Veterinary Myth Busting

There is a large volume of information and misinformation circulating out there
about our pets.  Unfortunately some things that have long been held as “facts” just aren’t true.  Let’s talk about ten fairly common Veterinary Myths and the truth that lies behind them.

1)  “A wet nose is a sign of a healthy dog”
    While it is normal for a dog to have a cool and moist nose, that does not always guarantee that he/she is not ill.  There are cases in which a dog can be severely ill and yet maintain a healthy appearing nose.  Conversely, a warm and/or dry nose does not always mean that a dog is ill.  A healthy nose should have a smooth and even surface – no red or ulcerated areas and be free of discharge. But under certain circumstances it may feel warm to the touch or be quite dry in nature. To more accurately assess your dog’s health watch for true
signs of illness: lethargy, loss of appetite, coughing, sneezing, vomiting, diarrhea and other signs of distress.

2)  “Milk is good for cats”
We can all conjure up a comforting image of a cap lapping a bowl of milk… this is classic Americana after all, right?  Unfortunately, in reality cats and dogs don’t have the ability to properly break down lactose (one of the main milk sugars), and some are even Lactose Intolerant.  Now, usually it is okay to offer milk in small, limited quantities, but there is the risk that it could lead to gassiness, diarrhea or other GI upset and larger volumes should be avoided completely.  It is especially important to note that orphaned kittens (and puppies for that matter) should never be fed cow’s milk.  Kitten Milk Replacer (a non-dairy type of “cat milk”) is available at most pet supply stores and is preferable.  The GI side effects from cow’s milk can rapidly dehydrate an already stressed orphaned kitten.  If you are concerned that your adult cat is not drinking enough water, to ensure that he/she is well hydrated, rather than offering milk consider investing in a cat water fountain.  Cats are naturally drawn to moving water (that is why they are often found catching the water drips beneath a leaky faucet).

3)  “Dogs eat grass because they are sick”
Dogs will eat grass for a variety of reasons – the biggest of which is because they like it!  Remember that domestic dogs descended from wild canids which most nutritionists believe consumed an omnivorous diet (one containing bothmeats and vegetation).  It is true that some domestic dogs do not tolerate large quantities of grass very well, so careful attention should be paid if your pet is treating your back yard like the salad bar at the local buffet.

4)  “Before having your dog/cat spayed you should let her have a litter of
puppies/kittens”
We recommended making the decision from the get go on whether you have obtained your dog or cat to be a Companion Pet or as a Breeding Animal. Companion Pets and Breeding Stock have different needs and different goals,  so different health care decisions are usually required.  It is very well documented that spaying a dog before she goes through her first heat cycle can virtually eliminate the risk of breast cancer later in life. However, this benefit is lost if she gets pregnant and delivers a litter of puppies.  Additionally, there are unfortunately risks associated with whelping/queening and breeding pets often develop very different personalities after their offspring have departed.

5)  “Dogs and cats are color blind”
Actually, this one is partially true!  The commonly believed myth is that dogs and cats can only see in black and white… and that is not true. Dogs and cats have the same form of Color Blindness that affects 10% of men and 1% of women – they are unable to distinguish between reds and greens.  They can however distinguish blues, yellows and shades of grey, although they experience these colors much less vividly than we do.  Their overall vision is much worse than ours, but they make up for it by having far superior night vision thanks to a reflective tapetum in the back of their eyes.

6)  “Pregnant women cannot/should not live with cats”
The concern here is a protozoal infection called Toxoplasmosis (of which the cat is a natural host).  This infection can cause serious birth defects, if contracted during pregnancy.   However, a fair percentage of the cat-owning population has already been exposed to Toxoplasmosis (and therefore is immune to contracting the disease again during pregnancy).  Women who are pregnant should consult their OB-GYN and delegate the tasks of grooming the family cat and cleaning the litter box (at least once a day) to another member of the household during the course of their pregnancy to play it safe.  They do not however (under normal circumstances) need to get rid of their furry companion.  The truth is that there are more cases of Toxoplasmosis acquired from eating undercooked meat (especially lamb and pork), improperly washed vegetables or by gardening than from exposure to the family cat.

7)  “Rabbits (just like Bugs Bunny) should eats lots of carrots”
Carrots actually have a high sugar content and if fed in excess may lead to obesity (a common cause of major health issues in pet rabbits).  Carrots can be fed in moderation, but the leafy green tops (as opposed to the orange stalk) are much more nutritionally beneficial to rabbits.  When formulating a balanced diet for a pet rabbit, think about what they would normally eat in the wild (lazily grazing on fresh grasses all day long, occasionally finding some yummy leafy greens and stumbling upon the rare treat type of food).  A healthy pet rabbit diet should mimic this.  Good quality, fresh grass hay (such as Timothy Hay) in unlimited quantities is the most important part of the rabbit diet. It is best to feed a mixture of grass hays to take advantage of the variety of nutrients found in different grasses.  Fresh leafy greens (1/2 cup per pound of body weight per day) are the second most important component of the pet rabbit diet. Again it is best to feed a variety of greens to get a balanced nutrient intake. Collard greens, mustard greens, and dandelion greens are some appropriate examples.  Treats should be given in moderation  (1/2 Tablespoon per pound of body weight per day).  Here is where carrots, apples, and berries fall on the menu.

8)  “It is normal for a dog to have bad breath”
Doggy breath or kitty breath should normally not be overly strong in nature.  Halitosis (bad breath) is often a sign of dental disease and is caused by bacteria (infection) in the mouth and gingivitis (inflammation of the gums).  Sometimes very offensive breath can be a sign of a much more serious disease such as Diabetes, Kidney Failure or Cancer.

9)  “Garlic prevents fleas”
If only it were that easy!  Sadly, this home remedy has not been proven helpful (although Parasitologists and Dermatologists have tried!).  In fact, large amounts of garlic can even be harmful (similar to onions)leading to a massive destruction in Red Blood Cells and a resulting life-threatening Anemia.

10)  “A wagging tail indicates a happy dog and a purring cat is a happy cat”
More often than not this is true, but not always!  They can also be signs of agitation, anxiety, fear or a red flag that a pet is ready to fight. When dealing with an unfamiliar dog or cat, look at all of their body language to determine their “mood,” not just their tails or vocal chords.

So, there you have ten fairly common Veterinary Myths and we have only begun to scratch the surface!  I am sure that you have heard many, many more….or perhaps there are some Veterinary “facts” that you are  wondering whether or not are true.  Feel free to continue this discussion on our facebook page, which can be found at: www.facebook.com/tahvet.

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