True or False? 6 Pet Health Myths
People love to talk about their cats and dogs, which can lead to tall tales. Here’s the truth well-intentioned pet owners need
Like that old game of Telephone, misinformation has a way of getting around—and around again. Pet care isn’t immune to the insanity. To help clear things up, here’s a list of some of the most popular misconceptions about pet health and the truth behind them.
MYTH 1: PARASITE PREVENTION ISN’T NECESSARY YEAR-ROUND.
“I’d like to see people think of parasite prevention as preventive medicine,” says Dr. Jay Stewart, owner of Aumsville Animal Clinic in Aumsville, Ore., and a Companion Animal Parasite Council board member. Dr. Stewart adds that some parasites, like roundworms and those carried by mosquitoes, can infect pets at any time of the year, so only continuous prevention is effective against them. To keep pets safe from fleas, ticks, heartworms, and intestinal parasites, you’ll need to administer broad-spectrum parasite prevention medication once every month. Your veterinarian will help you choose the products that will be most helpful to your pets.
MYTH 2: NEUTERING MAKES DOGS SOFT.
Intact males are frustrated every time they smell a female dog in season—and even males in single-dog households can detect the scent. Dogs exhibit this frustration in a number of ways: a poor appetite for a few days, spells of breaking housetraining, and mounting other dogs in the family or people’s legs. Neutering can quiet these tendencies when done at a young age. At the same time, it won’t diminish skills, such as hunting, that are characteristic of a breed, says Dr. Danielle Wehr with All Valley Pet Clinic in Meridian, Idaho. What’s more, neutering not only helps neutralize the aforementioned behaviors, but it also can protect against testicular cancer and an enlarged prostate, as well as dramatically reduce the incidence of perianal tumors.
MYTH 3: URINE MARKING IS CATS’ WAY OF STAKING THEIR TERRITORY.
While cats sometimes use urine to mark their claim, frequent urination outside the litter box can signal a serious health problem. “Urine marking can be the result of a urinary tract infection, bladder stones, or even diabetes or renal failure,” Dr. Wehr says. Sometimes inappropriate urination can signal that your cat is suffering from anxiety. If your cat goes outside its litter box once or twice—and there are other cats in the house—it’s probably no cause for alarm, Dr. Wehr says. But if she’s having frequent “accidents,” making numerous trips to the litter box, howling or meowing while urinating, or has any blood in the urine, make an appointment with your veterinarian.
MYTH 4: IT’S OK TO SKIP BRUSHING PETS’ TEETH.
“Dental health impacts heart, liver, and kidney function,” Dr. Stewart says. Failure to brush regularly can lead to serious gum disease and significantly decrease your pet’s overall quality of life. When started at a young age, most pets enjoy teeth brushing. Even older cats and dogs can learn to love it when you introduce it slowly and make it fun. Visit your veterinarian for tooth-brushing pointers and advice—such as avoiding using toothpaste for people because the fluoride can cause health problems in dogs and cats.
MYTH 5: ITCHY EARS MUST MEAN EAR MITES.
“The only ear mites I have ever seen in a dog came from a puppy living among others in a deplorable hoarding situation,” Dr. Wehr says. “More often, a dog scratches its ear because of a yeast or bacterial infection that requires appropriate medication to treat.” Those infections typically occur as a result of food or inhalant allergy or as a direct result of water getting into the ear, which creates a moist environment for yeast and bacteria to grow. If you suspect your dog has an ear issue, don’t attempt to treat it without seeking out your veterinarian’s advice, Dr. Wehr says. “Over-the-counter ear mite solutions usually end up making the ear canal more inflamed and painful, especially if the ear drum is already ruptured,” she says. Plus, if your dog’s ear issues are allergy-related, a one-time treatment might not do the trick. Your veterinarian will explain how to soothe your dog’s itchy ears.
MYTH 6: THE ONLY WAY TO SHOW PETS LOVE IS THROUGH FOOD.
Pets’ longing looks at your food or their empty food bowls do tug at the heartstrings. But feeding pets too much isn’t affectionate; it’s a health risk. “In this country, we seem to think obesity in pets is normal, but we deal with many, many side effects of obesity: skin problems, orthopedic problems, arthritis, heart and liver issues,” Dr. Stewart says. “Many times we get hung up on the portion recommendations on a bag of pet food.” But those recommendations are general and might not illustrate the amount your pet needs to eat. Speak to your veterinarian about the portion size that’s best for your pet. And remember that when you want to show your pets a little love, active playtime is one of the best ways to do it.