10 Nice Things You Can Do for Your Cat

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iStock

On June 4th, National Hug Your Cat Day, cat owners are encouraged to cuddle their felines—but if every day in your household is "Hug Your Cat Day," here are 10 additional ways to give your kitty extra love, attention, and care.

1. KEEP YOUR CAT'S TEETH SQUEAKY CLEAN.

A pet owner brushing his Maine Coon cat's teeth
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According to Purina, eight out of 10 felines over the age of 3 have tooth and gum problems. Since kitties get dental plaque just like humans do, some vets recommend brushing your cat's teeth—but if the idea of shoving a toothbrush inside your pet's mouth makes your arms burn with imaginary bites and scratch marks, consider using a product like ProDen PlaqueOff, a dental powder that can be added to wet or dry food. It breaks down bacterial biofilm buildup to keep your feline's mouth nice and healthy.

2. KEEP YOUR CAT ACTIVE WITH THE RIGHT TOYS.

Cat bats at feather toy.
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Some 60 percent of pet cats were overweight or obese in 2017, according to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention. Trick lazy indoor cats into getting exercise by buying them toys like Go Cat's Da Bird, which are designed to engage their natural hunting instincts. ("Every cat owner should have Da Bird," attests Mental Floss editor-in-chief and resident cat expert, Erin McCarthy.) The 3-foot teaser wand has a feathered bauble that's attached to a long string—the ornament resembles a flying bird as it bobs and twists through the air, encouraging your kitty to leap, run, and bat its way to tip-tip shape.

3. BRUSH YOUR CAT REGULARLY.

A pet owner brushing an orange cat's fur on a white bedspread.
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Cats spend around 30 to 50 percent of their day grooming themselves, but it's a good idea to give them regular brushings, too. Not only will you ensure your kitty's coat stays glossy and tangle-free, you'll also decrease the number of hair balls it gets. Both your cat and your rug will thank you.

4. BUY YOUR CAT A CLASSY NEW BED.

The Peacock Ball cat bed by Meyou Paris
Meyou Paris

Feline furniture doesn't always need to be fluffy, leopard print, or sparkly. Made by Meyou Paris, these modernist cat beds, lounges, and cocoons are marketed as "classy furnitures for discerning cats."

5. TAKE YOUR CAT TO THE VET FOR ANNUAL CHECKUPS.

White and gray cat looks up at a vet.
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Even if your cat is acting like its typical energetic or lazy self (there tends to be no in-between with felines), it's still important to ensure it receives regular preventative check-ups. That way, the vet can screen for new or developing conditions and treat them before they balloon into serious—and expensive—health concerns. It's also a convenient time to address lifestyle and diet, or any behavioral changes. Experts from Kansas State University's Veterinary Health Center recommend taking animals under 7 years old to the vet once a year, and older pets on a semi-annual basis, depending on their individual health needs.

6. MAKE SURE YOUR CAT'S LITTER BOX IS UP TO SNUFF.

Fluffy gray cat sitting in a pink litter box.
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Cats are clean animals and will typically do their business atop a prized rug if their other option is a dirty litter box. Keep your home furnishings safe—and your cat happy—by keeping their tiny bathrooms sparkling clean. (A self-cleaning litter box might be a good option for busy pet owners.) If they're refusing to use the litter box, try experimenting with different brands or makes of cat litter, or covered and uncovered boxes, to determine which types your kitty prefers.

For pet owners with multiple cats, the Humane Society of the United States recommends that they own one litter box per feline and provide them with an extra "just-in-case" box for emergencies. That way, there won't be any turf battles among your pets.

7. PROVIDE YOUR CAT WITH A CONSTANT SUPPLY OF FRESH FILTERED WATER.

Striped cat drinking from a water faucet.
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Want to treat your cat to clean, tasty water? Instead of pouring the contents of your Brita filter into its dish, opt for a bubbling water fountain with a re-circulating system and a water-softening filter, like the Catit Flower Fountain. It comes with three flow settings and is ergonomically designed for easy drinking.

8. PLAY YOUR KITTY MUSIC THAT'S SPECIALLY COMPOSED FOR CATS.

Gray kitten closes eyes while having headphones on.
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Does your cat love you, but hate your taste in music? Try playing a few tunes by David Teie, a composer who partnered with animal scientists to make the 2015 album Music for Cats. It features songs "based on feline vocal communication and environmental sounds that pique the interest of cats," according to Teie's website. (Don't worry, they also sound good to human ears.)

9. HELP YOUR CAT GET 'REVENGE' ON THE NEIGHBORHOOD DOG.

Kitten screams at scared-looking puppy.
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Is there a neighborhood dog whose barking terrifies your cat? Allow your kitty to "fight" back (and give its claws a workout) by providing it with a dog-shaped scratch pad.

10. TREAT YOUR KITTY TO CATNIP 'WINE.'

White and brown cat stares at a glass of white wine.
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Love cats and wine? Enjoy your favorite drink with your furry friend by giving them Apollo Peak's special catnip-laced "wine" for cats. It comes in punny flavors like "Pinot Meow" and "Moscato," but don't worry—the feline beverage is made from beets and natural preservatives, and doesn't actually contain any alcohol.

A version of this story originally ran in 2017.

Do Dogs Understand What You’re Telling Them? Scientists Are Scanning Their Brains to Find Out

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iStock/kozorog

We all know that dogs can learn to respond to human words, but it’s not always clear what’s happening in a dog’s brain when they hear and recognize words like “cookie” and “fetch.” Do they have to rely on other clues, like gestures, to figure out what we mean by that word? Do they picture a dog biscuit when you say “cookie,” or just the sensation of eating? In a new study, scientists from Emory University and the New College of Florida tried to get to the bottom of this question by training dogs to associate certain objects with words like “blue” and “duck,” then using fMRI brain scanners to see what was happening in the dogs’ heads when they heard that word.

The study, published in Frontiers in Neuroscience, examined the brains of 12 different dogs of various breeds (you can see them below) that had been trained to associate two different objects with random words like “duck,” “blue,” and “beach ball.” Those two objects, which were different for each dog, were brought by the dogs’ owners from home or chosen from a selection of dog toys the researchers compiled. One object had to be soft, like a stuffed animal, and the other one had to be something hard, like a rubber toy or squeaky toy, to make sure the dogs could clearly distinguish between the two. The dogs were trained for several months to associate these objects with their specific assigned words and to fetch them on command.

Then, they went into the fMRI machine, where they had been trained to sit quietly during scanning. The researchers had the dogs lie in the machine while their owners stood in front of them, saying the designated name for the toys and showing them the objects. To see how the dogs responded to unknown words, they also held up new objects, like a hat, and referred to them by gibberish words.

Dogs in a science lab with toys
Prichard et al., Frontiers in Neuroscience (2018]

The results suggest that dogs can, in fact, discriminate between words they know and novel words. While not all the dogs showed the same neural response, they showed activation in different regions of their brains when hearing the familiar word versus the novel one.

Some of the dogs showed evidence of a greater neural response in the parietotemporal cortex, an area of the dog brain believed to be similar to the human angular gyrus, the region of the brain that allows us to process the words we hear and read. Others showed more neural activity in other regions of the brain. These differences might be due to the fact that the study used dogs of different sizes and breeds, which could mean differences in their abilities.

The dogs did show a surprising trend in their brains’ response to new words. “We expected to see that dogs neurally discriminate between words that they know and words that they don’t,” lead author Ashley Prichard of Emory University said in a press release. “What's surprising is that the result is opposite to that of research on humans—people typically show greater neural activation for known words than novel words." This could be because the dogs were trying extra hard to understand what their owners were saying.

The results don’t prove that talking to your dog is the best way to get its attention, though—it just means that they may really know what's coming when you say, "Want a cookie?"

Scientists Find Fossil of 150-Million-Year-Old Flesh-Eating Fish—Plus a Few of Its Prey

M. Ebert and T. Nohl
M. Ebert and T. Nohl

A fossil of an unusual piranha-like fish from the Late Jurassic period has been unearthed by scientists in southern Germany, Australian news outlet the ABC reports. Even more remarkable than the fossil’s age—150 million years old—is the fact that the limestone deposit also contains some of the fish’s victims.

Fish with chunks missing from their fins were found near the predator fish, which has been named Piranhamesodon pinnatomus. Aside from the predator’s razor-sharp teeth, though, it doesn’t look like your usual flesh-eating fish. It belonged to an extinct order of bony fish that lived at the time of the dinosaurs, and until now, scientists didn’t realize there was a species of bony fish that tore into its prey in such a way. This makes it the first flesh-eating bony fish on record, long predating the piranha. 

“Fish as we know them, bony fishes, just did not bite flesh of other fishes at that time,” Dr. Martina Kölbl-Ebert, the paleontologist who found the fish with her husband, Martin Ebert, said in a statement. “Sharks have been able to bite out chunks of flesh, but throughout history bony fishes have either fed on invertebrates or largely swallowed their prey whole. Biting chunks of flesh or fins was something that came much later."

Kölbl-Ebert, the director of the Jura Museum in Eichstätt, Germany, says she was stunned to see the bony fish’s sharp teeth, comparing it to “finding a sheep with a snarl like a wolf.” This cunning disguise made the fish a fearful predator, and scientists believe the fish may have “exploited aggressive mimicry” to ambush unsuspecting fish.

The fossil was discovered in 2016 in southern Germany, but the find has only recently been described in the journal Current Biology. It was found at a quarry where other fossils, like those of the Archaeopteryx dinosaur, have been unearthed in the past.

[h/t the ABC]

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