The other day I was on Facebook posting a response to a friend’s amusing post about her cat Pickles. As we know, Facebook is a lighthearted way of keeping track of friends. Our timelines chronicle our various adventures— places we’ve been, meals we’ve eaten, new acquaintances we’ve made. Did you know cats and dogs have their own version of Facebook? It’s called Butt Book, and it connects our domestic pets to their friends far and wide.
While we’ve long known pets have smellavision instead of television, our pets’ version of their own social media occurred to me as we walked Mojo through the neighborhood the other day. From the moment Michael picks up his leash till we round the corner leading back to our cove, Mojo is a grinning, panting, olfactory vacuum -- sniffing up the air and everything around him like a giant canine Hoover.
Every few feet he brakes, sniffs, dives into a pile of leaves and then lifts his leg. He drags us to almost every mailbox in our cove, and isn’t satisfied until he has snorted and inhaled the scents around the box’s post. After thoroughly sucking the essence out of every molecule within range, he leaves his message using an arching stream of urine to drive home the point.
With a single sniff, Mojo can read and interpret another dog’s complete story -- whether it’s male or female, healthy or sick, aggressive or laid back. Wordlessly, he reads other dogs’ chemical communication and learns what that dog ate earlier, what kind of mood he’s in, or whether there’s anyone new in the hood making territorial threats. This is the same information Mojo gets when he greets a dog on the street and sniffs that dog’s butt, but unlike an actual encounter, he can linger over this post longer, reread it, perhaps even reinterpret some minor points, and then leave his reply with his lifted leg.
Dogs usually urine mark locations and objects they think other dogs are going to smell, which makes this behavior comparable to our own social media. We sprinkle a Facebook posting with “likes” and comments while dogs basically do the same thing on their daily walks. Without encountering each other, dogs can catch up on news relating to where they’ve been recently and who they’ve been out with. They have no need to post a photo of the Nurtro Ultra they ate earlier, or the unexpected, juicy bone from last night -- the visual translation can be sniffed out, enviously, by the next reader scrolling down the Butt Book timeline. If some piece of gossip is particularly good I imagine Mojo might tag one of his buddies with the intel.
What about felines -- do they also have accounts on Butt Book? You bet they do, and maybe even on SniffaGram and InstaButt as well. Like dogs, cats also have an outsized sense of smell. While we humans rely primarily on our vision, cats— like dogs—depend more upon smell to assess and communicate with their environment. That’s why cats greet each other by sniffing the others’ rear end, and why when approaching us they’ll often present their butts.
We’ve also noticed our cats using their form of social media around the house. Mali and Bernie have certain circuits they seem compelled to walk daily. At particular chairs, table legs, or other objects they’ll compulsively sniff as though ferreting out new information. Then they’ll repeatedly scrub their faces into that object, leaving behind a scent-filled posting on their timeline for the other to read and interpret. Like humans, cats seem to find social media rather addictive.
Cats and dogs devote a lot of energy and brainpower to interpreting smells. Both have hundreds of millions of olfactory receptors in their noses. In addition, felines and canines also have awesome scent memory, which means they can identify people and other pack members they haven’t been around in years.
There’s a certain irony to that. We often use Facebook to locate and catch up with people we haven’t seen or been around in a long time. Cats and dogs can use Butt Book for pretty much the same reason. I guess “staying connected” is a universal need that transcends species.
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