Veterinary Fact or Fiction?

November 11, 2012

After 7 years of practice in veterinary medicine, I have collected a number of “veterinary old wives’ tales”. There are many misconceptions common within the pet-owning community, and those of us who work in veterinary medicine tend to hear the same ones frequently. Some are of these old wives’ tales are cute and quirky, while others can be downright dangerous. It’s worthwhile to dispel a few of these myths, to keep Fluffy and Fido as safe and healthy as possible.

A dog needs to have at least one heat cycle before being spayed

This may be one of the most detrimental old wives’ tales out there. There is a large body of scientific evidence which indicates that every heat cycle a dog or cat has (even just one) can exponentially increase the animal’s risk for mammary (breast) cancer. Spaying before the first heat cycle effectively eliminates this risk altogether, as well as preventing uterine and ovarian cancer, pyometra and unwanted kittens and puppies.

Early spay/neuter stunts growth

Since many shelters and rescue groups have been spaying and neutering kittens and puppies as early as eight weeks of age for quite a long time, there is a fair amount of scientific data on early sterilization. None of it supports the claim that early spay/neuter stunts an animal’s growth, prevents them from growing to the size of the breed standard or causes other undue harm. Plus, early spay and neuters make for an easier surgery and yield substantial health benefits (see the above point.)

If a dog has a cold/wet/dry nose, then it must be sick

There is no “normal” when it comes to the temperature or moisture level for a dog’s nose. Healthy dogs can have dry noses, and sick dogs can have wet noses. It is also virtually impossible to tell whether a dog has a fever by feeling their nose.

Cats and dogs urinate, or chew things out of spite

While I wish I could say that dogs and cats are intelligent and complex enough to exhibit a human emotion like spitefulness, they simply cannot. If Fluffy is urinating outside the box, she may have an underlying medical problem or an underlying behavioral problem such as stress or anxiety. If Fido chews your wooden table legs while you’re gone, it’s likely that he’s teething, bored and in need of more exercise or has separation anxiety.

Dog owners need to assert their “dominance” over Fido

The concept that dogs recognize that their owner is “dominant” is an outdated one. While it is important to establish early on that Fido needs to work for basic amenities such as treats, food, attention and exercise (the “Nothing In Life Is Free” training program), this should not be done by forcing Fido on his back, growling or dominance rolling him. This can cause Fido to develop fear and anxiety, and in some cases can result in FIdo becoming aggressive toward you.

Dogs and cats from the same litter will not breed with each other

Oh yes they will! And they often do. Kittens and puppies who are kept with other intact animals often exhibit sexual behaviors earlier than those separated from the family at an earlier age. I have seen many cases over the years of kittens and puppies who are a mere 7 or 8 months of age when they become pregnant by a sibling. Early spay and neuter is best when families intend to keep males and females from the same litter.

Indoor cats don’t need vaccinations

This fallacy deserves an entire blog post, which will be forthcoming. Suffice it to say that the rabies vaccine is required by law for all cats over twelve weeks of age in Pennsylvania, regardless of whether the cat is indoor or outdoor. Bats are one of the most common vectors for rabies in our area, and bats are also the most common rabies carrier to enter our homes! Vaccinate those indoor cats, please!

If a dog is licking its own wound, that will cure it

Dogs’ mouths are teeming with bacteria. That bacteria can easily cause an infection if Fido is allowed to lick his own wounds. Constant self-trauma, in the form of licking, can make wounds much worse and completely prevent them from healing altogether.

Dogs eat grass because they know they are sick

It is truly not known while some dogs eat grass, while others don’t. I’ve heard a well-regarded veterinary internist say “dogs eat grass because it’s there” and I do think there’s a lot of truth to that. It does seem that certain dogs seek out grass when they are nauseated, but whether dogs eat grass to make themselves feel better, or to induce vomiting, is really not understood.

Cats can live healthily on a diet of tuna fish

This is also a dangerous fallacy. Cats, like all other species, need a well-rounded and balanced diet. Canned, human grade tuna fish lacks taurine, an essential amino acid for cats. Without taurine, cats can develop blindness secondary to retinal degeneration and a life-threatening cardiac condition known as dilated cardiomyopathy.

If your neighbor, breeder, sister or dog walker has told you something about Fido or Fluffy and you’re not sure whether to believe it, don’t hesitate to ask your veterinarian. Trust me, I can guarantee we’ve had that very same question asked of us before and are happy to answer it again!

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