Why do dogs eat grass? Are pit bulls always aggressive? Yorkshire animal experts debunk common dog myths

A Yorkshire vet and a dog trainer dispel canine myths which are common misconceptions

Two dogs playing with each other. (Pic credit: Simon Hulme)

False statements around canines which have been circulated as fact could affect the health of pet dogs, if owners do not know fact from fiction..

We have spoken to two experts to find out, once and for all, which myths could have an element of truth to them - and which ones are completely baseless.

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‘Dogs are colourblind’

A mobile vet based in West Yorkshire, Em Chikan, assures that contrary to popular belief, this is in fact not true.

She explains that a dog’s retina is different to a human’s and will only interpret the colours blue and yellow - while everything else would appear as shades of grey. But this does not mean that they can’t tell when an object is red, for example.

“Just because dogs don’t appreciate the entire spectrum of colours that humans do, that does not mean they are unable to perceive different colours. They just may not see the ‘true’ colour of an object,” she said.

‘If my dog eats grass it means they are sick. Why do dogs eat grass?’

Founder of The Fairydogmother and dog trainer, Kerry Ward, reassures that if your dog eats a bit of grass, this is perfectly normal. There are various reasons for this.

“Grass eating has been observed in wild dogs as well as our domesticated house dogs, suggesting it’s a completely natural behaviour and in a study about plant-eating dogs, grass was the most commonly digested,” she said.

“Dogs need fibre in their diet and grass is a good source of fibre; a lack of roughage will affect a dog’s ability to digest their food. Dogs are good at self-medicating and will seek out what their body needs.”

She adds that when dogs eat grass, it may be to encourage vomiting, although less than 25 per cent of regular grass eaters vomit after eating it.

Another reason is that simply they like the taste and also that a puppy may be bored in the garden or just learning about their environment.

However, if they eat grass in large quantities, it may be a cause for concern and Ms Ward advises the owner to look at their dog’s diet and also speak to a vet about any possible gastrointestinal problems.

‘If my dog has a cold, will I catch it?’

According to mobile vet Ms Chikan, it is not impossible, but extremely rare.

“A dog’s cold is often called kennel cough or infectious bronchitis, which is caused by a mixture of different viruses and bacteria,” she said.

“Most of these bugs are ‘species specific’ but people with a weakened immune system or other underlying conditions may be at risk and should turn to their GP for advice.”

She adds that the best way to reduce risk of your canine companion contracting kennel cough is by a yearly vaccination.

‘Can I give my dog paracetamol if they are in pain?’

Ms Chikan strongly recommends that you should never give any medication to your dog before consulting with your vet first.

“If you are concerned that your pet may be poorly, giving any medication before visiting a vet may mask their symptoms and compromise your vet’s ability to diagnose them,” she added.

“If prescribed, you are allowed to give paracetamol on the recommended dose and length to your dog. You should never give Ibuprofen to your dog as it is toxic for them.”

‘Is it ok to leave your dog in the car on a hot day if the windows are down?’

Ms Ward said: “It is never, ever okay to leave a dog in a car on a hot day, there is no excuse even for a short time to run an errand, even with the windows open.

“Studies show that cracking the windows open has little effect on the internal temperature in a car.

“A dog left in a hot car can suffer from potentially fatal heat stroke in as little as 15 minutes as just a two degree rise in a dog’s body temperature is all it takes for heat stroke to kick in.

“A dog can only withstand a high body temperature for a short time before suffering nerve damage, heart problems, liver damage, brain damage or death.”

If you see a dog in a car displaying any signs of a heat stroke, call 999 immediately, she said.

‘All pit bulls are aggressive and not family-friendly’

According to Ms Ward, pit bulls are not a recognised breed in the UK; they come under the label of a ‘dog of type’.

“Every pit I have personally been lucky enough to meet, work with and play with have been wonderful, happy, bouncy dogs,” she said.

“If you have an enthusiastic Staffie, they are pretty similar. When people ring me to book training, they are understandably wary and usually tell me they have a Staffie cross Labrador but I am more than happy to be around them.”

Ms Ward said that most of a dog’s behaviour is dependent on their environment - including influences from the breeder and owner - but it is also dependent on good nutrition and good training.

‘A little bit of chocolate is ok for a dog to eat’

According to Ms Ward, the main ingredients in chocolate that are detrimental to a dog’s health are caffeine and theobromine, which is toxic when ingested in large quantities.

The clinical health issues depend on the amount and type of chocolate ingested but the most common clinical signs to look out for are vomiting, diarrhea, an increased in thirst, panting or restlessness, excessive urination and a racing heart rate.

Severe symptoms include muscle tremors, seizures and heart failure; signs of chocolate poisoning can take several hours to develop and they can last for days as the theobromine stays in the bloodstream and may be reabsorbed from the bladder.

“Milk chocolate contains much less of the toxic ingredients, whereas dark chocolate contains much higher levels of caffeine and theobromine and can be fatal in small amounts,” she said.

“This means that a medium sized dog could eat a milk chocolate bar with no ill effects, while the same size dog ingesting a small square of dark chocolate could be seriously ill.

“And remember it is not just chocolate; things like cocoa butter hand cream still contain cocoa. I’ve heard of dogs becoming ill from their owners, who have frequently used this hand cream over a long period, stroking their dog causing toxicity.”