Cat in Litterbox

If there’s one thing that veterinarians can’t stand, it’s the distribution of misinformation on the Internet. Ever since the Web became a widely accepted way to get educated, people have been getting miseducated, too.

And this often makes our jobs a lot harder.

This whole online pet urban legend thing is like a game of telephone — someone starts with a question, and the next thing you know, there’s a sad story attached to it and hysteria ensues.

Just enough fact. Just enough fiction. Just enough salacious detail. That’s all you need when it comes to these common Web rumors:

Fill-in-the-Blank Kills!

Thirteen years ago, it was Febreze. This mild but effective deodorizer was new to the market at the time, and it became the bane of pet-owning households everywhere after an alarmist email went viral.

But there was nothing about the product that should have caused alarm. Although it did, at one point, include less than 1 percent of zinc chloride, this amount would not have led to any great concern among toxicologists. But someone apparently had it in for the product because this rumor was tenacious!

Fill-in-the-Blank Causes X!

A memorable one that I came across a couple of years ago: Ice water causes bloat! The truth is that we’ve identified very few risk factors for bloat (a condition in which the stomach expands significantly because of excess gas) — and ice water consumption isn't one of them.

Litterbox Rumors Abound

It seems that there’s always some new litterbox urban legend, from pine-based litters eliciting feline asthma to clay litters causing anemia. There was even one highly sensationalized rumor that was started by NBC after it identified a radioactive substance in cat litter.

Well, it turns out that pine litters don’t elicit asthma symptoms any more than other organic substances, and a connection between cat litter and anemia had more to do with anemic cats engaging in pica (eating nonfood items) than with the clay being the cause of the anemia. And the radioactive litter identified by NBC had been used by a cat who’d recently undergone radioactive iodine therapy for hyperthyroidism.

Watch Those Evil Sponges of Death

The rumor was that Procter & Gamble was marketing sponges that caused cancer. You know the kind: They're the ones that have one green, rough side and a detergent-laced, spongy yellow surface on the other. Well, they supposedly killed fish via an Agent Orange-like substance.

Fact: P&G wasn’t even selling sponges when this rumor was making the rounds — much less ones laced with a notorious chemical. Here’s the honest truth: Any detergent can kill fish if it’s not properly rinsed off a tank.

The Tennis Ball Rumor Mill

It’s amazing how many rumors a simple ball can launch — from the myth that they cause cancer (no evidence there) to the notion that they contain toxic gas (patently false).

The only real reason that a tennis ball could be potentially bad for your dog: Serious chewers can rub their teeth the wrong way, leading to problematic wear. But it’s still not considered a no-no for a toy.

Aspartame = Blindness and Brain Damage

Although aspartame is metabolized into methanol within the body, and methanol toxicity can lead to blindness and brain damage (hence the rumor), the body can safely metabolize small amounts of methanol. And it turns out that an animal couldn’t possibly consume enough aspartame to cause methanol toxicity, anyway.

The Swiffer Thing

Apparently, as the rumor goes, the Swiffer cleansing fluid contains a compound that's “one molecule away from antifreeze” and causes liver failure. For starters, antifreeze causes kidney failure, not liver failure. And water is one molecule away from antifreeze, too, so be careful how you read things.

It seems the rumor was started by a guy who was convinced that the only new thing in his house, before his dog was diagnosed with liver failure, was the Swiffer. The poison control people determined, in conjunction with the pet's internist, that the dog’s liver was cirrhotic — a long-term condition that doesn't result from recent exposure to a new product.

Microchips Cause Cancer

There’s been one documented case in which the epicenter of a dog's cancerous tumor coincided with a microchip site.

Cause and effect here depends on whom you talk to, but let’s keep things in perspective: Millions of microchips have been implanted. Thousands of lost pets have been reunited with their owners thanks to microchips. One case of cancer gets documented. I think the risk is worth it for your pets.

So what should you do if you run across some new information being offered by an Internet resource that you may not fully trust? Use the tools you have at your disposal to get the goods on the story in question ASAP.

In addition to, here are a few places where you should go to suss out the real deal online:

American Veterinary Medical Association

ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center

A special thanks to Dr. Sharon Gwaltney-Brant, DVM, PhD, DABVT, DABT, a veterinary toxicologist at the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center, for her invaluable professional insight.

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