The health of our pets is a somewhat daunting and certainly complicated topic. Thanks to modern technology there is a plethora of information literally at our fingertips. Unfortunately this can make sorting “fact” from “fiction” quite difficult. Even before the internet, there were many myths about animal health and the reasoning behind common behaviors. Although many of these myths are harmless and good fun, there are a handful of too often believed misinformed statements that could result in harm to your pet’s well-being. Here we’ll look at some of the most common pet health myths, and then give you the facts. I’ve even managed to dig up the origin of some of these myths so READ ON!
Myth #1 If my dog’s nose is warm or dry it means he is ill.
Truth: The temperature and/or wetness of a dog’s nose gives little to no information as your pet’s health status. Many dogs have a warm and dry nose when they first wake up, and a wet and cold nose after drinking water or playing outside. Upon researching this very myth I found that this myth stemmed from the time when canine distemper was of grave concern in the general population. Dogs afflicted with distemper would frequently have dried and thickened (hyperkeratotic) paw pads and noses. Therefore the belief was that if your dog did not show these singular signs he or she did not have distemper and was therefore healthy. Side note, dry paw pads and noses are not the sole sign of canine distemper.
Myth #2 A dog’s mouth is cleaner than a human’s
Truth: I don’t know about you but I have seen my own dog dip into some REALLY disgusting things before I could stop him. Garbage, a dead animal in the woods, even his own feces! If you honestly think that our pets aren’t coming into contact with more bacteria throughout the day than we do, then you are sadly mistaken. In fact for those of us who are avid followers of Mythbusters, they even tested this myth on one of their episodes. The sad news is a dog’s mouth is NOT in fact cleaner than his/her owner’s mouth. But here’s the good news, much of the bacteria in your dog’s mouth is species specific; meaning they pose no risk to you when you come into contact with them. So go ahead and share a Popsicle with Fido, it may in fact be safer than sharing one with your spouse!
Some believe that this myth stems from the fact that a dog or cat will lick its own wound and depending on the severity of the wound we see visibly expedited healing. However this is likely due to the fact that your dog or cat is debriding any dead or compromised tissue away from the wound, allowing for speedier healing, rather than the belief that their saliva is inherently “clean” and promotes healing.
Myth #3 My pet is limping, but he or she isn’t painful
Truth: This is a common misconception. A limp that is visible while your dog is walking to or from the food bowl, may completely disappear when he chases a squirrel across the yard leading you to believe that he isn’t really in any pain. The reality is that your pet doesn’t want to put full weight on his leg when he walks around the house because he knows it would hurt. Dogs do not need to cry or whine to be in pain. In fact, many of our lame patients don’t cry despite their lameness. So why doesn’t he limp when he chases after a neighbor rabbit or squirrel??? When your dog is lazily walking around the yard or the house his mind isn’t preoccupied by anything else and therefore he will think twice about bearing full weight on the affected limb causing a change in his gait (limp). However, when he sees a squirrel or rabbit he cannot fight the instinct to take chase just as his ancestors would in search of their next meal. It’s similar to the stories we hear of humans who can perform amazing feats of physical strength when their adrenaline is pumping.
Myth #4 Cats are healthier than dogs
Truth: There are diseases we veterinarians must worry about that only affect cats, and their are diseases we worry about that only affect dogs. However the balance is pretty equal from one to the next. For instance, cats do not typically present to a veterinarian with an underactive thyroid (they tend to have thyroid problems that result in an overactive thyroid gland) and likewise dogs do not frequently see a vet for an overactive thyroid. However there is one glaringly obvious difference between cats and dogs that I feel almost every vet would have to agree upon. Cats in general SEEM to be more stoic than dogs. Most cats have developed a high tolerance for pain out of evolutionary necessity, and they typically do not show strong signs of illness until he or she feels VERY ill. The best way to recognize feline pain is to know your cat’s routines, behavior and personality. One of the most common symptoms of pain in cats is social withdrawal. Your cat may hide, avoid human contact, or even display loss of appetite. If your cat is injured or suffering from painful illness such as arthritis, he may display sensitivity to touch in that area.
In general, look for drastic changes in behavior and personality. If your cat seems to be eating or drinking much more or less, seems much more or less active than usual, or seems to be spending too much time in the litter box, it could be a sign of pain.
Myth #5 My pet doesn’t need flea prevention
Truth: There are many variations on this myth. Some individuals feel their pets only need flea prevention during the Spring, Summer, and early Fall. While others believe that their “indoor only” pet doesn’t ever need flea prevention. Well here’s the scoop on both of those myths. Did you know that even though fleas will not live on people (it certainly doesn’t keep them from biting us however), they can hitch a ride on our pant legs, shoes, and socks?! Even if your cat never leaves your home, you could be bringing in unwelcome guests to your home if you encounter fleas in the outside environment. Once inside your home the fleas will look in earnest for a warm body they can live on, and they just might set up a residence of flea condos on your beloved Snowball if she isn’t on flea prevention.
For those of you wondering whether your pet needs flea prevention in the middle of January, be advised. This year alone during the month of January we have spent half the month in temperatures above “freezing” and we’ve hit multiple days of greater than 40 degree temperatures. So even though a good snow fall or frost may result in a dying off of many of the adult fleas in the yard, all it takes is a warm day for larvae and pupa to emerge and mature into adult fleas to hop on your pet. In addition, many wildlife carry fleas so if you see a rabbit scurry across the yard on a warm day understand that the adorable cotton tail may have been depositing adult fleas in the yard just waiting to hop on your dog while he/she is out enjoying an unusually warm day.
Myth #6 Home remedies
Truth: This particular myth is really quite endless. Simply type “home remedies for pet care” into Pinterest or a Google search bar and you will find home remedies for various animal ailments ranging from flea prevention, mange treatment, ear infections, to swollen eyes, etc. etc. Certainly there are a handful of over the counter medications, and supplies you have at home that can treat small ailments. For instance, if you “quik” your dog or cat’s toenail while trimming, applying some flour or corn starch can do a great job of stopping the bleeding. Some over the counter Benadryl is great to have on hand for allergy prone dogs as it is a great option for alleviating the symptoms (give 1mg of Benadryl for every 1lb of dog’s body weight. Example; a 12 lb dog would receive 1/2 of a traditional 25 mg tablet) of allergy season or even an allergic reaction. If your dog is having a problem with his anal glands sometimes adding a few table spoons of canned pumpkin to the diet is just enough fiber to bulk up the stool and keep things running smoothly. Unfortunately, when we start treating ALL of our pet’s ailments with the cheap, quick “fix” we find online, we can be wasting time, or even making a condition worse. In the end this may result in a more stressful visit to the vet for both your pet and your pocketbook.
Myth #7 My dog and cat should eat the same diets of their ancestors.
Truth: There has been a very large movement in the pet food industry to push “grain-free” diets. Some companies push these diets by saying they alleviate a dog’s allergy symptoms, while others will say your dog should be eating the same type of diet that a wolf eats because he/she is a direct descendant of wolves. Likewise, we all know cats are carnivores so why are their diets containing grains?!
I know pet foods are confusing (perhaps another post for another day), and we all honestly want whats best for our pets, however the argument of giving our pets the diet of their ancestors simply isn’t realistic for the majority of the pet population. We by no means eat the foods thought to make up the diets of the hunters and gatherers before us, so why do we feel our pets should do the opposite? Much of the evolution of our diets (and likewise our pets) is due to the availability of various alternatives for calories/energy that just weren’t available thousands of years ago. Our bodies have evolved and so have the demands of our body for energy. In general, if you are interested in feeding a high protein/grain-free/raw/etc diet we ask that you be sure to consult with your veterinarian. For those of you who have been feeding a diet that includes corn/wheat/etc and your dog is healthy, by all means do not feel the need to jump on the latest pet food bandwagon. Remember, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!
I am certain I have only scratched the surface of a multitude of misconceptions about our pets. So I ask you fellow pet owners and even colleagues, what are a few of the tales you’ve heard that have to do with your furry best friends?