9 Mind-Blowing Facts About Pets

Purina believes pets are an important part of our lives, our communities and our world. That’s why on November 19, 2013, we gathered thinkers and performers from all corners of culture to come together and advance the way we think about pets.

So here are the most exciting, surprising, and eye-opening things we learned.

1. “There’s somebody sleeping in your bed that you don’t know yet.”  

Dr. Brian Hare of Dognition, a service that offers cognitive and personality tests for dogs, was talking about your pet, of course. According to Dr. Hare, your dog is capable of a lot more than you might know. For example, dogs can read many human gestures, even better than our relatives the chimpanzee and the bonobo. But all dog owners have suspected that, right?

2. Some People in England Think Black Cats are “Evil Witches.”

At least that’s what Cartoonist Simon Tofield said when he showed up to Better with Pets to talk about his world-famous cat cartoons.

Simon doesn’t believe any of the superstition surrounding black cats. “Of course they're not [evil],” he says. “I have two black cats and they've brought me nothing but luck, so I can't sing highly enough of their praises.”

We agree – black cats are ultra loveable.

3. Dogs are Better Athletes than Humans. Way Better.

Purina physiologist and world-class sprint dog racer Dr. Arleigh Reynolds can’t emphasize enough just how powerful the athletic abilities of dogs can be. To illustrate his point, he talked about VO2 max, or the ability to metabolize oxygen. According to Dr. Reynolds, this is what makes a human athlete great. He compared the VO2 max of a dog on his dog racing team to the man he calls “the very best human athlete in the world,” Norwegian cross-country skier Bjørn Daehlie. Turns out the dog’s VO2 max comes in at not two times higher, but three times higher. No wonder dogs can run so fast for so long.

4. Petting a Dog Releases Feel-Good Chemicals – For the Human and the Dog Alike

“America’s Veterinarian” Marty Becker spoke about the bond we share with our dogs, and how we can gain a deeper understanding of how it works. He explained that when we engage in what he calls “ a love loop” with a dog, it releases a surge of beneficial hormones like oxytocin, dopamine and serotonin. “The dog gets exactly the same biochemical spa treatment [as we do],” he said.

To initiate “the love loop” with your dog:

     1. Use a curved hand and rub the entire length of your dog.

     2. Baby talk your dog and look him in the eyes.

     3. Use the pads on your thumbs and rub around his eyes, the base of his ears, around the nose and then down the spine. Keep up the baby talk. Make sure you’re using your fingertips, not your fingernails.

     4. Try to initiate the love loop when you have some uninterrupted time to truly bond with your dog.

5. Puppies Can Help Rehabilitate Prisoners, Just as Prisoners Can Help Rehabilitate Puppies

In the most tear-jerking speech at the event, Judy Finnegan of Puppies for Parole shared powerful stories about the success of the Missouri Department of Corrections program that benefits prisoners, pets and our greater society alike. To understand the depth of the program, we really recommend watching the video. You won’t be able to forget the story of the rehabilitated dog Soldier, who went on to comfort dying veterans in their final moments.

6. All dogs, even Chihuahuas, come from canis lupus, the grey wolf.

Purina’s Genomics Expert Dr. Steve Hannah revealed just which wolf today’s many breeds of dogs descended from, a fact that once evaded even Charles Darwin. But we don’t blame him. Who would have thought that the same ancestor could have lead to both the Bulldog and the Chihuahua, both the Newfoundland and the Pomeranian?                            

7. We Created Today’s Dogs, But We Still Need to Adapt Our World to Them

“Human beings created dogs. There's no such thing as wild dogs. If a dog is wild, it's basically a wolf,” said Julia Huang of Architecture for Dogs, a project aimed at designing spaces that make dogs happy. According to Huang and her colleagues at AFD, dogs exist in an environment built to human scale. Their challenge to designers is to create objects built for the unique physical and psychological needs of dogs. We can’t wait to see what the future will bring in terms of dog-friendly architecture and spaces.

8. How to Explain the Shared Evolution of Humans and Dogs? Easy. By Dancing it Out!

Giving the night an exciting change of pace, Black Label Movement Dance Company performed a dance symbolizing the complex way that humans and dogs have evolved together. The whole experience was mind-expanding.

9. Has Your Pet Been Unfriendly Lately? No They Haven’t Gone Sour On You. They May Just Be in Pain.

Veterinarian Dr. Robin Downing took the event to a serious place when she shared stories of pets she had encountered who were experiencing unnecessary physical pain due to aging. In each case, a simple change to the pet’s care routine alleviated their suffering – and helped the pet become closer to their owner.

As she put it, "We have the ability to prevent suffering in our older pets. We have the ability to resolve the suffering that happens from painful disease because after all, they don't deserve to hurt."