The Right Way to Hold Your Cat, According to a Vet

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Every cat parent has experienced the soul-crushing rejection of picking up their kitty for some cuddles, only for Fluffy to fight for freedom, occasionally leaving behind a nasty trail of scratches. The good news is that your cat probably doesn't hate you—you might just be holding him wrong.

There are a few ways to avoid having to break out the first aid kit, all while making your cat feel more comfortable and secure. In a video spotted by IFL Science, veterinarian Uri Burstyn of the Helpful Vancouver Vet YouTube page used cat models Claudia and Pirate to demonstrate some proper handling techniques.

There are a few different maneuvers you can use, depending on your cat’s personality and what you’re trying to accomplish—whether it be picking them up for some cuddles or holding them down to get them to swallow a pill. First, Dr. Burstyn advises pet owners to approach with caution, letting the cat sniff your fingers or giving her some gentle tickles under the chin.

If the cat seems receptive, you can now pick him or her up. Dr. Burstyn notes that “the key to picking up a cat safely is to make them feel supported.” Let’s say you want to remove your cat from the kitchen counter for the thousandth time: Place one hand under the cat’s chest, another under the abdomen, and lift gently. This prevents the cat from kicking its hind legs in an attempt to gain ground, which is one of the most common causes of scratches, Dr. Burstyn says.

Whether you’re holding a cat in your arms or trying to stop them from running away, the key is cat squishing. Yes, really. Gently press down on a cat that’s trying to wriggle its way out of your grasp. If you're holding the cat, pull it closer to your body.

“If we do have a cat who’s trying to get away from us, we always squish that cat,” Dr. Burstyn says. “You don’t have to worry about hurting a cat. They’re very tough little beasts and just squishing them against your body is never going to do them any harm. In fact, they tend to feel more safe and secure when they’re being held tightly.”

There’s another hold that Dr. Burstyn calls the “football carry,” which involves scooping up the cat so that its head is tucked between your arm and your torso. One hand supports its abdomen while another supports its bottom. This is best for emergency situations when you need to move your pet quickly.

And if you happen to have a “shoulder cat” like Pirate, they’ll do most of the work themselves by climbing onto your shoulder, but there’s still a proper holding technique. Support their butt with one hand, and when you’re ready to put them down, slowly lean forward while still supporting their bottom until they twist around and hop back on their feet.

Of course, some cats simply don't like to be held, so it's important to pay attention to their body language. A low tail and flattened ears are both signs that your feline probably wants to be left alone, according to Mother Nature Network.

For more on Dr. Burstyn's tips, check out the video below.

[h/t IFL Science]

What's the Difference Between Pigeons and Doves?

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To the layman, the difference between pigeons and doves has something to with color, maybe. Or location. Or general appeal (doves usually get much better press than pigeons do). But what’s the actual, scientific difference between doves and pigeons?

As it turns out, there isn’t one. Paul Sweet, the collection manager for the department of ornithology at the American Museum of Natural History, says the difference is more linguistic than taxonomic.

“The word dove is a word that came into English from the more Nordic languages, whereas pigeon came into English from French,” Sweet tells Mental Floss.

Both dove and pigeon refer to the 308 species of birds from the Columbidae family, Sweet says. There’s no difference between a pigeon and a dove in scientific nomenclature, but colloquial English tends to categorize them by size. Something called a dove is generally smaller than something called a pigeon, but that’s not always the case. A common pigeon, for example, is called both a rock dove and a rock pigeon.

“People just have their own classification for what makes them different,” Sweet says. “So in the Pacific, for example, the big ones might get called pigeons and the smaller ones might be called doves, but they’re actually more closely related to each other than they are to other things in, say, South America, that are called pigeons and doves.”

The difference boils down to linguistic traditions, so feel free to tell people you’re releasing pigeons at your wedding or that you’re feeding doves in the park. Scientifically speaking, you’ll be correct either way.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

8 Hair-Raising Facts About Black Cats

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No member of catkind is more maligned than the black cat. At best, they're bemoaned as lackluster photography subjects; at worst, they're seen as harbingers of really bad luck. But there's a lot to love about these furballs, as evidenced by the holidays in their honor—the ASPCA celebrates Black Cat Appreciation Day annually on August 17 and, across the pond, October 27 is National Black Cat Day—and the facts below.

1. IN SOME CULTURES, BLACK CATS ARE GOOD LUCK.

A black kitten stretching
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They may have a less-than-stellar reputation in some areas of the world, but there are plenty of places where black cats aren’t bad luck at all. If you’re a single woman in Japan, owning a black cat is said to increase your number of suitors; if you’re in Germany and one crosses your path from right to left, good things are on the horizon.

2. THEY'RE A SAILOR'S BEST FRIEND.

Not only were cats welcome aboard British vessels to hunt mice, but sailors generally thought a black cat in particular would bring good luck and ensure a safe return home. A few of these kitties have been enshrined in maritime history, like Tiddles, who traveled more than 30,000 miles during his time with the Royal Navy. (His favorite pastime was playing with the capstan’s bell-rope.)

3. THERE IS NO ONE BLACK CAT BREED.

The Cat Fanciers’ Association (CFA) recognizes 22 different breeds that can have solid black coats—including the Norwegian Forest Cat, Japanese Bobtail, and Scottish Fold—but the Bombay breed is what most people picture: a copper-eyed, all-black shorthair. The resemblance to a "black panther" (more on those animals in a bit) is no coincidence. In the 1950s, a woman named Nikki Horner was so enamored with how panthers looked that she bred what we now refer to as the Bombay.

4. BLACK CATS ARE AS EASILY ADOPTED AS CATS OF OTHER COLORS.

Black cat facts.
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It’s common to think that black cats in shelters are the last in line to find their forever homes, but a recent survey from the ASPCA suggests otherwise. Although euthanasia numbers for black cats were some of the highest, their total number of adoptions was the highest of any hue as well. The vet who conducted the study argues that there may just simply be more black cats than other colors.

5. THEIR COATS CAN "RUST."

A black cat’s color all boils down to a genetic quirk. There are three variants of the black fur gene (solid black, brown, and cinnamon), and the hue works in conjunction with the pattern. If a cat has a solid black hue, but also the dominant tabby stripe gene, heavy exposure to the sun can make the eumelanin pigment in its fur break down to reveal its once-invisible stripes (another potential cause: nutritional deficiency). What was once a black cat is now a rusty brown cat.

6. THE GENE THAT CAUSES BLACK FUR MIGHT MAKE THESE FELINES RESISTANT TO DISEASE.

Even though their coloring is what gives them a bad reputation, these felines may be getting the last laugh after all. The mutation that causes a cat’s fur to be black is in the same genetic family as genes known to give humans resistance to diseases like HIV. Some scientists think the color of these cats may have less to do with camouflage and more to do with disease resistance. They’re hoping that as more cat genomes are mapped, we may get a step closer to curing HIV.

7. YOU CAN VISIT A CAT CAFE DEVOTED TO BLACK CATS.

Step through the doors of Nekobiyaka in Himeji, Japan and get ready for your wildest cat lady dreams to come true. Black cats are the stars of this café and visitors are invited to pet (but not pick up) these lithe felines. Each of Nekobiyaka’s identical-looking black cats wears a different colored bandana to resolve any catastrophic mix-ups.

8. THEY'RE DIFFICULT TO PHOTOGRAPH—BUT IT CAN BE DONE.

A black cat is photographed against a blue-gray background
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The modern-day conundrum black cat owners face isn’t bad luck, but bad lighting. In a world filled with people sharing photos of their pets on Instagram, black cats can end up looking like a dark blob in photos. One photographer’s advice? Minimalist backgrounds, so your subject can stand out, and angling them towards natural light sources (but keep them out of bright sunlight!). If you're snapping pics on your iPhone, tap on your cat's face, then use the sun icon to brighten up the photo.

BONUS: BLACK PANTHERS HAVE SPOTS.

Technically, there is no such thing as a black panther—it’s a term used for any big black cat. What we call black panthers are in fact jaguars or leopards and yes, they have spots, too. Their hair shafts produce too much melanin thanks to a mutation in their agouti genes, which are responsible for distributing pigment in an animal’s fur. Look carefully and you can see a panther’s spots as the sunlight hits them in just the right way.

This article originally ran in 2016.

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