If one of your Christmas presents said “Meow” or “Woof,” you likely find yourself enthralled, but sometimes confused, by your new furry family member’s antics. Our South Shores Pet Clinic team would like to help you decode the following six behaviors—some normal, some not—so you and your furry Christmas gift can start your relationship off on the right foot—or paw. 

#1: Why does my puppy eat poop?

If your puppy has ever chowed down on their own feces, snuck some “tootsie rolls” from the cat’s litter box, or gobbled up rabbit pellets in the yard, they are engaging in coprophagia. Pets may snack on stool for several reasons:

  • An (un)refined palette — Some healthy dogs find feces a delectable delicacy and don’t understand why you are shunning their stinky kisses.
  • Health problems — Puppies with intestinal parasites, malabsorption issues, or an inadequate diet may consume stool to obtain the nutrients they are missing.
  • Attention seeking — If you chase your puppy around the yard trying to get their stolen feces, they may decide this fun game bears repeating.

If you notice your canine companion indulging in a brown snack, contact our veterinary team so we can ensure the behavior isn’t driven by an underlying medical concern, and help you find a solution.

#2 Why does my kitten scratch the furniture?

Scratching is a perfectly normal cat behavior, but can be destructive and frustrating if they scratch your furniture, the carpet, or your door frames. The scratching act sharpens your cat’s claws by removing the outer layers, exercises the foreleg and spine muscles, and deposits the cat’s scent on the scratched object—all good things in a cat’s opinion. Some cats naturally scratch more than others, but if you notice increased scratching, or scratching in a wide variety of locations, especially door and window frames, your cat may be feeling anxious or territorial and you should give our South Shores Pet Clinic team a call. To save your house and furniture from your kitten’s sharp little claws, get them used to toenail trimming at a young age and provide them with vertical and horizontal scratching substrates of different textures to satisfy that natural scratching instinct.

#3. Why does my puppy urinate on trees, mailboxes, or other items?

A dog’s urine is their business card that they plaster on all the neighborhood doggie bulletin boards (e.g., trees, mailboxes, and bushes) to advertise their sex, reproductive status, and identity, and tell other dogs they were there. Urine marking (i.e., depositing a small amount of urine, often on a vertical surface with one leg raised), starts sometimes after 3 months of age and is most common in intact males, but may be performed by neutered males and intact or spayed females, as well. Some dogs seemingly mark every single thing they encounter, while others reserve marking for social settings, such as encountering a female in heat or covering a rival dog’s urine with their own scent. Dogs who are feeling territorial or excited may urine mark in the house, on an owner’s clothing or shoes, or sometimes on a person. If your puppy suddenly starts urinating frequently, having accidents after being successfully housetrained, or leaking urine, or has blood in their urine, contact our veterinary team, as these may be signs of a medical problem rather than normal urine marking.

#4. Why does my kitten knead?

Nursing kittens often knead (i.e., alternatingly push their front paws into) their mother’s belly to stimulate milk flow, so kneading becomes associated with positive, relaxed feelings. Weaned kittens and adult cats may still “make biscuits” when they are happy or satisfied. As an added bonus, kneading transfers scents from their footpads to the person or item so the cat can stake their claim.

#5. Why does my puppy circle before lying down?

Although puppies have cozy beds, couches, or blankets to sleep on now, many still retain the ancient urge to walk in circles several times or dig at the bedding before settling in. This behavior probably started when wild dogs had to circle repeatedly to flatten out the tall grass, snow, or dirt to create a resting place. Circling may also have helped dogs drive snakes or biting insects out of the grass and create a visual message to other dogs that this area was taken.

#6: Why does my kitten suddenly attack me?

Kittens may attack with claws and teeth for several reasons. Hunting, stalking, and pouncing are ingrained natural behaviors, and moving your hands, feet, or body a certain way may trigger a playful—but perhaps still painful—attack. While letting your cuddly kitten attack your hands or feet can be cute, always redirect their attack to a toy, so they don’t continue the behavior that will become not so cute when they grow up. Kittens also may attack because they feel fearful, anxious, or threatened by a person or another animal. When petting your kitten, watch their body language carefully. Pay attention to where and how vigorously you are petting them, because they can quickly decide that the petting is uncomfortable or undesirable and turn on you to make you stop.

Is your Christmas puppy or kitten keeping you entertained, but some of their behaviors have you mystified? If you are wondering why they are doing what they are doing, or are unsure if a behavior is normal, give our South Shores Pet Clinic team a call, or ask us at their next wellness visit.