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Norwich Bulletin - 6/5/2005

Dog And Cat Myths

We've all heard the myths about dogs and cats and some have a basis of truth while others aren't even close. Also, many of these myths cover dogs and cats so this column is going to cover the "dual" myths.

There is the saying you can't teach an old dog new tricks - there is also a saying that you can't teach a cat tricks at all! Both of these are false. Old dogs are like old people - set in their ways and a bit stubborn. They have habits and we all know how hard it is to break a habit so imagine if it was a lifetime habit we were being asked to break!

The learning capability is certainly there, but the desire may not be. And as far as cats not being taught tricks? Totally false. All you have to do is figure out how to reach your cat and convince him that he wants to do whatever it is you are asking him to do. While cats usually will not do "tricks" because their human asks them to, they will if it involves some type of interactive play. Cats love to play and all you have to do is convince them that tricks are playtime.

We are all told that a dog wags his tail when he is happy and a cat wags his tail when he is not. While there is some truth to this, it is not cut and dry. Most dogs do wag their tails when they are happy or to show how friendly they are, but they also have a slow wag that tends to be a warning if the dog is unsure of a situation.

And there are exceptions to the cat myth too - while many cats lash their tails back and forth when they are agitated and it is a warning that the claws or teeth may soon come out, their tails also go back and forth slowly when they are lying in wait for their prey. I also have a cat who wags his tail in expectation of a treat or pets.

We have all been told that bad dog breath and cat breath are just part of being a pet owner. That is not necessarily true. Some odor may be normal depending on what foods our pet eat (mice and moles probably do not make for sweet breath), but bad breath can indicate a tooth decay problem, gum disease, kidney problems, or any number of diseases associated with bad breath. So unless you know what your pet has been eating, I would not be quick to decide the bad breath is normal.

Dogs and cats eat grass because they are sick is a partial truism. Dogs and cats will often eat grass if they have indigestion. The grass causes them to vomit and then they feel better. But there are animals that eat grass out of habit and many pets are smart enough to eat grass to get the taste of something bad out of their mouths, using the grass as a mouthwash of sorts!

Certain breeds are hypoallergenic. This is not true. There are no breeds of dogs or cats that are hypoallergenic. There are breeds that appear to have less protein in their dander, which can help people with allergies tolerate the breeds better, but all breeds have dander, even the hairless cats and dogs! Also, allergies can actually be breed specific and it might end up having to be trial by error in order to find out which breeds can be best tolerated.

One of the worst myths is that a female dog or cat should go through a heat before it is spayed. This is simply not true. A heat cycle is very uncomfortable for an animal and there is absolutely no reason to make them go through it before being altered. There are many benefits of early spay and neuter programs, including decreased incidences of obesity, inappropriate elimination (male dogs and cats marking territory), and escaping behaviors (altered animals tend to roam less).

Everyone thinks a cold, wet nose indicates a healthy dog or cat - the nose of a healthy animal should be at normal body temperature unless it is out in cold, wintery air (just like our noses). So remember, it is not a wet nose that tells us our pet is healthy, but rather a dry, hot nose that tells us our pet is sick.

Dogs feel guilty when they do something wrong and cats do things to make owners angry. Both of these myths are blatantly untrue. When dogs misbehave while we are out - and then we come home and get upset at what has been done, the dog may look remorseful, but in actuality he is scared because he is not used to seeing us angry.

The dog has no memory of doing anything that he would consider wrong because he was just being a dog. And when a cat misbehaves he is not doing so out of spite or to make us angry, but rather, he was just being a cat. We tend to give our animals human emotions because we don't think like dogs and cats.

Then there is my favorite: Dogs are smarter than cats. Or, is it, cats are smarter than dogs? You decide.

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