The Goods

Pressing pet questions: You asked the internet, so we turned to a vet for answers

Why is my hamster always so sleepy? And other need-to-know animal info

Why is my hamster always so sleepy? And other need-to-know animal info

(Credit: iStock/Getty Images)

We love our pets, but sometimes we just scratch our heads and wonder why they do the things they do. Or, we turn to the Internet for answers. But instead of relying on online sources, we turned to veterinarian, Dr Julia Hammond for answers. She gets bombarded with questions about pet behaviour all the time, with pet parents asking what's normal, what's not, and what to do about those not-so-cute behaviours. So to share some helpful info with all of us pet owners, Dr. Hammond stopped by The Goods to answer some of our most pressing pet questions.

Why do cats like to jump and perch up high?

The original cat ancestor was a tree-climbing mammal who perched up high in tree branches for protection from predators and as a concealed place to watch for prey. Today's cats have maintained that ability and they often use that strength, flexibility, coordination, and those sharp claws to mimic their ancestors' behaviour by climbing your curtains, racing along the back of your furniture and jumping onto the kitchen counter, the top of the fridge or their favourite cat tree. Dr. Hammond advises that cat owners be particularly cautious about this feline ability because not all heights are OK for cats. High Rise Syndrome occurs when cats jump up on the windowsills or balcony ledges of high rise apartments and fall off. To avoid this, never ever let your cat have access to an unscreened window or balcony ledge.

Why does my bird bob his head?

Dr. Hammond explained that pet birds, especially budgies and parrots, have learned that if they bob their head they get a lot of attention from their owners. In the wild, this behaviour is primarily done by males. A male parakeet will bob his head up and down in front of a female, or in front of a mirror where they think they are seeing a female, to impress her with his moves. In other species, head bobbing is also used as a form of territorial aggression to ward off rival birds and as an attention-getting behaviour with their humans.

Why does my dog tilt his head?

Dogs continually scan our faces for information about our emotional states. A lot of our facial expression is visible along the bottom half of the face so Dr. Hammond explained that dogs may tilt their heads to move their muzzles out of the way so that they can see us better. We also know that dogs tilt their heads when they are trying to hear a sound more precisely because there are words and phrases they are always waiting to hear from us such as the ever-popular  "do you want a treat?" or "wanna go for a walk?".

Why is my hamster always sleeping?

Hamsters are crepuscular animals, meaning that they are most active at dusk and during the night. They come from the deserts of Syria and Mongolia where the temperature is sky-high during the day and as a tiny prey species, daytime brings lots of predators. So nighttime is their time to hunt and socialize outside of their underground burrows. Dr. Hammond explained that while it's tempting to play with them during the day, it's like someone waking you up to play tag in the middle of the night. That's why these cuties sometimes get a reputation for being grouchy and not much fun to be around, and why they aren't the greatest pets for young children. If you do have a hamster, watch out for changes in their sleeping pattern. If they sleep all day, and all night, they're probably sick and need to see a vet.

Do dogs get seasonal allergies?

Absolutely! They can have summer allergies, winter allergies, and allergic flare-ups during the change of seasons, all due to grasses, pollens, parasites and air pollutants. Just like humans, dogs can also have food and environmental allergies. The challenge for owners and veterinarians is to determine which combination is responsible for a dog's symptoms, which can vary from runny eyes and noses, to ear infections, to bums scooting across your expensive rug. Even that endless — very annoying — licking and chewing at their paws and other parts of the body could be a reaction to itchiness caused by allergies. The same is true of cats — they lick a little less, but chew a lot in response. But of course don't reach for human allergy medications to solve the issue, these meds aren't dosed to your pet's size, and other issues can emerge. One Tylenol is fine for you, but it is likely to harm a dog, and it will definitely kill a cat. It's never worth the risk, so always see your vet instead.

Why do cats like to scratch?

Simply put, they do this for many reasons. Cats scratch to remove the outer layer of their nails, to mark their territory visually with scratch marks and by leaving odours from scent glands in their feet, and they scratch to flex their feet, toes, and body before they jump into action. Unfortunately, humans are not so impressed when their cat shreds the arm of an expensive lounge chair or couch. So Dr. Hammond says the key to managing this hardwired natural behaviour is to redirect it to cat trees, scratching posts and sisal or cardboard scratching pads.

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