Haven’t you always wondered about some of those beliefs you’ve heard about dogs and cats? Turns out they’re not always correct or have only a kernel of truth. Here’s the straight scoop from veterinarians who know.
If a dog or cat scoots on its butt, it has worms.
Maybe. Worms are a possibility, says Marty Becker, DVM, author with Gina Spadafori of the recently released “Your Cat: The Owner’s Manual” and last year’s “Your Dog: The Owner’s Manual,” but more often than not, the animal is trying to relieve the pressure of fluid buildup in its anal glands.
Just what are the anal glands? They produce the scent on feces that allows your dog or cat to announce to other animals “I was here” or “this is my territory.”
“Animals love to spend a lot of time deciding where to place a number two,” Dr. Becker says. “I call it ‘dung shui.’ Every time they go to the bathroom, some of that scent is excreted with the feces. If the anal glands become infected or inflamed, that scent can’t get out and builds up in the anal glands. The area is sore and irritated, so they scoot.”
Fecal tags stuck to hair around the pet’s rear end can also cause scooting, in an attempt to remove the clump, which may be causing a tickling sensation. If your dog or cat is scooting a lot, take it to the veterinarian. The anal glands may need to be manually expressed, a stinky job if ever there was one.
Bathing dogs too frequently causes dry skin.
Not necessarily, says veterinary dermatologist Lowell Ackerman, clinical assistant professor of dermatology at Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine in North Grafton, Massachusetts.
“The frequency of bathing depends on many factors, including breed-specific skin and fur features, age, medical condition and type of shampoo used. Some shampoos with heavy detergent concentrations can indeed dry out fur; others with more moisturizing features can have the opposite effect. The type of shampoo used and the bathing interval should be selected based on the characteristics of the dog being bathed.”
For instance, water-loving dogs such as retrievers, water spaniels, Newfoundlands and Portuguese water dogs have thick, oily coats that repel water and insulate them from temperature changes. Too much bathing can strip their coats of protective oils, but to maintain the proper texture and appearance their coats should get a thorough freshwater rinse any time these dogs go swimming in a chlorinated pool or saltwater. Talk to your dog’s breeder, a groomer or your veterinarian about what’s right for your particular dog’s coat.
Aggressive dogs are dominant.
Actually, dogs that behave aggressively usually do so because they’re afraid or anxious. When they’re punished for being aggressive, they become more fearful and sometimes more aggressive. If that cycle isn’t broken, says veterinary behaviorist Melissa Bain, chief of the clinical animal behavior service at the University of California at Davis, dogs can learn to suppress their fearful behavioral signs, such as a tucked tail or ears held back, and begin displaying more offensive threats.
Dogs or cats that potty in the house, tear things up or vocalize when their people are gone do so out of spite.
Pets do have emotions, but spite is a complex feeling that isn’t within their range. Dr. Bain says it’s more likely that these behavior problems have a root cause such as separation anxiety, lack of toys, playtime, exercise or other enriching experiences, territorial behavior, or incomplete housetraining, to name just a few.
Puppies should not go to training classes, the mall or friends’ homes until they have had all of their vaccinations at 16 weeks of age.
False. The benefits a puppy receives from these early socialization experiences far outweigh the risks of encountering an infectious disease. Dogs are more likely to be euthanized in shelters because of behavior problems than they are to die from parvo or distemper.
“The time of rapid social development that sets a pattern for most things in later life ends at 14 to 16 weeks for dogs,” Dr. Bain says. “This important period has passed by the time the dog has received its full vaccination series.”
As long as they’ve had their first set of vaccinations, it’s safe to take puppies to well-controlled areas where healthy puppies and adult dogs visit. Puppy classes, yes; homes with friendly, vaccinated dogs, yes; dog parks, no, because dogs of unknown health status may be there.
Women who are pregnant should get rid of their cats because of the risk of toxoplasmosis, a bacterial infection that can harm the fetus.
Not necessary, says Deb Eldredge, DVM, of Vernon, New York, author of the latest edition of the “Cat Owner’s Home Veterinary Handbook.”
“Realistically, many women not only own cats but work with them with no problems: think of all the female veterinarians and vet technicians. With certain precautions, the risk of any infection to the developing fetus from cat ownership is virtually zero.”
To keep your cat free of toxoplasmosis, keep it indoors so it can’t hunt and eat wild prey, and don’t give the cat raw meat or unpasteurized milk, Eldredge advises. Toxoplasmosis organisms need time after being passed in the cat’s feces to become infective, so cleaning the litter box daily or even twice daily also minimizes risk.
“Of course, convincing your husband to clean the litter box works, too,” says Eldredge, whose two children were born when she had four cats living in her home. She notes that veterinarians may be better informed on this subject than gynecologists because they learn about toxoplasmosis at least four times during their education: in courses on feline medicine, parasitology, zoonotic disease and public health, including meat and food safety.
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