How a Sleeping Cat Can Tell You the Temperature, and Other Fun Facts

Sleeping orange tabby cat, lying on side

For us, pet-related trivia holds an 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. And they make great "did you know" conversations fillers at dinner parties.

This week, we've pulled out some of the quirkiest pet-related tidbits to share with you. Hope you enjoy them.

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.

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 loose hairs, along with any debris picked up in the day's travels. 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.

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!


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