Cat tongue upclose

When it comes to being organized, I’m old-school. While I carry a smartphone and embrace many of its features, my closest companion is a worn binder filled with fresh Franklin Covey planner pages. 

My love of paper extends to clipping and carrying interesting articles. A lot of those clippings, it will not surprise you to hear, are about pets. Many of these tidbits head into my filing cabinet for use in my books. Here are a few choice bits of trivia I’ve saved over the years, starting well before I began training to be a veterinarian and continuing to this very day:

Cat got her tongue: If you could look at your cat’s tongue with a magnifying glass, you’d see it’s covered with row after row of barbs. These little structures are called filiform papillae. They’re hooked in shape, the tips pointing toward the throat. These barbs help to hold food while a cat is eating, and they also help a cat keep her fur in perfect (or should we say purrrrrrfect?) condition, pulling out dead and dying hairs, along with any debris picked up in the day’s travels. So a cat’s tongue is (among other things) a convenient, built-in hairbrush, always ready for a quick touch-up.

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.

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. Curling into a tight ball helps to conserve body heat; by contrast, when cats stretch out they expose their bellies, allowing heat to escape and helping to cool them. How curled a cat is when sleeping on her side will depend on how hot or cold the animal is. The colder the temperature, the more tightly curled the cat.

Dog tags

Dog tags for pets (and people): Dogs have been taxed for centuries, but the idea of a tag to signify that a dog was “street legal” seems to date to the late nineteenth century, when Cincinnati, Ohio, started issuing collar 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 led to the new military tags being 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.

What’s the weirdest thing you ever found out about a dog or cat? Put your tidbits in the comments, but keep them clean.

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