True or false? Dogs and cats instinctively know not to eat certain things that can make them sick or kill them.
Many animals, especially those in the wild, do have a combination of instinct, experience and training that keeps them from consuming things that are harmful to them.
Herbivores in the wild, for example, will eat certain plants and not others. They learn from experience and their parents which ones they can safely eat. Some also will nibble a bit of a leaf or piece of a plant and can tell by the taste — usually extremely bitter — that this isn’t a food for them.
Other animals avoid colors or combinations of colors. The monarch butterfly ingests a toxin in milkweed that is stored in its body. It doesn’t make it poisonous, but it does give it a bad taste so predators generally avoid eating it.
Predators also will take a pass on viceroy monarchs, which have a pattern and color that resemble the monarchs, but none of the nasty milkweed taste.
In times of starvation, however, the rules can go out the window and animals will eat whatever they can find, whether it’s harmful to them or not.
Domestic animals share some of those instincts and training, but they are not as sharp on the subject. Some dogs will eat almost anything, including inedible objects. Just ask anyone who’s spent several hundred dollars on vet bills to remove socks, batteries, light bulbs and pretty much anything else from the belly of their dog.
Dogs also will eat potentially harmful things such as poisonous mushrooms, chocolate and fertilizer, the latter of which to them smells like a whole lot of wonderful. All of these things can be harmful, if not deadly, but it doesn’t stop many dogs from indulging in them.
Cats can be a bit more discerning, but they still will eat mice and rats that have been poisoned, thus ingesting the poison themselves, or munch on Easter lilies, which also can be fatal.
Both cats and dogs will drink antifreeze, drawn to it by its sweet taste. In almost all cases, this ends with the animal’s death.
Nefarious, cruel and sick people have been known to poison neighbors’ cats and dogs by concealing poison in meatballs or other tasty wrappers.
In all these cases, if the dog or cat had acute instincts, they would avoid being killed or harmed.
Keep your pets safe because, like children and many adults, we just can’t trust them to not eat something bad for them.
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Do animals instinctively know what not to eat?