14 December 2021

Animals are curious, fascinating creatures. There’s a lot that you might not know about your furry friend–and also there are some common misconceptions floating around. Learning more about the animals in our lives helps us become closer to our pets, and also by correcting common misconceptions, we can make sure pets such as cats and dogs get the best possible care.

Cats can be trained

Although most owners don’t do much training with their cats, cats can certainly be trained! You can use reward-based training with your cat, as you would with your dog, offering small tasty treats, verbal praise or a special toy.

Most cats can learn to respond to requests such as ‘sit’, ‘come’ and ‘shake’, along with a variety of tricks. Some training is essential for your cat’s safety and wellbeing, including how to use a scratching post and how to travel in a cat carrier, which is vital for trips to the veterinarian! Keep it fun and consistent and stick to short sessions. Importantly, training strengthens the bond you have with your cat. It also helps prevent behaviours that are common reasons for cats being surrendered to shelters, such as aggression towards other pets or toileting outside the litter box.

Cats don’t have nine lives

If only cats did have nine lives, but like the rest of us, they only have one! This misconception may have developed from stories of cats who survived falls or other catastrophes, but the truth is that cats are susceptible to a range of life-threatening illnesses and injuries. This is why they need regular veterinary checks to increase the chances of living long and healthy lives.

Your veterinarian will advise about preventative treatments, including dental care and vaccinations against potentially fatal infectious diseases. And the best way to protect your cat from serious injury is to keep them safely contained at home with lots of enrichment and safe access to the outdoors.

You might have heard the saying ‘cats always land on their feet’. Cats are naturally agile and have a complex ‘righting’ reflex that enables them to twist themselves around while falling so they generally land on their feet. However, their ability to safely survive a fall depends on the height of the fall and where they land. Never rely on a cat’s ability to safely land on their feet from a fall - it is important to take all possible steps to prevent a cat falling, especially from a height (such as an apartment balcony), as they can be seriously injured or even killed by a bad fall.

Dogs and cats can get along 

We have all heard the expression: “fighting like cats and dogs”, but whether dogs and cats get on or not is very much dependent on the individual animals involved. Some dogs and cats get along very well, especially if raised together, but others only find a way to tolerate each other at best. By seeking professional advice, there are ways to protect the safety and wellbeing of both pets. If you already have a dog and are thinking of getting a cat, or vice versa, this is the best time to consider compatibility.

Reputable adoption centres or shelters will give you an indication of how a dog or cat generally relates to others of either species, and will identify dogs who should not be kept in a household with cats, such as dogs who show predatory behaviours. Only bring home another pet if you are confident they will get on with your existing pet. Introductions are very important. Keep your new pet separate from your existing pet, allow them to get used to their new home before meeting and introduce them slowly under close supervision.

Cats will need a safe place to retreat to and must never be in a position where they can be cornered by a dog.

You should also train your dog to remain calm around your cat, using crate training as needed, and make sure you don’t force pets to share resources. If your dog and cat don’t get along, seek the advice of your veterinarian, who may refer you to an animal behaviourist.

Dogs can see more than just black and white

Although dogs don’t have the same colour perception as we do, they don’t just see in black and white. Dogs can see colours with a more limited range and intensity. Due to having fewer cone-shaped photoreceptor cells in their retinas than humans, dogs are unable to see red or green based colours (which they would perceive in shades of white or grey) but they can see yellow and blue based colours. Their night vision is superior to ours because they have more rod-shaped receptors in their retina, allowing them to see clearly in low light conditions.

Dogs eat grass for all sorts of reasons

Dogs eat grass for a variety of reasons. It’s often said that dogs only eat grass when they’re sick – and yes, sometimes they do eat  grass to make themselves vomit when they feel unwell - but more commonly they just enjoy the taste or are needing more dietary fibre. It’s recommended that you provide your dog with access to grass, which may be a source of vegetable matter and micronutrients, providing it has not been treated with chemicals such as pesticides and that your dog is up to date with parasite prevention. If he or she keeps vomiting or is eating grass a lot, seek veterinary advice.

If you have any questions or concerns about your pet’s health or behaviour, consult a veterinarian, who will offer professional advice. 

This article was written by Dr Rosemary Elliot and originally published by RSPCA Pet Insurance.