What you might not know about your pet

Fun facts about your furry friend

It may be a dog or cat, but odds are you have most likely had one, or both, of these pets at some point in your life—and maybe even at the same time! Despite our collective experience with these animals, however, we thought it would be fun to try to find answers to some questions we have probably all asked at some point.

How good is a dog’s sense of smell anyway?

To put it mildly (and with some humor), your dog can out sniff you with both nostrils taped shut. As proof, consider dogs possess approximately 200 million olfactory cells in their noses compared to five million in humans.

What is even more amazing is that a dog’s brain possesses more olfactory neurons than a human brain in addition to more genes that code for smell. According to scientists, all this equates to a dog’s ability to smell as anywhere from 10,000 to 100,000 times superior to that of humans.

In fact, recent studies suggest dogs may actually be able to “smell” cancer in humans. At the Sensory Research Institute at Florida State University, for instance, dogs were trained to detect melanoma tissue samples hidden on the skin of otherwise healthy people. Consequently, one dog detected the presence of melanoma on five real cancer patients, including one case initially deemed negative.

Are cats smarter than dogs?

According to Dr. Kim Kuehl-Lamb of Holistic Veterinary Care of Plymouth, the question itself is inaccurate, because it is like comparing boys and girls.

“Each has different personalities and behaviors, but that doesn’t mean one is smarter than the other.” she said.

She said a better question is the degree to which their behaviors actually do differ, which she acknowledged is significant.

“Cats are very independent, less creatures of habit, and more mysterious in their behaviors than dogs,” said Dr. Kuel-Lamb, who acknowledged dogs exhibit essentially the opposite.

“Dogs really are much better for companionship, but they are neither more nor less smart than cats,” she added.

Are cats solitary creatures?

Despite their admittedly solitary habits, recent studies confirm what many cat owners probably already know — cats are not necessarily hermits and can function well in group settings.

Many thrive in the company of their own kind, especially if they grew up with other cats. Unlike dogs (and humans), though, cats are definitely not pack animals, so those looking to “train” their feline companion may experience any number of disappointments along the way.

On the other hand, dogs have an inherent need to belong to social groups, which means they respond much better to training and exhibit more obedient behaviors, whereas cats tend to do what they want when they want.

What should I really feed my pet?

It can get pretty intimidating when you read pet food labels at the store or conduct any research online, which is why Dr. Kuehl-Lamb suggests people keep three things in mind.

  1. Look at the first three ingredients (heaviest in weight),
  2. Look at the protein content, and
  3. Set as your goal a protein/carbohydrate ratio of about 80/20 percent, respectively.

At the same time, she said this ratio should only be adopted relative to your pets’ medical condition.

“It’s a lot more than just opening up a bag,” she added. “Nutrition is the single most important factor in your pets’ health.”

How often should I really see a vet?

Until the age of about 10, Dr. Kuehl-Lamb said basic health check-ups (checking weight and teeth) are more than enough (without the need for bloodwork). After that, she said she performs routine blood work to determine how internal organs are functioning.

In the case of cats, she said such blood work is especially important because they do not exhibit many symptoms of an illness until they are really sick.

“I think the reason for this can be traced back to their evolution — they are smaller and needed to protect themselves from larger animals,” she said. “It would have been advantageous to not show any weakness.”

I want an pet that’s easy to take care of, so maybe I should get a lizard or exotic instead?

While a noble idea in theory, Dr. Kuehl-Lamb said the reality of caring for such a pet is more difficult than you might think.

“The first thing you want to remember is you’re taking these creatures out of their natural environment,” she said. “It is like taking an African animal and dropping it off into New Hampshire when it’s three degrees.”

As a result, she said housing and environment problems are the biggest obstacles to caring for lizards, iguanas, and other exotics.

“You’re taking these animals and putting them into a cage and environment that’s not correct, so pet owners often struggle with dietary problems,” said Dr. Kuehl-Lamb, who noted some of the strangest pets she has worked on include an “unfriendly monkey” and a skunk.

“I removed the scent glands from the skunk — and we had to do it outside the clinic,” she said. “It literally stunk.”

Parting thoughts

Okay, so you have decided against getting a lizard and have gone back to your original idea of getting a dog and/or cat. Which do you choose?

According to Dr. Kuehl-Lamb, the answer depends on what you are looking for out of a pet.

“Dogs are windows into ourselves — they are very perceptive and recognize and absorb what’s going on in the house,” she said. “Cats, though, are very much their own aloof beings.

Aside from personality differences, she said dogs also generally require more space as well as more food and veterinarian care, which lead to increased costs.

Regardless of what pet you currently have or plan to invite into your home, she said much of your experiences with them rest on your own temperament.

“A lot of a pets’ personality is molded by the owners,” she said. “I’ve seen Rottweilers who are pussycats and Pitbulls, too…Everything comes from the owner.” 

Rob Levey is the director of development and communications at Seacoast Mental Health Center and a freelance writer.

Categories: Pets and kids