From dangerous trendy diets to old wives’ tales, you would be surprised at what people believe when it comes to their furry friends. While some of these pet myths may be silly, others can put your pet’s health at risk. Find out which widely believed pet notions are actually false. It’s time to discover the truth and science behind some of these persistent beliefs, as we debunk some of the most common pet myths.
1. A Dry and Warm Nose On a Dog Means Fever
Because pets cannot communicate to their owners that they’re not feeling well, many myths have been created over the centuries to help identify illnesses in animals. One persistent myth that veterinarians hear often is that a dog must be running a fever if their nose is warm and dry.
According to WebMD’s veterinarian Dr. Suzanne Hunter, the only way to properly diagnose fever is by taking the dog’s temperature, which is typically done with a rectal thermometer. A dog’s normal body temperature runs a bit warmer than ours, and should be around 100 to 102.5 Fahrenheit. Dr. Hunter also recommends monitoring your pet’s behavior. Sick dogs are usually less active, and not as hungry.
2. Cats Purr When They’re Happy
While a purr is typically associated with feeling content, it can actually represent far more. New research has emerged showing that cats purr for more reasons than just enjoying their owner’s touch. Cats have been observed making the sound when nervous, fearful, stressed, or in pain.
Research has shown that the low frequency vibrations emitted from a purr can actually help their body heal wounds and repair bones. Purring can also be a way for kittens to bond with their mother, or as a self-soothing behavior. A cat can also change the way their purr sounds, adding cries or mews to elicit more of a response.
3. Rabbits Should Eat A Lot Of Carrots
One of the most common pet myths has nothing to do with cats and dogs. You can blame Bugs Bunny, or the many Easter decorations that flood stores every spring, for the idea that rabbits need carrots to survive. While carrots can be an excellent treat, eating too many will leave your bunny saying “what’s up, Doc?” to his veterinarian.
Carrots, like many starchy vegetables and fruits, are filled with high amounts of sugar. They can disrupt a rabbit’s gastrointestinal bacterial flora and cause other health issues. The VCA Hospital suggests that rabbits feast on a diet filled with hay/grass, some fresh vegetables, and a measured amount of rabbit pellets. Carrots and fruits should be considered special treats, given only in small amounts.
4. You Can’t Teach An Old Dog New Tricks
One of the most popular adages is that “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks”. While the saying may have some truth for stubborn humans, experts are proving the saying couldn’t be further from the truth when it comes to dogs.
While it is true that puppies may be easier to train because they haven’t yet learned certain behaviors, older dogs are also capable of being trained. Dogs, like humans, can experience age-related illnesses such as dementia, and learning new tricks can provide much needed mental stimulation. Studies conducted at the University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna and others have proven that while training an older dog may initially take longer, the dogs do retain their knowledge long-term.
5. All Dogs Can Swim
Veterinarians warn that before you take Fido for a dip, understand that not all dogs can swim. Doggy paddling is often not enough to keep them afloat, or their head above water. A dog’s ability to swim is largely determined by their breed, and the structure of their bodies.
While some breeds like retrievers are typically good swimmers, others like bulldogs must wear a protective life vest because they can quickly sink and drown. Experts suggest that dogs always be monitored near swimming pools or bodies of water. What’s more, pools should be surrounded by a fence, and dogs should wear specially designed canine life jackets. Like young children, special care must be taken for you and your furry family member to be safe.
6. Cats Always Land On Their Feet
Since ancient times, the behavior of cats has perplexed mankind. Today, scientists have proven that this most commonly believed of pet myths is factually incorrect, and understand that this mystical power is due largely to physics. Cats and other animals possess a “righting reflex”. This allows them to adjust themselves as they fall in order to prevent injury or death.
Due to their highly flexible backbone and lack of a functional collarbone, a cat can twist its spine in a way that forces the body to reposition so that the cat lands safely on all fours. While this usually makes for a safe landing, sometimes the fall doesn’t leave enough time for the cat to reposition. So no, cats don’t always land on their feet, resulting in severe injuries or death.
7. A Dog’s Mouth Is Cleaner Than A Human’s
Despite the temptation to return a kiss to your pooch, medical experts advise owners to hold off on letting their dogs plant a smooch on them. While many falsely believe that a dog’s mouth is clean, anyone visiting a dog park knows otherwise. Dogs put almost everything in their mouth, or close to their nose, from garbage to feces.
Like a human’s mouth, a dog’s mouth is filled with hundreds of kinds of oral bacteria. While most of these strains of bacteria typically affect only other dogs, humans share about 15% of these bacteria, potentially causing illness or death in humans. While our skin and immune system typically protect us, licks to cuts and wounds make infection much more likely.
8. A Wagging Tail Means A Dog Is Excited or Happy
One of the most common myths, and one of the reasons many people receive dog bites, is the false belief that a dog wagging their tail means they are happy. According to scientists and dog behaviorists, a wagging tail simply means the dog is mentally engaged. This is not an indicator of their mood or state of mind.
Dogs communicate many messages with their tails, including fear, annoyance, curiosity, enthusiasm, confidence, tension, nervousness, or hostility. Dog behaviorists suggest observing the height and speed of a dog’s wagging tail. A full body wag in which the tail makes wide and fast wags is usually positive. A stiffer and slower wag can mean proceed with caution. Because every breed possesses a unique tail, owners should know what a “neutral tail” looks like in order to gauge their dog’s mood.
9. A Goldfish Is An Easy-To-Care For First Pet
Whether it is their low price or their frequent depiction as being content in a simple bowl of water, a common pet myth is that goldfish are an easy first pet. While they may look very different from their ancestors, goldfish have retained several “carp family traits”: they produce very large amounts of waste from their feces and gills.
This waste can quickly create a toxic buildup in a small, unfiltered tank. For this reason, even tiny goldfish require tanks of at least 20 gallons. These small fish, when properly cared for, can grow up to a foot long and live for more than ten years. The dangers of putting goldfish in bowls has led to several countries banning them on the grounds of animal cruelty.
10. One Dog Year Equals Seven Human Years
One of the most common pet myths that veterinarians often hear is that one dog year equals seven human years. While this may be a good way to practice your times tables, experts agree that it is not an accurate way to access a dog’s age.
Scientists now know that studying the changes to an animal’s DNA gives a better indicator of maturity. According to a chart created by the American Veterinary Medical Association, a medium-sized dog’s first year is equivalent to 15 human years, their second year is equivalent to 24 human years, and the years following equal about four to five human years. Because of this, many dog owners notice age-related changes in their dogs even when they are just 6.
11. Dogs Can’t Digest Corn or Grains
As grain-free diets like the paleo diet have become popular, so has the idea that grains like corn are bad for dogs. Yet, new studies show that going grain-free can be dangerous for your dog. Corn and other grains often get a bad rep as a “cheap filler” or allergy-causing ingredient in pet food.
Dr. Jamie Richardson, medical chief at Small Door Veterinary, disagrees, saying: “While protein should make up the majority of a dog’s diet, grains can add beneficial fiber, vitamins, and minerals.” Recently, veterinarians found that grain-free diets may actually cause a dangerous heart condition called dilated cardiomyopathy, which affects the heart’s ability to pump blood. According to Dr. Anna Gelzer, a veterinary cardiologist, “There’s no scientific reason for going without grain.”
12. It’s Okay For My Cat To Be An Outdoor Cat
One of the most dangerous pet myths is that house cats should be allowed to roam outdoors. While the threat of automobile accidents, ingestion of rodent poison, unwanted pregnancies, and transmission of disease to free-roaming cats is well-known, new research is emerging about the dangerous effects cats have on the environment.
According to Dr. George Fenwick, President of the American Bird Conservancy, cats kill more than “4 billion animals per year, including at least 500 million birds”. As cats roam, they leave feces filled with parasites such as hookworms, roundworms, and a microbe which causes toxoplasmosis. This disease can cause severe brain damage or death to the fetus of a pregnant woman. Because of this, animals, and humans, are safer when cats stay indoors.
13. Dogs Eat Grass When They’re Not Feeling Well
A commonly repeated pet myth is that dogs seek out grass because they’re not feeling well, or in order to make themselves vomit. While the idea that dogs would self-medicate by grazing on your lawn may seem interesting, veterinarians have other theories.
Studies have shown that only a small percentage vomit from grass, and most dogs seem fine before and after munching on the grass. Scientists theorize dogs may eat grass as a source of fiber, from boredom or anxiety, or simply because they enjoy the taste. While grass itself isn’t usually dangerous, pesticides or herbicides sprayed on it can be toxic. Soil is also often contaminated with intestinal parasites, which can be harmful to your dog’s health.
14. Animals From The Shelter Are Flawed
One pet myth that animal shelters need to constantly debunk is the belief that animals from a shelter must have a problem and therefore make bad pets. The truth is that many animals found in shelters were once pets, but were relinquished because of issues caused by owners, not the animal.
Reasons for animals winding up in shelters include owners moving, losing their job, or not wanting to train or properly care for their pet. Many people who acquire pets are not ready for the responsibility of caring for an animal. Shelters typically disclose if an animal has behavioral issues or requires certain care, and a dog’s behavior is the result of many factors.
15. Kittens Need Milk
Some pet myths are so deeply ingrained in our minds that it’s hard to believe they’re totally false. While the image of a kitten lapping away at a bowl of milk may seem wholesome, dairy can actually be dangerous for kittens. The truth is that the only milk that’s safe for kittens to drink is milk from their mother, or a specially formulated kitten milk replacement or formula.
A kitten’s digestive system lacks the enzymes needed to digest the lactose found in cow milk. This can cause diarrhea, which can lead to deadly dehydration in fragile kittens. Lactose, which is a sugar, can cause painful bloating and gas as it ferments in the gut. While adult cats can drink milk, veterinarians warn that the high calorie beverage can cause obesity.
16. A Blue/Black Tongue Means The Dog Is Part Chow Chow
The chow chow is a majestic bearlike dog, which has been the source of many legends, including one persistent pet myth: Because chows are one of the few dogs to possess a black tongue instead of a pink tongue, many people believe that any dog with a spotted or dark tongue must be part chow.
The truth behind this myth is that the dark spots on your dog’s tongue are simply the result of that animal’s pigmentation. The same pigmented skin cells that cause some breeds to have darker noses or lips can also determine the color of their gums or tongues. Many breeds aside from chows can have dark colored tongues, including Dalmatians, Australian shepherds, shar-peis, and cocker spaniels.
17. Cats Can’t Be Trained
While YouTube abounds with videos of pet cats being mischievous or adorably apathetic, the truth is that cats can be trained. Not only can they learn to do tricks, but the training process can help strengthen the bond between owners and their pets.
One issue that prevents owners from training their cats is that many do not understand how it’s properly done. Cats respond very well to positive reinforcement, such as high-value treats like tuna or chicken, or even petting. Training sessions should be short, and owners should never scold or punish the cat, as this can cause stress or fear in the cat. According to pet behaviorists from the ASPCA, “Persuasion, not punishment, is the key to training your cat.”
18. Shaving Long-Haireds Dog Will Keep Them Cool During Summer
Many people passing a fluffy dog on a hot summer day assume that the dog must be suffering in the sweltering heat. While no dog should be exposed to extreme temperatures, excess hair isn’t always a bad thing. In some dogs, their coat actually acts as a form of insulation by trapping air and allowing it to cool the dog’s skin.
Many dogs, such as Siberian huskies or collies, have double coats of fur consisting of a soft thick undercoat and more prominent outercoat or “guard hairs”. During the warmer seasons, the dog’s protective layer of undercoat is mostly shed, allowing cooling air to flow through. Shaving a dog’s fur too close to the skin can leave your pet vulnerable to sunburn, or even skin cancer.
19. Female Dogs Should Have A Litter Of Puppies Before Being Spayed
Many pet owners falsely believe that their female dog should give birth to a litter of puppies before she is spayed. This pet myth not only puts female dogs at risk, but it also contributes to a very serious problem of pet overpopulation.
According to veterinarians, there is absolutely no benefit to allowing your pet to give birth. In fact, allowing your pet to go through heat cycles and pregnancy can actually be dangerous. Unspayed female pets have an increased risk of mammary, uterine, and ovarian cancer. Spaying your female dog before her first heat is often recommended, as early spaying is associated with more health benefits. Studies have also shown that spayed dogs typically live longer.
20. A Raw Meat Diet Is The Best For A Dog
One pet myth that has veterinarians worried is the increasing popularity of the “raw” pet food movement. Raw meals typically include uncooked meats, vegetables, raw eggs, and bones, a diet many raw pet food advocates suggest are closer to what a dog would eat “in the wild”.
Not only is there no scientific evidence or studies supporting the benefits of the diet — this diet has been linked to increased risk of exposure to dangerous microbes. Veterinarians stress that while wolves can eat bones and raw meat, millenniums of evolution have changed the gastrointestinal system of domestic dogs. Deadly pathogens observed in raw diets have even prompted the CDC and the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine to release statements warning owners of the dangers.
21. Dogs Can Only See In Black And White
There’s some pet myths that even if you likely believed even if you didn’t have a pet. Take this one, for example: up until fairly recently, many people, including scientists, believed that dogs could only see in black and white. Thankfully, advances in technology and science have put this pet myth to rest. New research has shown that dogs can see color, although not the full spectrum that most humans can see.
Dog eyes, like human eyes, have special color-sensing cells called cone photoreceptors. Humans have three types of cone photoreceptors, each reacting to different colors found on the spectrum of visible light. Dog eyes have only two types of cone photoreceptors, and can only see combinations or variations of the colors yellow and blue.
22. Dogs Heal Their Wounds By Licking Them
The idea that the saliva of dogs can heal wounds is a pet myth that dates back to ancient history. Fortunately, science has advanced, and we now know that the act of dogs licking wounds is more likely to worsen wounds rather than help heal them.
While studies have found dog saliva may have some antimicrobial properties which can inhibit bacterial growth, they only target specific strains and only slightly curb the bacteria’s growth. Letting your dog lick its wounds may result in the reopening of wounds, hot spots, and damaged sutures from surgeries. A dog’s mouth is filled with potentially dangerous microbes, which can be introduced into open wounds by licking, impairing the healing process or causing infection.
23. Dog Parks Are Safe
Many dog owners believe that dog parks are a great way to socialize their dogs while the owner can relax. And although dog parks can be a great way for pets to exercise while learning vital social skills, they can also be dangerous.
Responsible pet owners should always have their guard up, especially because some owners may be inattentive, or bring aggressive dogs to the park. Separation between small and large dogs is important; larger dogs may pose a danger to smaller pets, or can unintentionally injure smaller dogs. Experts also suggest to BYOB, or Bring Your Own Bowl; communal bowls can easily spread diseases and parasites. Most veterinarians suggest that only calm and vaccinated dogs visit the dog park, always under supervision.
24. Some Dog Breeds Are Hypoallergenic
From presidents to celebrities, people are touting the benefits of hypoallergenic dogs. But is there truly such thing as a hypoallergenic dog breed? According to scientists, hypoallergenic dogs might be cute, but they’re just another pet myth. Allergies to pets are often caused not by a cat or dog’s fur, but from a protein found in their saliva and urine.
This protein then bonds with the dead or dry skin on your pet, called dander. Allergy specialists note that most people are allergic to this dander, and not the hair. The body reacts to these proteins, called allergens, by activating the immune system and releasing a compound called histamine. This can cause typical allergy symptoms like increased mucus, sneezing, and discomfort.
25. Dogs Can Feel Guilt
Most pet owners admit that they’re guilty of attributing human emotions to their pets. But while we may make assumptions on a dog’s emotional state based on their behavior, experts caution against it. Pets that “look guilty” with their droopy eyes or cowered head may look like they’re expressing guilt over a past event. However, in reality they are reacting to your current body language and tone of voice.
Studies have proven that the animal’s perceived “guilty look” was present most often in dogs being scolded by their owner, even if the dog was innocent. This showed an understanding of the punishment, but not why they were being punished. Not only do they not understand why they’re being punished, but punishing may confuse your dog, and even increase bad behavior.
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