Here are a few myths or urban legends frequently heard here at the Coaticook Veterinary Clinic:

11. Without his whiskers, my cat will lose his sense of equilibrium

FALSE. Cats use their whiskers to evaluate their environment and distances but not to keep their balance. Whiskers are actual sensorial organs that cats use to determine the distance of objects or prey when hunting. During the night they serve as antennas and help kitty to avoid running into objects. They also help to judge speed and wind direction (before jumping for example). Garfield also uses his whiskers to measure the width of a passage way to make sure he doesn’t get stuck (as long as his belly isn’t too big!). Therefore, it is very important to never cut or pull on a cat’s whiskers especially because they are so sensitive and contain many nerve endings.

When it comes to balance, whether it’s for a cat or other species, this is possible thanks to 3 important faculties: eyesight, the internal ear and proprioception. Proprioception is the body’s ability to sense the position, location, orientation and movement of the body and it’s parts. The combination of these 3 faculties allows us to keep our balance when we are immobile, when we climb, walk and even when our eyes are half open. This has nothing to do with whiskers.

12. My dog drags his posterior on the floor. He must have worms.

FALSE. Actually, Max probably has a problem with infected or obstructed anal glands. Anal glands look like little balls on each side of the anus under the skin. They secrete a paste-like substance with a very distinct odor, that leaks out when passing stool. This is what gives each dog his own distinct smell, like a digital fingerprint. We now know why dogs often smell each other’s posteriors when greeting instead of a good old hand shake!

Sometimes the opening of these glands get blocked by debris. The gland therefore becomes very full, causing irritation, itchiness and discomfort. Max will start dragging his posterior on the ground or lick it intensely. If he is unable to empty the gland himself, an abscess can form. A painful wound will than appear on the side of his anus with a discharge of pus and blood.

If your dog is often skidding ” on the ground, we recommend a check up with a technician who is able to verify his anal glands. If needed, especially if there are signs of infection, an exam by your veterinarian may be recommended.

13. Cats have 9 lives

We have all heard this expression many times. Of course this myth is false but where does it originate from? There are many assumptions as to where it started. Here are a few:
– This belief comes from the Egyptians who worshipped cats and were fascinated by their ability to escape death. This legend would grant them 9 lives, coming from different ancient beliefs that consider the number 9 as mystic, seeing as it is composed of three 3’s, a trinity of trinities. This number was considered lucky and had a supernatural power, just like cats!

– Another explication comes from the fact that cats where associated with witchcraft during the time of the inquisition. The cat, considered as the servant of the underworld, would have been witches’ pets and was able to give them powers to commit the worst crimes. They were believed to allow the witch to take it’s form, but only 9 times, hence the legend…

14. A cat always lands on his feet

Unfortunately no! If he does, he risks injuring himself severely. Even if cats have a reputation of being great gymnasts, many end up hurt or even killed after different falls (especially if the fall is of a short distance!).

This is what is called the paradox of the cat righting reflex. When falling, a cat needs a minimum of 1m50 to be able to turn around. Even if he is able to do so, he may not have time to reduce the force of impact. The expression “Cat Righting Reflex” is the manner in which a cat positions his body when falling. Once he is turned around and feels the acceleration of the fall, he extends his legs to help reduce the force of impact. For example, if the fall is from a 1st story or lower, he does not have enough time to get into this position and often is wounded. According to reported accidents, a cat has more of a chance of finishing unharmed after a fall from a 2nd to 6th and even 7th story building! Of course there are many other factors to consider, like the flexibility of Fluffy, her weight and the surface of impact, etc.

Either way, we definitely recommend that you avoid the test by ensuring that your screen doors or windows are solid, especially during the summer and by not letting Fluffy saunter out on to the balcony!

15. Cats can see in the dark

FALSE! Even if a cat’s eyes seem to gleam in the dark, they cannot see in complete darkness!
It is true that a cat’s nocturnal vision is approximately 6 times greater than that of a human being because of certain anatomic adaptations. First of all, cats possess 200 million rods (cells responsible for nocturnal vision) whereas man has 120 million. Also, a cat’s iris has a greater capacity to open and close to allow light to enter and the ocular globe is more spherical and bigger for a greater caption of light rays. Finally, a cat possesses a structure behind the retina called Tapetum Lucidum that resembles a mirror and serves as a reflector for light on the retina to amplify it. It is the Tapetal reflex, the green or yellowish reflection that we see in a cat’s eyes at night.

So, even if Felix is able to see in low light conditions, he does not possess infrared vision! He is therefore at risk of accidents or encounters in complete darkness…

16. My dog can see in color

Actually, it all depends on the dog. Dogs can distinguish colors but their range would only be from yellow to blue. They would not be able to see green and red, like people who are colorblind. So, do not count on Jack to redecorate your living room! This perception of color can vary from dog to dog but has no impact on their everyday life. It’s actually contrast, clarity and movement that helps a dog to visually analyze his environment. Seeing as his eyes are placed on the side of his head, contrary to humans and cats, his visual acuteness is actually worse than ours. Dogs are unable to see the details of an object that is further than 50 cm. However, their field of vision is much larger than ours (field of vision of approximately 250 degrees compared to 180 degrees for man).

17. My dog eats grass to make himself vomit

Even though there are many theories on this subject and no one has a precise answer, most frequently reported is that this behavior is related to an abdominal discomfort that leads to the ingestion of grass. The origin of the abdominal discomfort can be caused by the ingestion of a meal that Jack cannot tolerate (ex. table scraps, garbage, etc.), but it can also be caused by something more serious like inflammatory bowel disease, liver or pancreatic problems, etc. So, if your dog eats grass and vomits regularly or seems uncomfortable afterwards, it is recommended that you visit your veterinarian to detect any signs of illness.

18. Dogs are carnivores and need to eat mostly meat

FALSE. Besides what some defenders of raw meat may say, dogs are omnivores and need a balanced diet of proteins, carbohydrates, and vitamins from many different sources including meat, vegetables and cereals. What’s important is to furnish your dog with good quality nutriments coming from a variety of sources. Don’t rely on the Iams commercial with the Chihuahua who claims he’s not a rabbit!

19. The higher the protein, the better the food

FALSE. On the contrary, a diet too rich in proteins can actually be harmful to your pet, especially during certain stages of their life. The waste produced by the metabolism of proteins must be eliminated by the kidneys. An excess of proteins will therefore increase the workload on the kidneys which can have harmful effects on certain animals, especially geriatric cats and dogs. We highly recommend that you get advice from your animal health technician to find the best food available for your four-legged friend depending on his/her lifestyle and stage of life.

20. Last of all, a comical myth: The elephant scared of a mouse

Apparently elephants are scared of mice because these mice would be able to infiltrate into the elephants trunks and nibble on their brains! YUCK! Disgusting but don’t worry, it’s just a myth!