12 Facts About Pets and Pet Ownership for National Pet Day


It goes without saying that for pet owners, every day is National Pet Day—but the official holiday is held on April 11 every year. The first National Pet Day was first held 10 years ago and was created by Colleen Paige, according to its website, not just to celebrate all of the joy pets bring their human companions, but “to create public awareness about the plight of many different kinds of animals awaiting a forever home in shelters and rescues around the globe.” The awareness is sorely needed: According to the ASPCA, 7.6 million animals enter shelters in the U.S. every year, and 2.7 million animals are euthanized. To get you prepped for the holiday, we’ve thrown together a few facts about pets and pet ownership—as well as a few facts about the mental_floss staff’s beloved animal companions.

You may have seen Olly (bottom), 7, and Pearl Wolfie, 2.5, around before. These feline frenemies live with executive editor Erin McCarthy. Olly—who is named after the titular character in the Disney movie Oliver and Company—was rescued from a Pennsylvania junkyard. He loves snuggling, jumping for treats, and anything fleece. Pearl Wolfie was a Brooklyn street cat adopted from the New York City shelter Social Tees. She loves sitting in boxes and meowing at her mom and dad. She has toe fluff for days.

1. According to the American Pet Products Association (APPA), pet owners in the United States spent $60.28 billion on their furry friends in 2015. That number is expected to rise by more than $2 billion in 2016.

Mr. Dog—who also goes by the name Brian Jeffrey—belongs to art director Lucy Quintanilla’s mom, who adopted him from Austin Pets Alive. He hates to have his picture taken—in fact, if he sees your phone in photo-taking position, he’ll get up and walk away.

2. Cats don’t typically meow at each other—that’s a communication tool reserved for their humans. According to Science of Us, in a 2003 study, researchers at Cornell University recorded meows from 12 cats in five typical scenarios; when they played the meows for humans, the people who either had cats, interacted with cats, or liked cats were far more successful in deciphering the scenario. According to the lead author, Nicholas Nicastro, cats are very good at changing their vocalizations depending on the situation: The 7 a.m. "feed me" call, for example, is longer and has more energy in the lower frequencies, while the "adopt me" meow at the local shelter is shorter and equal in low and high frequencies. After millennia of working together, each species has managed to figure out what the other one wants.

Jean-Claude van Damme came into staff writer Kate Horowitz’s life while she was working at National Geographic. When a writer for the magazine advertised that she had too many geckos and needed to offload some, Kate chose one that was little, tailless, accident-prone, and clearly being bullied by his more robust brethren. She named him after the action star, but he doesn’t have much in common with his human counterpart: He doesn't like action or fight scenes or winning. He likes fruit smoothies and snoozing and people who wear glasses and being left alone. He also falls down a lot. Crested geckos (Correlophus ciliatus) can live at least 20 years; Jean-Claude is 5.

3. Nearly 80 million U.S. households have a pet, and 42 percent of those households have more than one, according to a 2015-2016 survey by the APPA. There are 77.8 million pet dogs in the U.S. and 85.8 million pet cats.

Staff editor Erika Berlin’s dog, Amadeus, has visited 12 states and two countries in his 5 years, and is now residing in Germany, where the schnauzer breed originated in the 15th century. Amadeus was named after his mom's favorite movie/composer, and he loves chasing soccer balls, eating all the food his human brother throws on the floor, and cuddling during Netflix binging sessions.

4. Goldfish have a reputation as short-lived creatures, but given proper care, they can live as long as 30 years in captivity. The oldest captive goldfish ever recorded was won at a fair in 1956 and died in 1999 at age 43.

Herbert, who belongs to assistant editor Caitlin Schneider, is a 2-year-old tabby who was roaming the streets of New York City until a few months ago, when Brooklyn became his permanent residence. His parents think he used to be in a kitty gang because he's a bit wild, standoffish, and plays it cool most of the time, but he likes to cuddle at night—a habit from his former life, where even the bad boys had to huddle to stay warm.

5. Parrots, according to the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), are the nation’s fourth most popular pet; according to a 2012 survey conducted by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), 3.1 percent of U.S. households owned birds. Some parrots can scream as loud as an ambulance siren. These birds are beautiful, but they’re difficult to care for and require lots of space, so the HSUS doesn’t recommend keeping them as pets at all.

Like her namesake RBG, Ruthie, pupper of special projects editor Beth Anne Macaluso, is little but fierce. She's cuddly and sassy and loves chasing squirrels, eating dirty q-tips from the bathroom trashcan, and trying to nip at the cursor on her mom’s laptop screen. When her ears flop up as they do in the photo above, her mom calls it her Princess Leia look. Mom and pup celebrate their birthdays a mere two days apart.

6. Many dogs have a condition nicknamed “Frito Feet,” in which their feet smell little bit like corn chips. As Matt Soniak wrote in a Big Question on this site, this has to do with the kind of bacteria found on a pup’s feet, and “could be due to yeast or Proteus bacteria. Both are known for their sweet, corn tortilla–like smell. Or it could be Pseudomonas bacteria, which smell a little fruitier—but pretty close to popcorn to most noses.”

Pickles, who lives with staff editor Bess Lovejoy, came from a rescue shelter in British Columbia. She has flown across the continent twice—and was not happy about it. She squawks like a duck when hungry, waddles, and may have been a table ornament in a past life.

7. One survey found that 81 percent of cat owners let their felines sleep on the bed, compared to 73 percent of dog owners.

Staff writer Michele Debczak’s pup Sampson is an 8-year-old mutt who was rescued from a Bucks County, Pennsylvania shelter when he was less than a year old. Vets say they see German Shepherd, Husky, and Shiba Inu in him. He loves making new friends but gets very upset when people dance around him.

8. The red-eared slider is one of the most popular pet turtles in the United States. They grow to be a foot long and can live for up to 20 years.

Fergie is named after Ferguson, the feline star of "New Girl," but her original name was Sunny Rae. She's around 5 years old and was found abandoned in a carrier outside a Brooklyn bodega before being taken in by one of those adoption vans. She enjoys laying on laptops, watching her favorite human—who is not her owner, senior staff writer Shaunacy Ferro—play video games, chasing her tail in the bathtub, and turning down subpar flavors of canned food.

9. Forty-five percent of pet owners say they occasionally (or frequently) buy presents for their animals.

Assistant Editor Rebecca O’Connell’s dog, Cocoa, is missing a toe. She was very sick as a puppy and almost died, but she pulled through. She’s now 13 and has terrible breath.

10. Of the many species of hamsters, the five most commonly kept as pets are Syrian, Dwarf Campbells Russian, Dwarf Winter White Russian, Chinese, and Roborovski. As anyone who’s had one of these rodents knows, they can fit an insane amount of stuff in their cheeks. How do they do it? When the BBC x-rayed a hamster eating for the series Pets - Wild at Heart, they discovered that the animals’ cheek pouches extend down to their hips.

Morgan, a.k.a. Mo, is a 6-year-old Pekingese-Chihuahua-Mogwai mix who has never met a piece of cheese she didn't like (or at least didn't beg for). Mo's best friend is Zuzu, a 1-year-old Maine Coon mix. Formerly known as "Elsa," Zuzu was found in the midst of a blizzard, frozen in a block of snow and ice. Zuzu made it; her tail did not. They live with senior editor Jenn Wood, though they might say she lives with them. They don't like it when she leaves.

11. There are 49 domesticated rabbit breeds recognized by the American Rabbit Breeders Association.

Clara, a 7-month-old mutt rescued from Alabama, lives with senior editor Abbey Stone. According to Wisdom Panel, a doggy DNA test that purportedly recognizes over 250 breeds, she is half Staffordshire terrier, one-eighth chow chow, and three-eighths “mixed breed.” (Her parents believe that three-eighths is a southern breed—one Wisdom Panel does not recognize—called a Black Mouth Cur.) Clara is a cuddly diva who loves peanut butter, chewing, and making new friends of both the two-legged and four-legged variety. She has never met a cat.

12. According to the ASPCA, around 2.7 million shelter animals are adopted each year. Interesting in adopting a pet? Make sure to do your research ahead of time to find the animal that's right for you!

Lille is a 3-year-old “Tabyssinian” (half tabby, half Abyssinian) that staff writer Kirstin Fawcett found huddled outside in a snowstorm two weeks before Christmas in 2013. Despite the fact that her rescue was akin to a heartwarming plot twist in a TV holiday special, Lille clearly isn’t a big fan of the Yuletide season.

All animal bios written by their respective humans.

NOAA, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
Watch the First-Ever Footage of a Baby Dumbo Octopus
NOAA, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
NOAA, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Dumbo octopuses are named for the elephant-ear-like fins they use to navigate the deep sea, but until recently, when and how they developed those floppy appendages were a mystery. Now, for the first time, researchers have caught a newborn Dumbo octopus on tape. As reported in the journal Current Biology, they discovered that the creatures are equipped with the fins from the moment they hatch.

Study co-author Tim Shank, a researcher at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, spotted the octopus in 2005. During a research expedition in the North Atlantic, one of the remotely operated vehicles he was working with collected several coral branches with something strange attached to them. It looked like a bunch of sandy-colored golf balls at first, but then he realized it was an egg sac.

He and his fellow researchers eventually classified the hatchling that emerged as a member of the genus Grimpoteuthis. In other words, it was a Dumbo octopus, though they couldn't determine the exact species. But you wouldn't need a biology degree to spot its resemblance to Disney's famous elephant, as you can see in the video below.

The octopus hatched with a set of functional fins that allowed it to swim around and hunt right away, and an MRI scan revealed fully-developed internal organs and a complex nervous system. As the researchers wrote in their study, Dumbo octopuses enter the world as "competent juveniles" ready to jump straight into adult life.

Grimpoteuthis spends its life in the deep ocean, which makes it difficult to study. Scientists hope the newly-reported findings will make it easier to identify Grimpoteuthis eggs and hatchlings for future research.

Joe Raedle, Getty Images
10 Things You Might Not Know About Grizzly Bears
Joe Raedle, Getty Images
Joe Raedle, Getty Images

Ursus arctos horribilis is better known by the more casual term of grizzly bear. These massive, brown-haired predators have a reputation as one of nature’s most formidable killing machines. Standing up to 8 feet tall and weighing 800 pounds, these fierce mammals have captivated—and frightened—humans for centuries. Keep your distance and read up on these facts about their love for munching moths, eating smaller bears, and being polar-curious.


Grizzlies—more accurately, North American brown bears—are strong enough to make a meal out of whatever they like, including moose, elk, and bison. Despite their reputation for having carnivorous appetites, their diet also consists of nuts, berries, fruits, and leaves. They’ll even eat mice. The gluttony doesn’t kick in until they begin to exhibit hyperphagia, preparing for winter hibernation by chomping down enough food to gain up to three pounds a day.


A grizzly bear eats fruit in Madrid, Spain
Dani Pozo, AFP/Getty Images

More than 700 grizzlies live in or near Yellowstone National Park, which forces officials to constantly monitor how park visitors and the bears can peacefully co-exist. Because bears rummaging in food containers can lead to unwanted encounters, the park’s Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center tests trash cans and coolers to see if they’re bear-resistant. (Nothing is truly bear-proof.) Often, a bear will use “CPR,” or jumping on a canister with its front legs, in order to make the lid pop off. Containers that can last at least 60 minutes before being opened can be advertised by their manufacturers as being appropriate for bear-inhabited environments.


It's a myth that grizzlies can't climb trees. Though their weight and long claws make climbing difficult [PDF], and they need support from evenly-spaced branches, grizzlies can travel vertically if they choose to.


Two grizzly bears play in a pool at a zoo in France
Jean-Francois Monier, AFP/Getty Images

In addition to being omnivorous, grizzlies can also be classified as cannibals. They’ve been spotted eating the carcasses of black bears in Canada. Calling it a “bear-eat-bear world,” officials at Banff National Park in Alberta said the grizzlies are “opportunistic” and more than willing to devour black bears—sometimes just one-fifth their size—if the occasion calls for it. And it’s not just black bears: One study on bear eating habits published in 2017 recorded a 10-year-old male eating a 6-year-old female brown bear.


Although grizzlies enjoy eating many insects, moths are at the top of the menu. Researchers have observed that bears are willing to climb to alpine heights at Montana’s Glacier National Park in order to feast on the flying appetizers. Grizzlies will turn over rocks and spend up to 14 hours in a day devouring in excess of 40,000 moths.


A grizzly bear appears at the Wild Animal Sanctuary in Keenseburg, Colorado
John Moore, Getty Images

In what would be considered an ill-advised decision, explorer Zebulon Pike decided to gift his friend President Thomas Jefferson with two grizzly cubs in 1807. Jefferson reluctantly accepted them and kept them in a cage near the north entrance to the White House, and later re-gifted the cubs to museum operator Charles Willson Peale. Sadly, one of them got shot after getting too aggressive with Peale’s family.


The bears we see in fiction or lazing about in the wild tend to look cumbersome and slow, as most anything weighing nearly a half-ton would. But in a land race, even Olympic champions would be on the losing end. Grizzlies can reportedly run 35 mph, and sustain speeds of up to 28 mph for two miles, faster than Usain Bolt’s 27.78 miles per hour stride (which he can only sustain for a few seconds).


A grizzly bear is shown swimming at a pool in an Illinois zoo
Scott Olson, Getty Images

In parts of Alaska and Canada where grizzlies and polar bears converge, there are sometimes rare sightings of what observers call “grolar bears” or “pizzlies.” With large heads and light-colored fur, they’re a hybrid superbear birthed from some interspecies mating. Typically, it’s male grizzlies who roam into those territories, finding female polar bears to cozy up with. Researchers believe climate change is one reason the two are getting together.


When it comes to intellect, grizzlies may not get all the same publicity that birds and whales do, but they’re still pretty clever. The bears can remember hotspots for food even if it’s been 10 years since they last visited the area; some have been observed covering tracks or obscuring themselves with rocks and trees to avoid detection by hunters.


A grizzly bear and her cub walk in Yellowstone National Park
Karen Bleier, AFP/Getty Images

For 42 years, grizzlies at Yellowstone occupied the endangered species list. That ended in 2017, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declared that a rise in numbers—from 150 in the 1970s to more than 700 today—meant that conservation efforts had been successful. But overall, the grizzly population is still struggling: Fewer than 2000 remain in the lower 48 states, down from 50,000 two centuries ago.


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