Pet Myth Busters

Just like the Mythbusters television show, there are a lot of ‘truths’ about cats and dogs that are more myth than real. There are also some that are 100% true. Do you know which is which?

Wagging Tails = Happy Dogs
True or false? Your dog’s wagging tail is indeed usually a sign of happiness or excitement. Dogs communicate their happiness to people or other animals by wagging their tails. Research has even shown that dogs don’t wag their tails when they are alone, even if they are content. Wagging is truly a communication meant for others.

It’s important to know the difference between a true wagging tail and other tail movements. Some dogs will move their tails when they are anxious or nervous, and it will be a different type of movement from their genuine wag. It’s usually easy to tell the difference with your own dog, whose non-verbal communications you know very well. As always, with strange dogs you must use common sense and caution, to make sure the wag is a wag, and not a warning.

Purring Cats = Happy Cats
This is one myth that is not always true. If you read the first issue of Companion magazine closely, you’ll know that cats also purr when they are in pain or distress, and when they’re scared. The purring sound (or action, for your cat) is thought to be comforting to the cat. It’s also hypothesized that the frequency of purring, between 25 and 150 Hertz, can promote healing. This could be another reason cats purr when they are injured. Although a purring cat is not always a happy cat, you’ll probably find that the vast majority of time that is exactly why your cat purrs.

Cats Love a Saucer of Milk
This is probably actually true… cats LOVE a saucer of milk. However, it doesn’t always ‘love’ them back and is not a necessary or desirable part of their diet.

Your cat doesn’t need milk if he’s eating a proper diet, which it is if you’re feeding dry or wet food (or a combination of both) that is formulated to be complete and balanced. Many adult cats are also intolerant of milk, and drinking it can cause stomach upset or diarrhea. This is likely due to lactose intolerance. It’s almost sad that the classic image of a cat lapping a saucer of milk is a myth. Luckily, there are plenty of other treats your cat will love just as much.

Cats Can See in the Dark
Not true! Or at least it’s not completely true. Your cat, assuming he has normal, healthy eyesight, can see in one-sixth of the amount of light you require. Cat pupils can dilate to 90 percent of the eye area, allowing in every scrap of light available and enhancing the sense of vision. So really, it can seem that your cat can see in the dark, but the fact is she’s not really in the dark! Cats can also see in bright, light since their eye can close almost entirely as well. The typical ‘Cat’s Eye’ that is a mere slit is the reason cat’s don’t need sunglasses!

Your feline’s eyes are also very sensitive to movement, which ‘helps’ his vision by alerting him to the presence of objects and animals. Cat eyes protrude more than human eyes as well, giving your cat superior peripheral vision.

A Dog’s Mouth is “Cleaner” than a Human’s
Have your heard this one? Maybe even repeated it yourself. Well, sorry, not true. The myth that a dog’s mouth is cleaner than a person’s mouth is thought to stem from a few different ideas. First, it used to be thought that dog bites were much less likely to become infected than human bites, suggesting more germs in the human’s mouth. Further medical research and proper measurement has debunked that myth as well.

Second, it was assumed that because dogs lick their wounds, and those wounds rarely get infected, the dog’s mouth must be ‘clean’ or perhaps even have healing properties. This is also false. It’s now recognized that when dogs lick their wounds, they remove dead tissue which does ‘clean’ the wound, helping to avoid infection. But it has nothing to do with overall cleanliness.

Finally, common sense prevails when you consider that a dog’s mouth is rarely cleaned, it will eat just about anything (including garbage and poop!) and it licks itself everywhere. How could it be cleaner than your own mouth?

Poinsettias are Poisonous
Christmas is coming – will you have a poinsettia plant in your home? It is a myth that they are poisonous to pets. Poinsettias may cause mild to moderate stomach irritation if your dog or cat eats the plant, with symptoms of drooling, vomiting and diarrhea, but that is true of most plants. If your pet is a plant-eater, ensure you can place all plants, including poinsettias, out of their reach for everyone’s safety.

However, most pets are more likely to upset their stomach stealing ‘people’ foods around holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas. This brings us to another topic…

Chocolate Will Kill Your Dog
Chocolate is indeed very bad for your dog. If your dog ingests a large quantity of strong chocolate, it could be fatal. But don’t panic! In most cases, eating some chocolate will make your dog a bit ill, but won’t kill them.

The level of danger is dependent upon the amount ingested, the size of your dog and the potency of the chocolate. White and milk chocolate are less likely to be harmful than dark chocolate. Unsweetened baker’s chocolate and 100% cocoa are the most harmful. If your dog eats a quantity of unsweetened baker’s chocolate, consult your veterinarian.

Dogs Eat Grass to Settle Their Stomach
This is likely false. The reason I say likely, is that there is no consensus as to why dogs (or cats for that matter) sometimes eat grass. Maybe it does settle an upset stomach. Or maybe it just tastes good. To further dispel this myth, see the article, Why Dogs eat Grass,  by Dr. Dave Summers, the Pet Valu animal nutritionist.

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