Sorting facts and fiction from common myths about pets

Does Fido eat grass to settle an upset stomach? Is Fluffy really untrainable? American Profile asked animal experts about these and other popular beliefs about pets. Here’s what they had to say: MYTH: A warm nose means your pet is sick. FACT: Not always, according to our experts. Cats and dogs have higher body temperatures than humans and may feel warmer in general. Sometimes a pet’s nose will be warm because the animal has been exercising or snoozing. “Warm, dry noses can be a sign of illness when they occur in association with other symptoms,” says H. Marie Suthers, a human-animal interaction expert in Helena, Mont. If your pet has a warm nose accompanied by changes in nose texture or color, nasal discharge, lethargy, loss of appetite, vomiting or diarrhea, a trip to the veterinarian is in order. MYTH: Cats by nature are untrainable. FACT: “Cats are very trainable. The problem is we use the wrong methods,” says feline behaviorist and author Pam Johnson-Bennett, of Nashville, Tenn. Don’t train a cat like you would a dog, she says. Instead, try to understand a cat’s conduct. “Animals don’t repeat behaviors unless it serves a function. If they are misbehaving, we haven’t provided what they need as an alternative,” such as a scratching post to use in place of the sofa, she says. MYTH: You can’t teach an old dog new tricks. FACT: “That’s like saying you can’t teach an adult to read. Of course you can!” Suthers says. “Any dog of any age can learn new tricks, or basic manners, too. It just takes a little patience, time and consistency.” MYTH: Animals eat grass to settle an upset stomach. FACT: This is true, Suthers says. “They also do it because it tastes good, or they are hungry,” she adds. “My dog will sit or do tricks for blades of grass.” MYTH: It’s healthy for a pet to have one litter before spaying. FACT: “That’s wrong,” says Staten Island, N.Y.-based animal behaviorist Stephen Zawistowski, science adviser for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. “If you spay a female before her first heat, you almost entirely eliminate the potential for mammary cancer,” he says. “Females who are never spayed go through continuous heat cycles and risk getting infection of the uterus.” Another spaying-related myth is that spaying or neutering makes your pet fat. Not so, say the experts. It’s not spaying or neutering, but too little exercise and too much food that cause pets to become overweight. MYTH: It’s OK to give cats a saucer of milk. FACT: “Cats may like milk, but most adult cats are lactose intolerant,” Bennett says. “Once a cat is weaned from its mother, they don’t need milk anymore.” In fact, Bennett adds, cats lack the lactase enzyme, which means they are unable to digest milk. “Cats are lactose intolerant and will end up with diarrhea,” she says. For young kittens not fully weaned, a milk-product specially formulated for cats is available from veterinarians. MYTH: A dog’s mouth is cleaner than a human’s. FACT: Perhaps not cleaner, but certainly no dirtier. Human and animal mouths contain different kinds of bacteria, Suthers says. Gum disease and plaque are concerns for both. “It’s important to brush your teeth and your dog’s teeth—for everyone’s health and for sweet breath,” she says. MYTH: “People” food is bad for pets. FACT: Not necessarily, Zawistowski says. Just watch their overall caloric intake to prevent weight gain. “Certain people foods are absolutely not appropriate—chocolate, raisins, onions, even bread dough,” Zawistowski says. “But there are a number of things that are perfectly fine for pets. My dog loves apples, and usually at night we’ll share an apple together.” Brought to you by: American Profile - Inspirational Stories & American History