Why Your Pets Seek You Out When Something’s Wrong

Cat on Lap
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Have you noticed that your pet seeks you out when something is wrong? Dr. Marty Becker shares his own experience with this fascinating truth.

We probably all remember Aesop’s fable about Androcles removing a thorn from a lion’s paw and being rewarded later on when the lion saves his life. But do animals really come to us when they’re hurting? The answer is often yes, although we don’t always realize it.  

I have to admit, I was blind to pets presenting themselves to a human caretaker for help until I was in the process of writing The Healing Power of Pets in 2000. That’s a little embarrassing coming from not just a pet lover but a veterinarian who is trained to look past the obvious and see what lies beneath. What I learned changed my dog’s life and made me a better veterinarian and pet owner.

Actions Speak Loudly

As part of the research for my book, I traveled to Colorado State University College of Veterinary Medicine to interview integrative medicine expert Narda Robinson, DVM. With a dog in front of us on the floor of an exam room, she told me how dogs and cats will lick or rub areas that hurt or are inflamed, just as we might rub our own sore shoulder.

When I went back home to Idaho, she suggested I should start observing my pets to see if they were rubbing certain areas of their bodies on the couch or licking a particular area.

“You don’t really even need to catch them in the act,” she said. “Just look for areas where the fur is roughed up from rubbing or licking. When you see the spots, feel them. You typically find that they are warmer from inflammation than surrounding tissues.”

When I asked her what to do after I saw the sore areas and felt the inflammation, she advised gently massaging those spots, using a gentle, steady touch and avoiding bony prominences. Most importantly, never hold pets against their will. (And if a pet is coming to you with a sore spot, it is crucial that you find out what the underlying cause is.)

I filed Dr. Robinson's advice away, not realizing how soon it would come in handy.

Eyes Wide Open

A few days after I got home, I was working at my desk, pounding away on the keyboard like a woodpecker, when our elderly Wire Fox Terrier, Scooter, came up the stairs to the loft where I write and over to my desk to be petted. I looked down, and I could see that the fur over her left hip was roughed up.

I took my hands off the keyboard and put them on that spot, and I could feel the heat. I started massaging Scooter as Dr. Robinson had instructed, and soon Scooter was groaning with delight.

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