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Ask a Vet: Play with pets but practice caution
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If you read my column regularly, you’re aware I’m a nerd, a nerd of many colors.

One of those colors is a professional wrestling fan. And believe it or not, your cat and dog are professional wrestlers.

Now, I have seen pets with monikers worthy of the squared circle, but what I’m mainly implying is a behavior called “metacommunication.” Literally, it refers to a communication regarding communication. It’s a way of sending a code.

When play occurs for dogs, many of the motions and vocalizations are similar to what might be heard in actual hunting or fighting.

So how do you know it’s not real? The play bow.

If you’ve watched dogs play with each other or with humans whom the dog considers playmates, you’ve seen the play bow. The front legs go forward and the dog lowers the head while stretching out with the rump raised. This is frequently followed by a lurch to one side or other movement to begin play.

Professional wrestlers do the same. A world-class match requires communication and cooperation, or someone gets hurt.

If you’ve ever seen a referee raise his arms in the dreaded X to signal, a real injury has occurred, and you’ve seen another version of metacommunication. When King Kong Bundy attacked Hulk Hogan and he was taken away in an ambulance, there was no such X. (Spoiler: Hulk made it back for Wrestlemania 2.)

But this communication only goes so far. If something happens during play that ends the fun, all bets can be off. And if you don’t know the particular dog’s individual signals, you can go from fun wrestling to bite wound very quickly.

The same goes for cats. If you’ve been invited to rub a kitty belly when the cat is feeling zany, you know it’s often a trap.

Don’t play-fight with unfamiliar dogs, and use caution even if you do know the dog. Sometimes messages get mixed up, and you can get hurt. Avoid that X.

Matthew Sisk is a practicing veterinarian from Habersham County. Have questions about your pet? He can be reached at

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