Pet Myths: What’s True and What’s False in Pet Health and Animal Care

The truth behind chocolate, blue tongues, poinsettias and more.

Pet owners believe they know their pets better than anyone else. That may be true, but some of the beliefs may be false. Let’s consider a few common myths.

Chocolate is deadly for dogs.
This is true and false. Whether chocolate poses a fatal threat to a dog depends on the amount and type of the good stuff the dog eats. For example, Wade says, eating a large container of pure, bittersweet chocolate is far worse than eating one milk chocolate candy.

Cats always land on their feet.
False. “While cats have amazing reflexes and can turn quickly, they will not always land on their feet,” Brown says. Like any other animal, “cats can be seriously injured in falls.”

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You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.
False. “Behaviorists debunked this one a long time ago,” says Dr. Steven Hardy, owner of the Brandywine Hundred Veterinary Hospital in Wilmington. “You can teach dogs anything at any age. It may take a little longer, but dogs don’t lose their ability to learn as they age.”

People food is safe for pets.
False. While some food can be perfectly harmless for a pet, others are toxic. These include certain candies and gums. Sugarless varieties include xylitol, which can be deadly for dogs, Wade says. It is best to avoid giving pets any human food.

Dogs wag their tails when they’re happy.
Kind of. This may be true when you walk in the door, but a wagging tail does not always equal a happy dog. When dogs wag their tails, they may be illustrating some type of emotion other than happiness, Wade says. “It could be a nervous expression or even a warning.”

Cats need milk.
False. Hardy says that milk can give some cats gas and diarrhea.

Spaying or neutering causes pets to slow down.
False. “Spaying or neutering does not cause pets to gain weight, become lazy, or be less interested in play,” Brown says. “In fact, pets that are spayed or neutered generally live longer, healthier lives than their unaltered counterparts.”

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When dogs eat grass, it means their bellies are sick.
False. “It simply means they wanted to go outside and eat grass,” Hardy says. “This one is an old wives tale. If a dog throws up after eating grass, he was likely going to throw up anyway.”

A dog ages seven years for every year people age.
False. Wade says the rate at which a dog ages varies depending on the size and breed of dog.

A dog’s mouth is clean, making it perfectly safe to be kissed by it.
False. Hardy suggests looking outside to see what your dog is eating. He admits that he has never heard of anyone getting ill as a result of getting kissed by their dog. But does he think it’s a healthy thing to do? No.

Poinsettias are deadly for pets.
False, although chomping down on this holiday decoration will likely give your pet an upset stomach. Easter lilies, however, can be deadly for cats.

Shelter animals are flawed.
False. “The biggest reasons given for animal surrender are owner-related problems, such as moving, not having enough time or landlord issues,” Brown says. “These pets have done nothing wrong.”

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A dog with a blue tongue has Chow in it.
False, Wade says. “It could simply just be a pigmentation of the tongue.”

Cats purr because they are happy.
True. However, as Hardy explains, cats can continue to purr when they are sick and need medical attention. “A cat could be not eating and lethargic, but still be purring.”

Dogs are colorblind.
False, although they do see differently than people do. “Dogs only see two primary colors: green and yellow,” Hardy says. “They can’t pick up red. Instead, they see it as a blend of gray and white. However, they have much better night vision than we do.”


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