It’s a Myth!

There are lots of ‘facts’ flying around out there about pets; commonly held misconceptions that have been told and re-told for so long that they’re generally accepted nowadays as unquestioned ‘truths’ … but, I’m here to burst that bubble! Some of these ‘facts’ we hear time and time again as vets so it’s high time I set the record straight and busted some of these myths.

1. Dogs eat grass when they feel sick

This is one I hear quite frequently, when worried owners tell me that their perfectly healthy, happy looking dog must be poorly because they’ve been eating grass. This old wives’ tale is such a long-held belief that unfortunately it does cause a lot of owners to worry unnecessarily. The truth is, your dog may just be eating grass because it tastes nice! Especially in the summer when it’s fresh, green and lush, there’s really nothing to worry about. You can relax and let Fido have a little nibble and channel his inner sheep! Unless your dog is frequently eating grass and not their own food, or repeatedly eating a lot of grass and vomiting it up, then you can happily leave them to their munching. Just be wary that the grass they’re eating hasn’t been treated with any weedkillers, chemicals or pesticides and make sure they’re protected against lungworm, which can be passed on by slugs and snails.

2. All cats hate water

Although there’s some truth behind this one, as cats generally aren’t the biggest fans of getting wet, it isn’t a universal truth. Our feline friends don’t need to bathe – they’re very efficient at keeping clean with their own grooming rituals so there’s no need to submerge themselves in water, which can weigh down their fur and make them feel less agile, as well as quickly making them cold. However, while the majority of cats will most likely avoid water, some make a beeline for it! Certain breeds, such as Maine Coons (reportedly popular as ship cats in the past), Manx cats, Abyssinians and Bengals are fond of a bit of water play and some may even enjoy a swim!

If you’ve got some time to kill, just search on YouTube ‘cats swimming’ or even ‘cats surfing’ – there’s hours of entertainment right there! Some of these fabulous felines are having an absolute whale of a time (no pun intended). I won’t link them, as I don’t want to be the reason you lose half your day to cat videos … I’ve heard from a friend (ahem) that it’s easily done! (Don’t say I didn’t warn you!)

3. Cats always land on their feet

Again, this ‘myth’ does have some basis in truth – cats cleverly have something that’s known as the ‘righting reflex’ which, combined with their very flexible spine, allows them to twist very quickly when they’re falling through the air so that they land the right way up. However, this isn’t always the case. Sadly, many cats are badly injured by falls – it’s simply not the case that their natural reflex always kicks in or guarantees them a safe landing. Even if they do land on their feet, cats can still sustain serious injuries from a fall such as broken legs, chest or head injuries.

4. Dogs can only see in black and white

Another myth that’s not quite accurate but does contain a grain of truth… dogs don’t enjoy the full spectrum of colours that we do, but their world isn’t entirely monochrome, either. Dogs only have 20% of the cones that human eyes have (cones are the cells in the retina that are

responsible for colour vision), and 2 different types rather than our 3. This means that the colours they can see are limited to shades of grey, brown, yellow and blue – similar to a human with red/green colour blindness – known as dichromatic vision. Dogs might struggle to differentiate between hues or shades of similar colours but, because their senses of hearing and smell are so much more sensitive than ours, they rely less on their vision and more on these other senses. However, what they lack in colour vision they make up for in the dark! Their eyes are much more sensitive to low levels of light and motion meaning their night vision is much better than ours.

5. Dogs feel guilty when they’ve done something wrong

We’ve all seen that sheepish look on our dog’s face when they’ve chewed something they shouldn’t have, or eaten the cat’s dinner … but, while we often attribute this to guilt, that’s not really a feeling that our canine companions are capable of. It’s much more likely that they’re picking up and reacting to cues in your behaviour. Their brains don’t work the same way as ours and they’re not capable of feeling ‘bad’ about something they’ve done. They saw an opportunity (Kitty’s bowl left unattended) and they took it. They’ve moved on from that now … but oh, wait, Dad looks angry. Cue ‘guilty’ face – which is known as ‘appeasement behaviour’. They’re simply trying to diffuse the tension in response to feeling threatened, especially if they’ve been told off before. Yes, they may look ‘guilty’ before you’ve even said a word, but don’t underestimate how sensitive they are to your reactions and the cues they can pick up on. Dogs are very perceptive, you know! But, don’t be under any illusion – if Fido doesn’t get caught for his misdemeanour, he won’t feel any guilt whatsoever!

6. Cats have 9 lives

Ah, if only this old wives’ tale were true. I’d love to have a little tally chart with each of our feline patients’ records so we could say ‘Now then Misty, you’ve used up 5 now – you need to start being a lot more careful!’ but, no, this one is definitely a myth. Yes, cat’s natural dexterity does mean that occasionally they’re lucky enough to escape relatively unscathed from the scariest of circumstances but, conversely, others can lose their fight for life as just young kittens and it’s heart-breaking every time we see it. It’s a myth that may have originated as far back as Ancient Egypt, where cats were worshipped and thought to have special powers, so it’s hardly surprising that it’s often cited. Even Shakespeare referred to this well-known saying in Romeo and Juliet! I think if I had the power to make one of these myths into a truth it would be this one, but sadly they didn’t furnish me with that skill in vet school.

7. You can’t teach an old dog new tricks

Well, this is just plain old nonsense! Yes, it’s true that we might all take a little longer to learn things as we get older, but the idea that an older dog isn’t able to learn anything new?! Well, that’s nonsense! Time and patience is all it takes (and plenty of rewards). Keep practising and keep praising, and your old dog will soon show those young ‘uns that it’s not time to write them off just yet! Enough said.

8. A rabbit’s diet should consist of carrots

Yes, we’ve all seen the cartoons – rabbits love carrots, right? I mean, they’re Bugs Bunny’s staple diet! Well, yes rabbits may well be fond of a nibble on a carrot but it’s not a good idea for them to eat them all the time, and they certainly shouldn’t exist solely on a diet of carrots. There’s no way that Bugs’ teeth would look as healthy they do if that were the case! Your rabbit will

appreciate the occasional carrot (or ideally, carrot top) as a treat, but look at them as just that – a treat, to be enjoyed in the same way as we might have chocolate. Their high sugar content (yes, carrots, really!) is bad for rabbits’ teeth and could also lead to weight gain. The majority of a rabbit’s diet should comprise fresh greens and good quality hay. Sorry to burst your bubble, Bugs! Who knew cartoons weren’t actually representative of real life…?!?

9. A healthy dog has a wet nose

This is another one I hear quite frequently. Owners often become concerned for their dog if its nose isn’t wet and cold … but it’s simply not the case that a cold wet nose is a sign of a healthy dog and a dry nose indicates some kind of illness. To be honest, if dogs did have an obvious indicator like this it would be quite useful and could make vets’ jobs a lot easier but sadly, no, this is another of those popular misconceptions that’s been told so many times that people just accept it as fact. It’s true that dogs’ noses are generally damp – this helps them to trap particles and to detect scent. But, if the nose is dry yet the dog’s alert and happy, then it’s not a sign that there’s something amiss. It may be that the dog is slightly dehydrated and needs a drink, or it’s a warm day and it hasn’t been licking its nose as much as usual. There are lots of factors that could explain it, and they’re not necessarily anything to be concerned about if your dog isn’t displaying any other signs of being unwell. You should more be aware of their general behaviour. Of course, if they’re lethargic, floppy, not eating or generally not seeming like themselves and their nose is dry and warm then yes, get them to the vets. But it should be seen as part of an overall picture and not an independent indicator of a problem.

There are other things to look out on your dog’s nose that could show signs of a problem, such as frequent or unusual discharge, a change of pigment or any kind of sores or lesions. These are more concerning than general dryness and should be checked out immediately.

10. Black cats are unlucky

Poor black cats have had to carry this one around for centuries – it’s a belief held to varying degrees in many different countries all over the world. It’s thought that the superstition dates back to the Middle Ages when black cats were associated with witches. They were sometimes believed to be witches reincarnated or just generally associated with bad luck and, often, death.

Many people believe that a black cat crossing your path means bad luck, while in some countries, like Japan, the same phenomenon is considered lucky! In Germany, the superstition is even more complicated as it depends whether they cross from left to right or right to left! In Scotland, a black cat on your doorstep is said to be a sign that you’re coming into money. So, these ebony felines aren’t all bad! I’m going to stick my neck out here and suggest that all of this is, in fact, utter nonsense. Sadly, the can that these cats have had to carry for centuries has unfortunately made them notoriously difficult to rehome, as The Blue Cross reports. So, if you’re thinking of adopting a cat any time soon please disregard this myth and give a home to a black cat – they may not bring you luck of any kind, good or bad, but they will certainly add a lot of love and companionship to your home.