10 Pet Legends That Drive This Vet Crazy

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A message from Dr. Patty Khuly: I'd like to apologize for a mistake that I made in this story. It relates to myth no. 4, "pet mouths are cleaner than yours or mine," in which I singled out hepatitis C as an example of why human mouths may not be cleaner.

My statement was misleading (hepatitis C is neither transmissible through saliva nor is it likely to be transmitted even by a deep human bite), as well as insensitive to anyone who suffers from the disease.

In the future, I promise to work harder to ensure that everything you read in my columns is factual, as well as respectful to all viewpoints.


Although I keep hoping that its time will come, the Internet hasn’t done much to dispel some erroneous thinking on the subject of pet healthcare.

If anything, the Web is fueled by the kind of rumor mill sensibility that leads to even more misinformation on the subject of pet health and pet care. Case in point: the widespread willingness to believe that someone actually microwaved a pet to dry it off.

To that end, here’s my list of urban myths that drive me crazy!

1. A Cold, Wet, Dry or Warm Nose Tells Us Something

Although some pets’ noses might be capable of offering us some useful information, most of them do not — which is why veterinarians do not rely on this information at all when taking stock of a pet’s history and physical exam.

2. “Happy Pet” Behavior

People have a thing about assuming that pets are really happy when they exhibit certain behaviors, which can lead to all kinds of poor decision-making. A tail wag doesn’t always mean that a dog is pleased to see you. A stiff tail wag, in fact, is a sure sign that you should watch your step.

A purring cat is not always a content cat. If that were the case, my right arm wouldn’t be as scratched up as it is at the moment. After the owner of a new patient swore that her cat was a “purring angel,” I reached to pet her and got a sharp set of claws in response to my advance. She was purring though.

3. Bad Bloat Advice

Is there any large-breed dog disease that freaks owners out as much as gastric-dilatation volvulus (a.k.a. bloat)? Unlikely. This is probably why there’s so much misinformation about the disease all over the Web and in casual conversations. Does drinking cold water give a dog bloat? No. Does using a raised feeder decrease bloat? No.

If you are concerned about bloat at all, just talk with your vet.

4. Pet Mouths Are Cleaner Than Yours or Mine

Nope, but there are some caveats. After all, I’d rather be mauled by a dog than lightly bitten by a human with hepatitis C.

5. Purebreds Are Healthier Than Mutts

There’s been a lot of talk about this lately. Here's the upshot: Purebreds are not necessarily healthier, because they are prone to more genetic diseases.

6. People Food Isn’t for Pets

In my opinion, this lie would have you believing any comestible that doesn’t come canned or kibbled is toxic, will make your pet fat or will automatically put you in the category of “bad pet parent.” The unspoken corollary to this message: You need a Ph.D. in nutrition to know how to feed your pets a balanced diet — unless you offer commercial food alone.

7. Pregnant Women Can’t Scoop Litter

I don't mind if you claim to not be able to clean the litterbox for nine whole months, but it isn't really true. Transmission of the organism that causes toxoplasmosis is not possible, as long as you scoop the poop daily, which is how you should do it anyway.

Don’t believe me? Here’s what the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has to say on the subject.

8. Pets Need to Lick Their Wounds

Wound licking is great for pets if they’re simply getting debris off a fresh injury, but continuing to lick only exacerbates inflammation and infection. That's why e-collars exist, and any licking of a surgical site is not a good thing — regardless of what you may have heard about the healing properties of dog saliva.

9. Cats Always Land Feetfirst

I can offer you plenty of examples of a cat who made a splat and broke bones. Cats will not always land on their feet if they don’t have enough time to relax and make a complete revolution in the air before landing, or if the surface they land on is irregular.

It should also be inferred from this myth-busting statement that cats do not have 9 lives.

10. Mothers Reject Animal Babies Who've Been Held by Humans

OK, some moms will take issue with your human aroma, but the vast majority of domesticated pets won’t give a rat’s backside whether you touch their babes or not. Wild animals might, but birds, for instance, have little way of knowing whether you’ve messed with their younglings, since their sense of smell is sorely lacking.

Takeaway points: Feel free to play with newborn puppies and kittens. Downed nests (or babies) should be replaced because they have a better chance of survival that way.


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