The Truth About Cats & Dogs: Myth vs. Reality

The American Kennel Club and The International Cat Association partnered to help pet owners separate fact from fiction with common misconceptions about cats and dogs.

girl with kitten

When it comes to our pets, there’s a ton of misinformation out there, and many myths about our four-legged friends have been around for ages. Most are harmless, but some, if acted upon, can end up hurting your pet.

“Some myths about pets have been around for so long, they’ve become ‘common knowledge,’” says Gina DiNardo, spokesperson for the American Kennel Club. “The problem with this is that owners who act on misinformation may not meet the needs of their dog or cat.”

To help pet owners separate fact from fiction, the American Kennel Club and The International Cat Association joined forces to set the record straight on some of the most well-known dog and cat myths. Read on to test your knowledge.

Dogs have a look of love: True. Puppy love really does exist! When your dog looks at you with those big eyes and you think he just wants some treats, think again. When a dog locks eyes with its owner, it can genuinely be a look of love and not just a form of begging. Dogs can develop this behavior with human companions they are very close with.

Cats have nine lives: False. While it may seem like cats can survive almost anything, they’re still only mortal. This myth most likely stems from the fact that cats have the uncanny ability to get themselves out of situations that typically would kill other animals.

A dog’s mouth is cleaner than a human’s: False. No one knows why, but it was once believed that dog saliva was antiseptic. This is not true. A dog’s mouth carries just as much bacteria and germs as a human mouth—they are just different types. Keep your dog’s mouth squeaky clean by brushing his teeth regularly using canine toothpaste, since human toothpaste can upset a dog’s stomach. Provide your dog with hard, safe chew toys as well. The natural process of chewing also cleans his teeth.

Cats will always land on their feet: False. While cats are terrific at landing on their feet from short distances, it doesn’t always happen. Cat owners who live on the third floor or higher should be extra-cautious. Beyond one or two stories, a cat’s feet cannot break their fall, and sometimes they land on their heads or bodies. The best way to avoid testing this myth is to have a screen or netting on your windows.

Dogs are sick when their noses are warm: False. It’s an old wives’ tale that cold, wet noses indicate health. The temperature of the nose does not indicate health or illness. The only way to tell your dog’s temperature is to take it with a thermometer.

Cats need milk: False. While cats enjoy the taste of milk, their bodies don’t have much lactase (the enzyme needed to break down the lactose sugar in milk). Drinking milk can cause adult cats to have diarrhea.

A dog’s wagging tail means he’s happy: False. While a natural, mid-level wagging tail indicates happiness, most other wags mean the complete opposite. A high, stiff wagging tail means the dog is agitated and ready to protect something, and a low and very quick wag means the dog is scared and submissive.

Cats smell with their mouths: True. Cats have a small scent gland called the vomeronasal organ that is located on the roof of their mouths. To get a really good whiff of something, they’ll open their mouths very wide to let the odor hit the gland.

Dogs hate the mailman: False. Believe it or not, dogs really don’t have anything against mail carriers. If your dog barks at the mailman when he comes to your house, it’s probably just because dogs have a natural instinct to protect their homes and families from intruders. When your dog sees the mailman approach your home and walk away quickly, it reinforces to him that his barking is what scared him away. If you want to keep peace between your dog and mailman, try closing the shades around the time your mail is typically delivered so your dog can’t see outside, or leave on a television for background noise.

A cat purrs when he’s happy: False. A cat does purr when it’s content, but it also will purr when it’s in pain.

See a wide variety of dogs and cats in person while learning more about myths and training advice directly from pet experts at this year’s AKC Meet the Breeds event, which will be held Sept. 28-29 at the Jacob Javits Center in Manhattan. See exciting dog and cat demonstrations and play with hundreds of dogs, cats, puppies, and kittens. Visit for more information and special discount offers.

Also see:

How to Choose the Right Breed of Dog or Cat for Your Family

What to Know Before You Adopt a Pet

Expert Tips on Teaching Kids to Be Safe Around Dogs

5 Tips to Cure Your Child's Pet Phobias