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Superstitions and Myths About Dogs and Cats

By: Alex Lieber

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In the 17th century, a cat washing her face meant a storm was brewing. But if the cat washes her face in front of a group of people, the first person she looks at will get married. And if you think a black cat is bad luck, seeing a white cat at night is a harbinger of death.

In the world of canines, a howling dog at night also means bad luck. A black dog is also considered unlucky in some parts of the world. But if your newborn is licked by a dog, he or she will always be a fast healer.

These are all obviously myths that have been handed down from generation to generation and spread from culture to culture. Sometimes the actions of our canine and feline companions can seem strange, weird or downright ominous (the sound of howling dogs, for instance, is eerie – like the souls of the dead being carried away).

But there are also more prosaic myths about dogs and cats that people continue to believe. Many are harmless, and have even risen to the status of "urban legend." But others, if acted upon, can hurt your pet. A child, for example, may not realize that cats do not really have nine lives, or that they don't always land on their feet.

Here are 10 of the most common myths about dogs and cats.

Dogs

  • Dogs age 7 years for every human year. Contrary to popular belief, there is no exact formula to gauge how much a dog ages – it's as individual for dogs as it is for people. But a rough guide is thus: The first year of a dog's life is equivalent to 16 human years. After 2 years, they are the equivalent of a 24-year-old. At 3 years, they are the equivalent of a 30-year-old. Each year after, add 5 human years to determine your dog's age. This is a rough guide, however.

  • Dogs are color blind. This is not entirely true. Dogs can see in color, but they can't tell the difference between yellow, green or red, although they can distinguish between shades of blue and gray. In fact, they can tell the difference between closely related shades of blue, gray and violet better than people.

  • Dingoes are a species of wild dogs in Australia. They are not. In fact, they are feral dogs or the offspring of feral dogs. They had been pets at one time but have reverted to living in the wild.

  • Dog saliva is antiseptic. Dog saliva was once believed to be antiseptic, and some people still believe it has healing properties. Though it can kill some bacteria, dog saliva contains its own exotic bacteria that can cause serious infections, especially in people whose immune systems are weak.

  • Dogs feel guilt when they do something wrong. It's not true that a dog will feel guilty for doing something wrong. The "hang-dog" look is not guilt – it's fear. Because he perceives you as the leader of the pack, he will act submissive if he senses you are displeased, but he doesn't feel guilty about knocking over that priceless vase from the Ming Dynasty. If not caught red-handed in the act, your dog will not have the faintest idea what he did to make you angry; he just wants to placate you.

    Cats

  • Cats always land on their feet. This is perhaps one of the more dangerous myths regarding felines, because children unfortunately want to try to prove it. It's true that cats are very agile and can twist themselves in mid-air to correct their position, but not every time. If a cat is surprised, panicked or injured, or they fall from too great a height, they may not be able to position themselves correctly. In addition, in a serious fall (from a second-story window, for instance) it wouldn't matter if they could land on their feet. The fall could still injure or even kill the cat.

  • Cats don't mind, and often prefer, to be left alone. Cats should not be left alone for long periods of time. Cats have the reputation for being aloof and independent, leading people to believe they can leave a cat alone for long periods. Cats are actually socially gregarious pets. A well-socialized cat wants to be around his or her family, and loves to play and be petted. Some are a little more finicky as to when they want to play or be petted, but all need love and attention.

  • Cats can see in the dark. Although cats see better in semidarkness than people, they cannot see in total darkness. Their eyes are designed to open to three times as wide as the human pupil to let in as much light as possible, the amount of light available during the normal "hunting" times of dawn and dusk.

  • Cats are "low maintenance" pets. This is a subjective myth – it all depends on your definition of low maintenance. Compared to a dog, yes, they are relatively low maintenance in that they don't require daily walks outside and don't always want to play. But the litter box needs to be cleaned out daily and the litter itself changed once a week; cats need regular exercise and mental stimulation; they require regular visits to the veterinarian to maintain their health, especially as they age; and they need affection.

  • Cats suck the breath from newborns. Somewhere in the depths of history, a cat was seen licking the milk from a baby's lips, and the infant's mother interpreted this as "stealing the baby's breath." Although this isn't actually the case, a cat may indeed be attracted to the milk, and there may be some risk of accidental suffocation. It's never a good idea to leave a pet alone with an infant, be it dog or cat.

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