Podcast: Answering the Internet's Random Dog and Cat Questions

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cat in boxOn this episode of Paws & Play with Dr. J, we decided to have some fun, switch things up a bit and see if we could stump Dr. J with some of the most popular random questions related to dogs and cats being asked on the Internet.

If you've ever been curious as to why cats love boxes, why dogs love to eat cat poop, or what exactly dewclaws are for, you'll get a kick out of this episode.

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Play Paws & Play episode Answering the Internet's Most Popular Pet Questions
Paws & Play Answering the Internet's Most Popular Pet Questions

Transcript below

Mia: Welcome back to another episode of Paws and Play with Dr. J. I am your cohost Mia. Dr. J, how you doing?

Dr. J: I am just swell Mia, thank you.

Mia: Good. I can hear the smile in your voice, which is always nice.

Dr. J: Well it’s a beautiful sunny day in Portland and I had a good weekend with the kiddos. So, all good!

Mia: Excellent. Well, in the spirit of fun. We decided that today, I get to ask you some random questions about cats and dogs. You know, stuff that the Internet is curious about and I think, you know, we'll see if I can stump you with any of these. Are you up for the challenge?

Dr. J: My suspicion is you’ll definitely be able to stump me, but we'll see if I can, if I can pull off some on the fly, and out of where the sun doesn't shine, answers that might pass muster.

Mia: Alright, that sounds good. I'm ready for it. Question number one, why do cats and dogs have dewclaws?

Dr. J: Oh, good question. They’re basically like vestigial thumbs. So basically, they are the equivalent of our thumbs, our fifth digits. And way back in the day when, dogs in particular, their, I think ancestor was like a tree-dwelling pseudo dog thing. So for climbing it was quite handy.

But then they adapted to live on the ground, and they needed speed to hunt. And so their posture, I guess their confirmation, they sort of walked more upright. And so the dewclaws were no longer necessary for climbing and kind of got in the way with running for the most part.

Though sometimes like greyhounds and whatnot sometimes can use them for I'm gripping when they're turning and running fast. So they're mostly vestigial. Some dogs actually have, still attached by bony attachment to the paws, and so they can use them for grabbing things that they're eating or playing with.

But for the most part they're mostly, I guess you could say pseudo-useless in dogs. And for cats, obviously still quite handy for climbing trees and catching and tormenting and playing with mice and whatnot, or you know, toys.

Mia: Or furniture.

Dr. J: Or furniture. Yeah.

Mia: Well it's funny because the goat rescue that I volunteer at, there's a dog there named Annie, who is an expert climber. So I didn't really understand how she was able to do that before, but I'm guessing that dewclaws are a part of that.

Dr. J:  Yeah either that or she's got ninja skills or she's not as evolved from her ancestors is another. Or she's just been watching goats.

Mia: Yeah, well she spends a lot of her time with goats. Alright, well, of course we've got to dip into some of the less than palatable stuff. But, do cats have anal glands?

Dr. J: So that's where you're going when you said less palatable. They do, yeah, they do. Fortunately they tend to have fewer problems with them than dogs, so far as we know, but we also don't check them as frequently.

Mia: Right, because, they probably would attack.

Dr. J: Yeah, we value our lives. So unless it's necessary, you don't typically go fishing on a cat.

Mia: So, are the anal glands on a cat similar? Do they function similarly to a dog's in terms of its purpose?

Dr. J: Yeah, I mean they're really for scent marking for the most part. And I think in both species and um, yeah, so they kind of serve the same function.

Mia: Well that would make sense because Marshall is constantly trying to sniff after Mazel.

Dr. J: It's like reading the newspaper.

Mia: Yeah, I guess so. Well, I guess I actually, I thought it was for something else which will lead me into the next question. Why do dogs eat kitty poop? Or, I guess poop in general, really.

Dr. J: Cause dogs eat whatever. I mean they're pretty indiscriminate, like the great white sharks of land. So I guess the same reason they eat towels and a shirts and trash and whatever. But I think the main gist of it is that it tastes like cat food.

I mean, it's basically processed cat food. So I think that they are very much attracted to that. And I guess you could also say because it's there and they have the opportunity, and dogs tend to lead with their mouth and their nose and then maybe ask questions later.

Mia: Yeah that doesn't serve them well. It certainly hasn't served Marshall well in the past.

Why do dogs circle before they poop? Like Marshall is very picky about the places and I've always thought it was pretty interesting and sometimes he'll even fake me out.

Dr. J: Yeah. When you think that they're just about to go and you're all excited because it's raining and you're like finally, and then they just keep circling.

So, you know, it's funny, there's a lot of different theories and one of which is, when they're pooping, they're kind of a, how should we say, exposed. And so, maybe from a safety standpoint, it's like an evolutionary thing where they kind of spin around and evaluate their environment, looking for hazards or predators. But a lot of times they're looking down when they're doing it. So maybe not that.

There may also just be an exercise component of it is the more they move along, the more things, well, in their rectum I guess, move along.

But, I think it was like a year or two ago, there was a study, where they looked at, they theorize that perhaps dogs were aligning themselves with magnetic fields of the earth. And it actually turned out that there does seem to be a correlation.

Most dogs, tend to align themselves in this sort of north to south access of magnetic fields. Which was really interesting. And I guess, another reason to bring your dog camping, should you ever get lost, just feed them a bunch of stuff that's going to pass through.

Mia: That's so funny though, I'm terrible with directions.

Dr. J: There you go.

Mia: So not only do I have to pay attention to that, but also I wonder if there's any kind of feng shui stuff we should be paying attention to in our own bathrooms, like having our toilets facing a certain way.

Dr. J: Or just picking them up and spinning them around before you go. So your, so your dog feels at home. Although, you know, actually it might even be an interesting little exercise, right?

Let's see if everyone listening to the podcast, next time your dog goes out to go to the bathroom, whip out your iPhone or your Android phone, I assume it's also got a little compass on it. And see. Let's see.

You know, it's funny, I'm just thinking about that. It will be interesting because we can sort of test it on our own and see if your dog prefers the north to south alignment for when they are doing their business.

And maybe for anyone listening in Australia or the southern hemisphere, see if they prefer the south to north.

Mia: Yeah, maybe it's in reverse. Like reverse flushing.

Dr. J: Who knows, who knows.

Mia: Interesting. This is a good one. Alright. So what purpose do cat whiskers serve, if at all?

Dr. J: Yeah, cat cat whiskers are actually really, really interesting. They're actually technically called vibrissae and, so it sort of sounds a little bit like vibrate, and that's part of their function.

So cat whiskers kind of help cats see in the dark or see in low light conditions, in that if something brushes up against a whisker, it then stimulates the nerve at the bottom of the whisker that then feeds back to the brain to say, hey, there's something right here. Pay attention to it, whether it's a wall or a predator. Or prey — maybe it's a little mouse they're going after.

So it's kinda, they're sensory organs. So especially for cats that are — I think a lot of people were always amazed at the areas that cats can sort of sneak through. And sometimes they get stuck, but a lot of times they gauge the width of it and the suitability of it by using their whiskers.

So if their whiskers are touching the side, it's not wide enough on this side. Now given the current obesity epidemic of cats in this country, unfortunately, I guess unless their whiskers are growing wider as their girth is getting wider, that may be why we see news stories every now and again of cats getting stuck in tubes.

So who knows? But yeah, they serve, they serve a really cool function. Cats are just, they're just amazing in general.

Mia: They really are cool.

Dr. J: And that's one other reason.

Mia: Why do cats — it seems like Mazel is constantly grooming himself. I mean not to the point of hair loss or anything like that. But, I don't know, there's something very special about the way cats can groom themselves.

Dr. J: Oh, well yeah, I mean cats are extremely fastidious. They like to be clean. So that's a really big function for grooming and to remove loose furs and stuff like that. Sometimes it's, if they've got fleas or something itchy, then they'll kind of nibble at it.

Cats can also do, like if they're hot, cats are pretty good at adapting to, or dealing with heat, much better than dogs are. And one of the ways that they can help to give off or get rid of some of their excess heat actually, is they can increase their grooming behavior.

So they put saliva on their coat and their skin and then as that evaporates, that draws heat away from the body. So it's not a horrifically efficient way of doing it, but there is some degree of benefit there from grooming as well. So, but I think generally speaking, the main answer is that cat's are just really fastidious.

Mia: And I'm going to guess to this next question has something to kind of do with that as well. But why do cats have that rough little tongue?

Dr. J: Oh yeah, their little sandpaper tongues? It's pretty crazy. So it's mostly, when grooming it helps them to remove the fur and dirt and debris and things of that nature. So it's really, it's a grooming tool to help them take better care of their coat.

Mia: It's a hairball maker.

Dr. J: Yeah. Well it is because you know, anything that they lick, it's more difficult for them to kind of spit back out, so you know, furs and stuff like that. So, it does increase the risk of hairballs and it also increases the risk because they're so efficient at removing those loose furs.

cat butt and stringBut it also with things like, dental floss or rubber bands or cooking twine, wrapping ribbon yarn and balloon strings and whatnot, so linear objects —it also increases their risk of developing what we call linear foreign body, which can be really dangerous because it's harder for them to sort of spit it back out.

And then part of the string or what have you, uh, gets caught, you know, goes down into their stomach and starts moving through their intestines, but typically gets anchored at the base of their tongue or um, where their stomach dumps into their intestines and then they typically have to go to surgery for it.

Mia: This is supposed to be a fun episode.

Jason: I don't know what you're talking about. That's fun to me. You know, sort of, kind of not really. How about, just for fun if we can find it, I think that there are some, this isn't going to sound like fun, but I think that there are actually some scanning electron micrograph images of cat tongues that show these little papillae, which would be cool.


So if we can find one of those, uh, online and included in the blog post, just so people can see what they look like at the sort of scanning electron microscopic level. It's kind of wild.

Mia: Yeah, I will do my best to get my Google on. Um, so why do our animals follow us to the bathroom? Like, I literally cannot have any time alone.

Dr. J: Because you're just so interesting, Mia.

Mia: I guess so.

Dr. J: It's got to be that. No, I mean, if we think about it, it's oftentimes not just the bathroom. So if your dog, or your cat, is inclined to follow you around your home in general, they're probably also more likely to follow you into the bathroom.

But we should take it as a compliment because really it means that our pets are bonded to us and like to be around us. Which is great, even when we're in the bathroom potentially stinking up the joint.

Mia: Maybe especially then.

Dr. J: Maybe especially. Especially again, if we're talking about dogs who like to eat cat poop, maybe they're just looking for a snack.

Mia: Oh g-d. I was thinking it was because we follow them around.

Dr. J: And it certainly could be, you know, turnabout is fair play. I guess, if they're sitting there tapping their toes going, would you please hurry up? But you know, I mean, I guess in reality it's also in these hectic times, it's sometimes the only time that we as people kind of sit still long enough, so maybe it's an opportunity for our pets to actually get our undivided attention as well.

Mia: That's sweet.

Dr. J: Yeah. Right. And so everybody put down your phone when you're on the throne and pay attention to your pets.

Mia: Yeah, that's the time to pet them. Um, so why do dogs have wet noses? And actually, I'm definitely curious about this because, hopefully a dry nose does not mean that they're sick.

Dr. J: It doesn't always. Well let me go first part I guess of this, which sounds like a two parter. So one thing is, you'll see a lot of dogs lick their nose, and then they also, just like us, they make boogers, they have nasal secretions basically to help keep the lining of their nostrils and their nasal passages moist and humidified.

And also, like their paw pads, their nose, they're their little nasal planum, that little black or pinkish part of their, their nose that can also sweat a little bit. One of the big reasons why they do it, and why they have it as that a wet or a damp nose is better able to trap scents, like scent molecules, and dogs are great sniffers.

So, that can certainly help them with their smelling scents. And also a wet nose and a moist humid nose can also trap particles like dust particles and allergens, pollens and things of that nature to prevent them then from getting deeper into the respiratory system, so through the nostrils and down into the lungs and causing a problem.

And then also just a humidified, moist nose, helps to keep the surface there nice and healthy and prevent bacterial infections and other damage.

Part two, right. You asked about if a dry nose means that they're sick.

Mia: Yeah, and I'm hoping.

Dr. J: Not always.

Mia: Good.

Dr. J: No, no, it's kind of an old wives tale, but, in conjunction with other signs, like if your dog is eating less, if they're less energetic, obviously if they're vomiting, if they're having diarrhea, things of that nature and they have a dry nose, then sure.

I mean it may just be a function of they're dehydrated and therefore they don't have the reserves, the hydration water reserves to hydrate their nose.

Now we can get dogs that, their nose gets what we call hyperkeratosis. So where the nose just gets really thick and dry and crusty and sort of broken. And that would be something to check with your vet about because there may be an immune autoimmune condition. There could be a bacterial or a yeast infection.

I won't go any further because again, this is supposed to be a fun episode, so I'll check myself there. But generally speaking, a dry nose, no does not mean that your dog is inherently sick.

Mia: Ok good. Thank you. So speaking of noses, who has a more sensitive sense of smell, dogs or cats? I mean, dogs are known obviously for, I mean, you can't go through an airport these days without dogs everywhere.

Dr. J: But wouldn't that be cool if they had drug-sniffing cats in the airport too?

Mia: No one would be safe.

Dr. J: That's true because not only would they they sniff you out, they'd hunt you down with their dewclaws because they have them and actually use them.

So a better sense of smell I guess. Well, I guess you could say the one that doesn't follow you into the bathroom as often. But generally speaking, it really depends. Actually, it depends really on the breed because dogs are so different in terms of their breed and their confirmation.

Mia: Yeah, that makes sense.

Dr. J: So generally speaking for dogs, it depends on the breed, but there are breeds that actually have fewer smell receptors and I guess technically a worse sense of smell than cats. So cats have a better sense of smell than some dogs and you know, it's, it's a significant number of breeds that cats can outcompete in the smelling sense with.

But you know, when it comes to champion smelters, you know, the Bloodhounds and things of that nature, dogs just really can't be touched.

Mia: Alright. So we've only got time for maybe a couple more.

Dr. J: Okay, fire away.

Mia: So I'll try to make them good. Alright. Why do cats knead?

Dr. J: Need what?

Mia: I mean besides...

Dr. J: Cats need everything, they're so clingy.

Mia: Making pancakes on my tummy.

Dr. J: Oh, making biscuits. Yeah. Um, so I think it's, it's really a comfort thing. I mean if you think about when they're kittens and nursing on mom and they, you know, that can be part of the milk let down, is they're sort of massaging and kneading.

So it can be a soothing thing for them, a self-soothing thing that's just sort of leftover from that. And then the other thing that I would say, with cats kneading, is that they can really sense like pheromones from between their toes, kind of, that's part of why they scratch, is to mark, and so when they're kneading it may also be a, there may also be a marking component of it.

But generally speaking, if your cat is comfortable enough to be kneading on your belly, or your head, or your arm, or your face, depending on how you're sleeping, it's a compliment like they're comfortable with you, so that's good.

Mia: Okay. So it's not them trying to tell us we need to lose a few pounds.

Dr. J: No, although my, my daughters would definitely say that I do, and my cat does knead on my belly. And so it is, there is a comfort thing there. Yes. I guess I'll, I'll admit that.

Mia: I'm right there with you. It's okay.

Dr. J: We're just healthy.

Mia: Yeah. And loved by our cats.

Dr. J: Yeah, that's why I keep my gut around, so that my cat's happy.

Mia: Exactly. Um. Alright. So we all know that grapes aren't good for our dogs, but I don't really know why.

Dr. J: Yeah. Well the good news is neither do we. The bad news is that unfortunately not everyone's aware of it. And grapes are this really kind of a strange thing because we really don't know what, what you would call the toxic principle is.

Like we don't know what part of grapes is toxic to dogs. And it's not like you can set up a study, right, because that would just be cruel and ridiculous.

Mia: That'd be terrible.

Dr. J: So we don't know whether it's like red grapes versus green grapes. We don't know whether it's organic versus not. We don't know whether it's stems, skins, we just don't know. And we don't really even fully know, because of that, exactly how many grapes it takes, you know, even based on the size of the dog.

I will tell you that when I was on my internship at AMC, one of the internal medicine specialists, like crazy smart guy, his dog had accidentally gotten — ingested two grapes, and he drove his dog in, like he, he lived in the city, so he either took a cab or you know, ran his dog in, brought him into the emergency service and we made the dog vomit.

And so we asked him, like, would this be enough to cause a problem? He goes, I don't know, but I don't want to take the chance. Because if you have a dog that reacts — and it seems like not every dog is susceptible because you'll have people say, oh I give my dog grapes their whole life. And they're fine.

Mia: When I was little, I did. My little Westie.

Dr. J: I did it before vet school because I thought it was fun to watch my dog try and eat frozen grapes. Like I didn't know.

But at the same time, not every dog seems to be affected. And so it may be that people are giving their dogs grapes their whole life and there's not a problem, but you're just playing with fire because if you get a dog that's susceptible or you get the right grape or combination of whatever it is, you'd be looking at what we call acute kidney failure.

So basically the kidneys can shut down once that gets in and into the body and metabolized. And then you're looking at, you know, kidney dialysis or you know, just expensive labor intensive problem or badness. And so it's not just grapes, but obviously it's raisins because they're related very closely, and then also currants.

So just play it safe, steer clear of a grapes, raisins and currants going into your dog. And that — you know, for people with toddlers — oatmeal, raisin cookies, cinnamon raisin bagels, just raisin snacks, grape snacks. Like just be careful because they drop things. And so just be, be alert.

Mia: Um, all right, one last, fun one, hopefully.

Dr. J: I'll try and keep it fun, so I won't steer us into medical.

Mia: Why do cats like boxes so much?

Dr. J: Because cats are awesome. No, I think it's probably mostly the security, of being enclosed. And I think it's just fun and maybe it's the feeling of them, or the sound that they make. Though that said, I think it was last year, wasn't it, where there was like a video — I mean there's all these people that do like these amazing cardboard box cat play structures, which are phenomenal.

Mia: Uh, yeah, I was going to say it's a great winter indoor activity, is constructing a cardboard cat castle.

Dr. J: Totally, because we're all just ordering a bunch of stuff on Amazon and we've got boxes laying around or whatever it is.

Mia: And it's an excuse to decoupage. Pick a theme. It's great!

Dr. J: If I knew what that meant, totally. See, you said you were wondering if you could stump me, there you go. Vocabulary, you'll get me every time.

But it was cool. I think it was a year or two ago that people actually just took like blue painter's tape, and actually just put squares of painter's tape on the floor to see if their cat would sit in there preferentially. So there's no walls, there's no enclosure or anything like that. Like no security. And wouldn't you know, the cats did.

This tape box test didn't go quite as smoothly, but it's still pretty cute


Mia: That's so funny.

Dr. J: So I think maybe they're just like geometry fans. I don't know, or they get kickbacks from the cardboard industry. I don't know. Like who knows why cats do what they do well, but they're cute.

Mia: Yeah, they sure are. And they keep surprising me, so, I'm sure that we will have plenty of more questions to ask you, both on the dog and cat side. And for those of you listening at home, if you've got any questions like these that you'd like, Dr. J to answer, let us know.

Dr. J: We can call it stump the chump.

Mia: Well thank you so much for, for doing this, Dr. J.

Dr. J: Yeah this was fun.

Mia: Yeah, hopefully we can do this more often because these are a lot of fun and there's not always a lot of downer information.

Dr. J: Oh, no, give me a chance, I'll introduce it.

Mia: Don't I know it. Alright, well thanks again and we will talk to you all soon.

Dr. J: Have a great day, everyone.

About the author

Profile picture for Mia Horberg

Mia Horberg

Mia Horberg is a Digital Strategist at Preventive Vet, and when she's not working she is watching Jeopardy! with her wife, planting flowers and veggies, and hanging out with her senior rescue pug Mabel Petrillo, and exotic shorthair kitty, Mazel von Schmear Visage. A lover of all animals, Mia is also lucky enough to volunteer at a rescue where she gets to hang out with goats and sheep every week.

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