Q: My cat, Lilly, has developed the puzzling habit of backing up and shaking her behind as if she’s about to spray or mark, but then nothing happens! She does this a lot. Why? – K.E., via Cyberspace
A: “I call it ‘sham spraying,’ ” says veterinary behaviorist Dr. Valarie Tynes, of Fort Worth, TX. “It’s the same motor pattern that happens when a cat actually goes to spray, but then it doesn’t happen. We don’t know why.”
Tynes wonders what triggers the sham spraying. Is there a cat spraying outside your home? Are visitors coming to your home? Or is there something else happening which might typically prompt a cat to spray? Tynes says it’s even conceivable that this spraying behavior is an attention-seeking device. When the cat backed up to a wall once, perhaps a family member uttered an audible gasp. For some cats, just one negative response can be enough to motivate a repeat behavior.
Tynes says no one knows if cats who pretend to spray may one day do the real thing. Being proactive can’t do any harm, though. At least plug in a Feliway diffuser. Feliway is a copy of a calming pheromone, which can be a tool to prevent territorial spraying (and other anxious behaviors) in cats.
Q: I get The Bark magazine. In a recent issue, (animal behaviorist and author) Karen London wrote about a “wolfdog,” and honestly, she didn’t make a lot of sense. She stated that the wolfdog is not a canine. I’m very familiar with “wolfdogs” because wolves have bigger brains and are quite intelligent. What do you think about wolves’ role in the development of the modern dog? – J.B, Las Vegas, Nev.
A: Rather than comment on what London wrote, which I was unable to locate online, let me offer some general information about the domestication of dogs, and what I believe you’re referring to as “wolfdogs.”
A new study published in the journal Science argues that the domestication of dogs occurred even longer ago than initially suspected – between 18,800 and 32,100 years ago in Europe.
Exactly how European hunter-gatherer cultures were responsible for turning relatives of today’s wolf into our best friends is not known. Of course, this didn’t happen overnight. This new information is based on the work of researchers who literally dug up mitochondrial DNA.
Researchers suggest modern dogs have more genetically in common with long-extinct ancient wolves species than today’s wolves. So, despite dogs retaining their ability to breed with wolves, they’re not as closely related to wolves as once thought.
For a time, Cro-Magnon men and Neanderthals shared the planet. In truth, it seems, Neanderthals and Cro-Magnon man were quite similar. One difference is that Cro-Magnons, who are our ancestors, began to live with descendants of today’s dogs, hunting with them and taking advantage of their innate ability to warn of attackers. Domestication had truly begun, as Cro-Magnons were sometimes even buried with dogs. Neanderthals didn’t associate with these canines, and Neanderthals ultimately died out. Maybe we ought to thank dogs for our existence. Certainly, all evidence suggests, we evolved with dogs.
Q: My cat likes to watch ice hockey on TV. Sometimes, he’ll glance at an Animal Planet show. The only other program he responds to is Piers Morgan’s show on CNN. Really, when Morgan comes on, Lilly runs out of the room. Why is that? – S.C., Chicago
A: I bet you have a nice flat-screen TV with excellent resolution. Cats like following moving objects. Isn’t that what the puck must look like? I know of cats who “paw” at the TV screen, apparently wanting to get in on the action. However, I don’t know any ice-skating kitties who actually enjoy playing the game.
This is my first notification that Piers Morgan causes distress to cats. In truth, I have no explanation for your cat’s response. However, I’m certain my readers will have their own thoughts on this one.