if you understand what they need in terms of housing, companionship, and entertainment you will have a happy cat!

Although we have been coexisting, and typically sharing our homes, with cats for about 10,000 years these intelligent creatures still remain somewhat of a mystery1.  Unlike dogs and many other domesticated animals, cats are independent and really don’t take direction well, as most cat owners are probably all too familiar with.  It is for this reason that some researchers suggest that, despite their efficacy as mousers, cats may not have been purposely domesticated by people, but simply accepted into the community1.  This sets the stage for a very interesting, often humorous, and sometimes tense relationship with our feline companions.  Holding the title as the most popular pet throughout the world, humans seem inexplicably drawn to these adorable and intriguing little animals and if we give them the care that they need it can turn out to be quite a rewarding relationship.

  1. Kitty-fy your house

Making your cat comfortable in your home goes beyond simply making sure they have a warm bed and access to food and water. Allowing cats outdoors may offer them more stimulation, but it also exposes them to many other stresses and potential dangers.  Indoor cats may be safer, but they can become bored more easily, so it is important to understand what they need in the absence of their natural environment.

  • Make sure your cat has enough space to themselves, as they are territorial animals and need somewhere to roam.
  • Have places that they can jump to in order to gain a better vantage point, like a cat tree or cat condo. This will help keep them entertained and to feel more comfortable.
  • Make sure they have access to a window. Cats love to watch out of the window, which can provide hours of entertainment.  Look into buying a window seat
  1. Provide a social life

Cats are generally independent, but that does not mean that they don’t require companionship.  Having more than one cat can be a way to give them the socialization they need.  However, it is important that the cats have enough space as well as places where they can escape to in order to be alone.  Too many cats (or other animals for that matter) within one territory may introduce a certain amount of stress, but if you only have one cat, then you will be responsible for being their best friend.  Commonly cats enjoy affection and can be affectionate in return, but often a new pet parent makes the mistake of overstimulating their cat by petting them too roughly or being too pushy.  Cats prefer soft pats around the head and scratches under their chin.  It’s important to let them guide you.  Cats can tolerate being handled if you are respectful of their space and take the time to build up trust.   In general, move slowly when you go to handle your cat, especially when picking them up, and be sure to support both of their back legs so they feel secure.  Would you like being picked up around the middle with your legs dangling?  There may be times when you need to transport your cat, clip their nails, or brush their teeth.  You can find more detailed guides on how to pursue this from your favorite cat magazine or your local veterinarian.

  1. Prevent boredom

Cats are playful and extremely inquisitive.  They are hunters by nature so the way that you play with them should imitate what it’s like to stalk and capture prey.  There are many different options for toys and it could take some time to determine your cat’s preferences.  Some suggestions:

  • A wand with a feather attached is a good way for you to interact with them.
  • If you have to be away for a portion of the day, there are toys that you can get that will move on their own or require your cat to search for a hidden treat. Kong and Catit are a couple examples of brands that make toys such as these.
  • Videos you can play on your TV that will prompt your cat to chase an image on the screen. Youtube has its own channel called “Videos for Your Cat.”
  • The key is that they toys generally need to be moving.
  • It also may be a good idea to rotate toys since your cat will easily get bored with toys just lying around.

Many people may find a cat’s aloofness tries their patience or that their strong predatory instinct is at the least unpleasant and at the most potentially damaging to wildlife.  Owning a cat might not be for everyone.  Even those of us who love cats still need to realize that we are often asking a lot of them, to live in an environment under conditions that are not natural from them.  Some researchers would even suggest that cat behavior is going to need to change in order for them to remain such a popular pet2.  While it is impossible to know exactly what the future holds, we do know that one of the most rewarding aspects of having pets is developing an understanding of a different creatures’ nature.  With time and patience we can learn to communicate with our cat friends and appreciate them for what makes them unique.

There are many different resources out there to help you provide your cat the enriching life that they require.  Picking up a cat magazine at the pet store, doing a simple google search, or talking to your local veterinarian are just a few suggestions.  The most important thing to remember when dealing with your cat that you will get a lot farther by working with them, rather than expecting them to blindly do what you say.  By giving them the respect and love that they deserve (and demand) these fascinating creatures can become truly good friends.

1 Driscoll, C.A., MacDonald, D.W., and O’Brien, S.J.  (2009).  From wild animals to domestic pets, an evolutionary view of domestication.  Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA, 16: 106, Suppl 1, 19971-8.

2 Zuckerbrot, Daniel and Zuckerbrot, Donna.  (2015).  The lion in your living room.  In Daniel Zuckerbrot, Donna Zuckerbrot and Joshua Zuckerbrot, The Nature of Things.  Canada: CBC.

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Let it Snow, Let it Snow

I don’t know about you, but I love snow. Yes it’s winter and it’s cold, but you can stay inside nice and warm and drink hot chocolate. Or you can bundle up in all those fun scarves and hats and brave the elements. There’s something so special about this time of year and having a bit of snow seems to just add to the sparkle. 

Case apparently likes the snow too.  When he catches a whiff of some interesting smell he likes to dig through the snow to get to the bottom of it. The only thing he doesn’t like is the salt put down on the sidewalks. I’ve been doing some research on booties and balms you can put on your dog’s paws to protect them during winter. The salt can actually be quite bad for their pads or if you are out in the cold for extended periods of time, some added protection is definitely worth looking into.

The one bad thing about snow is that it does make travelling more difficult. So, I just wanted to take this time to wish everyone Happy Holidays and safe travels if you are having to trek somewhere to be with loved ones, like my partner and I are doing. If you are taking your pets with you on your journey make sure you have all of their health records and give yourself plenty of time so you’re not rushed. If you must leave your critters behind, make sure you spend some extra time with them before you leave. I know it’s hectic before the holidays, but your animals will appreciate the attention. Besides, they usually know something is up when you start packing. 

Case, Percy, and I will check in after the new year.  In the meantime go do what you’re going to do and make the most of these last days of 2017!

Struggles with the Job Search

Sorry it’s been longer than usual since my last post.  I needed some time to think about what I wanted to write about.  In the end I decided to not write about animals, but something else that is near and dear to my heart; struggling to find a job.  Occasionally you hear that many Americans and Canadians have trouble finding a job, even with a university degree, or that millennials have difficulty finding work and are saddled with debt.  Although I don’t like to blame my circumstances on a statistic, this is in fact what I have been experiencing (and as a consequence, so is my partner).

I graduated with my Master’s degree in Animal Science in 2015.  Since then, I have only had one job that was in my field and that was as a Food Inspector for the US Department of Agriculture working in a beef plant.   Even though I think this experience benefited me in many ways and most of the people I worked with were wonderful, it certainly wasn’t what I had envisioned doing.  I was also significantly over-qualified for the job and longed to be challenged so I could feel proud of the work that I was doing.  I worked as a Food Inspector for a little over a year.  There was a gap of about 7 months between completing my MS and becoming a Food Inspector where I was first, unemployed and then later, working at a grocery store.  I had moved out to Colorado to be with my partner and wasn’t able to find a job before moving.

About 3 months ago I quit my job as a Food Inspector and moved again, this time to Ontario, Canada.  My partner and I made this move for a number of reasons that I won’t get into now.  Essentially, we moved to a place that is a better fit for us, except for one thing, I am unemployed again!  The immigration process, which you think would be easy between the US and Canada, has been more frustrating than I can describe.  Long story short and for whatever reason, I have been unable to find an employer who is willing to consider me for a position before I have a my work permit in my hand.  I have applied for a work permit and thought I would have it by December, but I made a tiny mistake in my application and as a result it probably will be more like March.  Needless to say, this puts my partner and I in a difficult situation financially, and leaves me feeling like an unproductive useless lump.

So, what to do?  Try to stay focused, try to stay positive.  At least that’s what the wonderful people around me tell me, including one of my amazingly inspirational aunts who has helped coach me through a lot of  this.  But it’s not easy, let me tell you, especially for someone who tends to be extremely hard on themselves and a bit of a pessimist.  I do believe I have had some bad luck when it comes to finding a job.  I mean other people my age seem to find good jobs.  What bothers me is that I know the struggles in my life pale in comparison to those of some other people, but it doesn’t stop me from doubting myself or asking the Universe, “why me”?  Like, maybe it’s not bad luck.  Maybe it wasn’t meant to be.  Maybe it’s my outlook or lack of confidence in myself.  The job search can make you wonder what is wrong with you.

In an effort to use my free time productively (because I do want to do something useful), I have been working on my self-confidence and trying to learn some new skills.  I volunteer on a poultry farm, I study about animal welfare, I started this blog!  I am even learning to make soap using hops from my partner’s new hop farm and goat’s milk, in preparation for when I can raise my own goats one day.  The picture at the top of this post is me making soap for the first time.  It looks like a mess, but the end product did look like soap!  I am also going to start being a volunteer visitor for the elderly.

Interestingly enough, in the process of writing this post I had somewhat of an epiphany.  Both times that I have been unemployed in my life, it’s because I chose something over finding a job.  The first time, it was more important for me to move to be with my partner who I had been in a long-distance relationship with for over 2 years then land a job in some other random corner of the country.  The second time, it was more important to leave a job and a place that I was unhappy with in order to find a home that I felt a connection with.  Now, despite the difficulties, I am with the person I love living in a place where I can foresee myself settling.  All that’s left is the job…and the house…and the wedding, if I’m honest.  But the point is, I think I’m ready.  I’m ready for a good job.  Something that I’m passionate about.  Something that I can be proud of.  I know it will come, because giving up is not an option.  The hard part is just not knowing when.

Know the turkey behind Thanksgiving dinner

In light of the recent Thanksgiving holiday, I thought I would share some fun facts about turkey production.

  1. Unlike wild turkeys, the turkeys that end up on your dinner plate are pure white in color.
  2. Apparently turkeys are quite friendly and curious compared to chickens.  When you walk through the barns or fields where they are housed they will follow you around.
  3. Adult male turkeys (known as toms) can actually be quite aggressive.  It would make working with them not so much fun, I would imagine.  Especially given how large they are.
  4. Baby turkeys are called poults.
  5. Hens and toms are generally raised separately because there is such a difference in size.  Both are eaten, but often go for different products.
  6. The piece of loose skin on a tom’s neck is called the wattle, while the fleshy appendage that hangs over it’s beak is called the snood.  When the turkey wants to attract a female the wattle and snood can turn bright red.  But they may also turn blue if the turkey is scared.
  7. In less fun facts, the snood is sometimes removed in turkey production along with the turkey’s toe nails.  This is done when they are poults in order to prevent injury.
  8. And the best of all!  Most turkeys in commercial production are artificially inseminated because the tom is so large that is could cause the hen harm during mating.  So yes, people’s sole job can be to collect semen from turkeys.

I hope that you had a happy holiday and truly appreciated all the good food.  We are very fortunate in the US to have a generally safe, affordable, and diverse food system.  A lot of hard work goes into producing that food, not to mention the sacrifice made by the animals.  So let’s not lose sight of where our food comes from and hopefully, it helps us enjoy it all the more.

Don’t be a chicken. Know how your grocery store chicken and eggs are produced.

Since I moved here to Ontario at the end of August, and because I am currently unemployed, I have been volunteering about once a week at a broiler breeder farm.  For those of you who don’t know what that is (I honestly didn’t before I started going there), it is the farm that produces the eggs that will hatch into the chickens that you eat.  A couple weeks ago I also took a PAACO poultry welfare course, which is the first step in becoming certified as a poultry welfare auditor.  Because I have recently become much more knowledgeable about the poultry industry, which turns out to be incredibly innovative and multidimensional, I would like to share with you the different housing systems that we use to raise chickens.

The poultry industry has been under scrutiny in recent years because of welfare concerns based on the high density in which chickens are kept.  One of the most controversial housing systems are “battery” cages, also referred to as a conventional caged system.  Battery cages are primarily used for layers, the hens that produce all of the eggs that we eat.  In this system, a few birds are kept in a cage with little or no enrichment, but full access to food and water.  To give you an idea of the size, both the US and Canada recommend at least 67 square inches per laying hen.  The size of the cage and lack of nesting boxes, perches, or scratching areas limits the birds freedom of movement and ability to exhibit natural behaviors.  Therefore, many scientists believe this system of housing to decrease the welfare of the animal.  Even though this system is currently the most common, things are changing.  In the US, the Humane Society and the United Egg Producers agreed to phase out battery cages and Egg Producers (1) of Canada announced in 2016 that they will phase out battery cages in the next 15 years (2).  These decisions mark historic improvements for the hens in the egg-laying business and show how strong consumer demands can be.

Both the US and Canada, as well as many European countries (some of which have already transitioned) will moving to enriched caged housing, which provides about double the space as battery cages along with nesting boxes, perches, and scratching areas.  Other less common housing systems used for egg production include cage free and free range.  The main difference between these systems is that cage free chickens are kept indoors while free range chickens must be allowed access to the outdoors.  Enriched caged and cage free systems offer more enrichment and freedom movement than battery cages, but struggle with air quality and increased feather-pecking.  No system is perfect, but we continue to make progress.

Chickens that go for meat production are known as broiler chickens.  Since the poultry industry is very specialized, farms that raise broilers and layers are not responsible for hatching the eggs used for their next generation.  This responsibility lies with breeder farms, like the one I am volunteering on.  These farms produce fertile eggs which are transported to a hatchery to be hatched and then the baby chicks are sent out to either become a laying hen or a broiler chicken.  Both broiler chickens and breeders are generally kept in a cage free system.  This is basically a large, long, enclosed barn that the chickens can walk freely around.  Pictures of these often make them look extremely crowded and, while the chickens are kept snuggly, there is certainly room for freedom of movement.

When I go in the  barns, at the broiler breeder farm, there is plenty of room for me to walk around.  You just have to walk slowly so the chickens can move out of your way.  They are not super friendly, but they definitely are curious.  As you walk through the barn they initially move out of your way and then sometimes follow behind you.  The roosters especially do this (with broiler breeders the hens and roosters are kept together since their purpose is to produce fertile eggs) as they sometimes decide they are going to be territorial.  Sometimes I feel like I am being stalked by a rooster, but they’re not that scary; they’re really just big “chickens” (hah!).  If the barn is well-kept there should not be a strong smell and the litter should be fairly dry.  Most poultry farms are audited either by the company that they sell to or by a third-party auditor to make sure they are meeting industry standards.

I haven’t talked much about free range housing because, although it is available now in most stores, it comprises less than 1% of production at least in the US (3).  A lot of people really like the idea of livestock being raised outdoors because it seems more natural.  But is it truly better?  I really cannot say.  It does give them more space to roam, possibly more enrichment, different things to eat, but it also exposes them to harsher environments, predators, and other stressors.  Theoretically, I believe that animals can be kept indoors without it being a detriment to welfare as long as they have plenty to keep them occupied and can exhibit their natural behaviors.  For example, my cat is primarily an indoor cat and he seems quite happy.  All I can say is that I think the poultry industry is making great strides towards improving welfare, which in my opinion was necessary because chickens have often been considered lower on the totem pole when it comes to assessing their mental and physical needs.  A lot of the push to change has come from consumer perception and demands.  As we become more knowledgeable about how to assess animal welfare and dare I say “happiness” I hope that we can consider all sides of the story and find greater balance in the delicate human-animal relationship that is livestock production.

(1)  United Egg Producers. (2003). Animal Husbandry Guidelines for U.S. Egg Laying Flocks 2016 Edition. Retrieved from http://uepcertified.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/UEP-Animal-Welfare-Guidelines-20141.pdf

(2) Canadian Agri-Food Research Council. (2003). Recommended code of practice for the care and handling of pullets, layers, and spent fowl. Retrieved from https://www.nfacc.ca/pdfs/codes/factsheets/Poultry%20Layer%20Factsheet.pdf

(3) National Chicken Council. (2012). Chickopedia: What consumers need to know. Retrieved from http://www.nationalchickencouncil.org/about-the-industry/chickopedia/

When Your Dog has Digestive Troubles

Last week I fed my dog, Case, some cooked ground beef along with his regular food because it was too much for Justin and me to finish and because I hate wasting food.  The plan back-fired however, because it must have not agreed with him and I have spent a lot of time cleaning up after him since.  First, he threw up twice and then had issues from…the other end of his digestive tract.  I figured it would pass quickly so I regret not researching right away about what to do when your dog has diarrhea, although I did already have some knowledge of how to handle it.  I have now remedied that and for future reference, here are the general recommendations.

Call the vet immediately if your dog is very young, very old, or otherwise weakened.  If your pet is healthy then feel free to try these at-home remedies, as most cases of diarrhea will resolve themselves.

Fast your dog for 12 to 24 hours especially if they are throwing up.  This will help to clear out their stomach and reset the microflora in their digestive tract.

Begin feeding small meals of a bland diet.  Most commonly this consists of boiled white rice and skinless chicken breast.  You can also feed them other lean proteins, boiled potatoes with the skin removed, and pumpkin puree (not pie filling).  If they can tolerate dairy products, you may also give them some plain yogurt which has probiotics in it that can aid in balancing the bacteria in their gut.

Make sure they get plenty of water.  One of the major concerns of diarrhea is the risk of dehydration.  You can encourage the intake of liquids and supplement them with electrolytes by giving them rice water, diluted chicken or beef broth, and even Pedialyte.  A rough way to assess dehydration is by “tenting” or pinching the skin between the dog’s shoulder blades or on the back of their neck.  If the skin immediately goes back into position they are probably getting enough water.  If the skin remains in a pinched position before settling back down this is a sign of dehydration.

If the diarrhea lasts for more than 24 to 48 hours or you begin to see other symptoms call the vet immediately.  If the diarrhea persists you run into a greater risk of dehydration.  Also, if your dog starts to exhibit lethargy or there is a significant amount of blood in their stool or any other symptom that seems very unusual to you, it could be a sign of something more serious.

If you do a quick google search there will be some more tricks you can try and tips on how to assess your dog’s stool (always fun!).  Just try to stick with somewhat reputable sources such as PetMD or the American Kennel Club.  The sources vary slightly in their advice, but the overall message is the same.

Now this may be a case of do as I say and not as I do because, although it has been about 4 days since Case started showing signs of diarrhea, I still have not taken him to the vet (I have been feeding him chicken and rice, which he happens to love).  He is acting otherwise normal, shows no signs of dehydration, and seems to have an improved consistency of stool within the last couple of days.  I would rather not take him to the vet unless I feel that it is necessary and I believe that I have a strong enough background in Animal Science to determine this.  However, if he is not showing significant improvement by tomorrow you can be sure we’ll be taking a trip to the vet to get some antibiotics and probiotics.  In the end it’s better to be safe than sorry!  And that’s the key for dealing with any situation like this.  If you are unsure or uncomfortable with any symptoms your dog has please seek advice from a professional.

Our World Traveling Animals

My boyfriend, Justin, and I recently moved into our new apartment.  This occurred right after I had returned from volunteering on a farm and in the midst taking a 3-day course to become certified in poultry welfare.  Needless to say, it was a very busy week and everything besides the necessities remained in boxes until this past weekend.  We finally have most of our stuff set up and I happy to say that our pets seem completely satisfied with the place.

We have a cat named Percival and a dog named Case, and they are pretty much world travelers.  Especially Percy, who has traveled with me from New York to Connecticut, in order to be my companion while I was in grad school, then to Colorado and now Ontario, Canada.  He has flown on a plane and road-tripped across country and has sleepovers at my family’s house during holidays.  Percy has become incredibly well adjusted to travel, although he still voices his initial complaint about being put in his carrier.

Case, on the other hand, is a bit more nervous with change.  In fact, he is a very easily startled dog and we’re not sure why, as his past remain will remain his secret.  He was originally picked up as a stray Texas and was transported to the Humane Society in Colorado where we adopted him.  He made a couple trips to Saskatchewan, Canada, Justin’s hometown, and is now a resident of Ontario.  He has become more confident in the year that we have had him and he seemed to adjust better to this move than he did when we originally brought him home from the Humane Society.  So, we are content with that.

The aspect about this move that my boyfriend and I find particularly interesting is how much more comfortable Percy and Case feel in our own apartment as opposed to the past couple of months when were staying with family.  Even though there were no issues living at their house and our two boys got along fairly well with their little dog, Percy and Case were never completely at ease.  The difference is especially noticeable in Percy who, although being a very confident cat, always slunk around the house when we were guests.  In our own apartment he immediately claimed the new sofas as his own, sniffing them – and scratching them –  and eventually sprawling across them in utter contentment.  My guess, is that when we were guests the animals could sense that they were intruding on someone’s else’s territory and now that we have our own place they can claim the territory as their own.

I’ll be able to do some more investigation into this theory when our previous host’s dog comes to stay us for a week.  We’ll see if the dynamics change then.  The moral of the story though; staying with loved ones can be fun and always appreciated, but it’s nice to have your own space whether you are human or animal.

 

Farming is too Fenced-in

For the last two weeks I have been volunteering on a farm because, since I want to work in the agriculture industry, I thought it would be good to get more hands-on experience.  The farm was an organic farm with vegetables, chickens, and cattle (so this post is sort of about animals, but not completely). Although I’m not someone who thinks organic is always best, I do think it is beneficial to learn about many different types of farming. People tend to separate farming into two main categories; organic and conventional.  The people who own the farm that I volunteered on not only believed in organic, but were very against the conventional ways of producing food. Along with talking to the other volunteers, I realized how agriculture is so divided among farmers and consumer perception.

The public increasingly wants to know more about how their food is produced.  And it’s such a fascinating and important process that we should know!  But we need to be able to have a conversation about it, right?  Just like with anything we need to be able to talk with others who have different opinions. It may be tough (trust me, I am a very opinionated person) but we need to listen. The thing is, all good farmers want to produce wholesome food while taking care of their land and animals. Not all farmers may be good…but that’s a conversation for another day. We all have the same goal, but people have different ways that they believe work best for them. And why do we only have to have one solution anyway? Personally, I think having diversity in agriculture production is a good thing because the situation and landscape of every farm is unique. Also because we need to try new methods to determine which ones are the most effective.

I don’t consider myself to be on one side or the other of the organic and conventional debate.  I do think that conventional farming gets a bad reputation. First of all, because the industry has made mistakes in the past and there continues to be improvements that I think should be made. However, I also think that the industry is not very adept at promoting its good qualities.  For example, there are programs such as WWOOF-ing that enable people with no experience to go and work on organic farms and I think that the conventional sector could benefit from a similar program.  This way people could see the things that farmers are doing well and how much time they spend working directly on their land and with their animals.

The agriculture industry has made so much progress  in the recent past, not just with efficiency, but by being more environmentally friendly and effective with animal handling.  Progress is good; we want this in every industry.  Progress is what allowed farmers to escape the lowest rung of society and to send their kids to school.  However, I do think we have the most to learn from the “natural” way of doing things and integrating ourselves into nature as opposed to trying to control it.  The last thing I ask of people is, please don’t romanticize agriculture or stereotype people in a certain sector.  It is hard work, no matter which kind of operation one has and every farm is different.  If you want to learn more do research on all sides, or better yet, go talk to farmers!  They are real people, generally good, just like you and me.

Also, feel free to ask me any questions if you want and I will do my best to answer them or point you in the right direction.  I didn’t go into much detail about farming techniques in this article because my goal was to just get you thinking about where your food is coming from.  But don’t worry, more posts will follow!

The Cat’s Meow

People often talk to their animals like the would to a child and, even though our pets probably don’t understand the intricacies our language, we seem to be able to establish some sort of communication with them. In fact, I tell people that I sometimes feel like I can have a conversation with my cat, Percival.  We have a very close bond (and I might also be a bit of a crazy cat lady).  Well, today I want to focus on cats and their most distinctive vocalizations, the meow. 

Did you know that cats almost exclusively meow to humans? With other cats they tend to rely more on visual and olfactory signals [1].  This could be because cats have learned that meowing is the best way to get our attention and what they want.  But another really interesting aspect of this is the fact that young wild cats do meow and then lose their ability as they mature. Neoteny is the delayed physiological maturation of an organism, and domestic animals exhibit this a lot. For example, we have bred dogs to be generally more docile and friendly than their wild counterparts, traits that are normally associated with the juvenile of the species. This kind of selection has resulted in physical changes as well, such as floppy ears, because certain physical traits are often linked with behavioral characteristics.

Anyway, back to the cat’s meow.  Many researchers are looking into how we can better understand what our cat is telling us.  Nicholas Nicastro, who did research at Cornell University (my alma mater!), found that meows which are shorter, starting high and ending low, with equal energy in both high and low frequencies (like MEE-ow) were more pleasant to the human ear. On the other hand, more unpleasant meows were longer, ended low, and had more energy in the low frequencis (like me-OOOW) [2]. Similarly meows that are more pleasant sounding to us tend to indicate that your cat is happy while unpleasant meows seem to signify that your cat wants something (usually food at 4am).

Although we can develop a rough idea of what the different meows mean, there are studies underway to determine if the way we talk influences how our cats talk.  Suzanne Schötz, researcher at Lund University in Sweden, is comparing the sounds of cats from two different places in the country; Lund is in the south while Stockholm is in the north and each have very different dialects [1].  If the cats have the same “melodies” despite the dialects of their humans then maybe we could develop a universal dictionary for cat talk.

I hope that this will inspire you to listen more closely to your cat and in such a way be able to communicate with them more effectively! Just remember that if your cat is meowing much more than usual then it may be a good idea to take a trip to the vet because there could be something physically wrong. 

[1] Arnold, C. (2016). What are cats trying to tell us? Science will explain. Retrieved from https://www.google.ca/amp/relay.nationalgeographic.com/proxy/distribution/public/amp/2016/03/160328-cats-communication-animals-pets-science

[2] Segelken, R. (2002). It’s the cat’s meow: not language strictly speaking, but close enough to skillfully manage humans, communication study shows. Retrieved from http://news.cornell.edu/stories/2002/05/meow-isnt-language-enough-manage-humans

Breaking the Ice

Since this is my first real post about animals, I thought I would go with the theme of breaking the ice.  There are some people in the world that find it easy and enjoyable to converse with just about anyone.  I am not one of those people.  I admire their skill, and envy them sometimes, especially since I have struggled with shyness all my life.  That’s probably why I always felt more comfortable around animals.  That brings me to my point of something curious I have noticed, how pets make it so much easier to talk with people that you don’t know very well.

The first instance of this is when you are walking your dog (or some other creature) and it attracts the attention of strangers.  Sometimes your dog will make friends with someone else’s dog and then you find yourself making idle chit-chat about the dogs.    Other times, strangers just want to pet your dog which seems perfectly acceptable even if they might have hesitated to just say hello to you.  One of my current neighbors remembers my dog’s name every time she sees him, but has never even asked me mine.  And I’m fine with that.  My dog, Case, has a habit of wagging his tail madly and trying to follow anyone that walks by.  It’s endearing, and little embarrassing, but I always secretly hope that the person will stop and pet him.  Although, don’t forget to always ask if it’s ok to approach someone else’s dog before you do!

The other instance of using pets to break the ice is in conversation.  How many times have you found yourself conversing with someone and you run out of things to talk about?  Then the house cat walks by and you think to ask, “So, do you have any pets?”  I always feel like a bit of a dork talking about my animals so much, but it’s still a go-to conversation piece.  I find that people are often quite happy sharing stories of funny things their cat or dog has done.

Why is talking about our pets such an easy way to strike up a conversation?  I’m sure part of it is just because we love our pets and I wonder if talking about one’s children has a similar effect.  However, since I’m not nearly as good with kids as I am with animals I will have to rely on someone else’s insight.  I just find it interesting that as you walk through the park people’s eyes, especially those of children, follow the dogs.  We are so drawn to animals.  Something about their furry adorableness or their lack of self-consciousness makes us comfortable to be around them.

What do you think it is about pets that eases tension in social interactions?  Do you have a story of when your pets have helped you to reach out to someone?