The 10 biggest lies even seasoned pet owners believe

As a practicing veterinarian, I interact with a wide variety of people, from first-time pet owners to the seasoned pros who have owned pets their whole lives. I have noticed some common misconceptions that even the experienced pet owners believe. So, time to end the confusion and lay out the facts!

1 – Cats and dogs need to go through a heat cycle before being spayed.

Veterinarians of decades ago used to tell clients this, so I understand why this myth is out there. Yet, we’ve had a consistent message for the last 30 or so years. Spay your dog or cat before her first heat cycle. Going through a single heat cycle increases the risk of breast cancer exponentially, and has no benefit to the pet. And if you’ve ever lived with a dog or cat in heat, you’ll know it is miserable for everyone in the house. I’ve had owners of dogs in heat call me crying, begging us to spay her and end the hormonal craziness. Spaying a dog or cat in heat is not ideal, as there is more blood loss, making the surgery more risky. We won’t risk harming and animal simply for the convenience of the owner. The heat will end and then we can spay her. Lesson learned. But better to avoid the whole scene.

2 – Dogs humping each other are thinking of sex or dominance.

If you’ve read my article/research paper on dominance, you know there is no truth in it. Often, when dogs are playing and someone gets excited and start the R-rated behavior, it’s just that – excitement! It can be part of play like many other crazy behaviors (like putting the other dogs head in their mouth). Some dogs may do this more insistently (to an object perhaps) and that can actually indicate anxiety or stress. Yes, there can be a sexual component at times. I’ve had foster dogs come into heat when I first get them, and my neutered boys get very excited and confused. We’ve had conga lines throughout the house! So yes, humping another dog when there is a female in heat nearby can have a sexual basis, but most dogs playing don’t have this near them, and aren’t being perverts, just dogs.

3 – Canned food will make your cat fat.

Here’s another one where veterinarians of yesteryear started this myth. In fact, we now recommend canned food for our tubby kitties to help them lose weight! Why? It has a higher protein content, which, in theory, make a cat’s metabolism happier. Also, the water in canned food also helps them feel full. I have a whole article on the topic here.

4 – Feeding dry food will keep your dog’s or cat’s teeth clean.

Many people avoid canned food and go to dry under the assumption it will help the pet’s teeth. If dry kibble really helped teeth stay clean, then we vets would not be doing dentals and pulling rotten teeth on literally thousands of animals every single day. Dental health is much more complicated. A lot depends on genetics – some animals, usually the larger breed dogs, have great teeth and might not ever need a dental. Others, like purebred cats and small breed dogs, are going to have aggressive periodontal disease no matter what you feed. Yes, chewing can help, but typical kibble will not. In order to scrub the teeth, the pet needs to chew something made specifically for teeth, such as Greenies or prescription food, like Hill’s t/d or Purina DH. I have a whole article on how to pick the best chews for your pet here.dogs playing not dominance

5 – If your dog is acting obnoxious, or aggressive, it’s because he’s trying to be dominant.

I touched on this with number 2 (which was a bunch of “number 2”!). It was preached for years that dogs were in packs that needed an alpha dog to rule…and we should be that alpha dog, or our dogs would be trying to dominate us. This has been disproven decades ago, yet the myth is one of the most pervasive in our society. I wrote an extensive article with the facts to back it up here. Most aggression in dogs (and cats!) is based on fear and anxiety. They need reassuring, not a heavy hand to make matters worse. On a similar note….

6 – When your pet is afraid or nervous, do not comfort him-it rewards him for being afraid.

Remember this one? I actually learned this in vet school! (Am I showing my age??) If our pet is terrified, like during a thunderstorm, for instance, we were taught to use tough love and not console them, which would reinforce the fear by rewarding fearful behavior. Now we know it’s not only idiotic, but downright mean. Fear is not a behavior, it’s an emotion. Someone consoling them makes them feel less afraid, which reduces the fear, and helps them cope better. Why did we ever think this was a bad idea?

7 – Large dogs need elevated food and water bowls to prevent bloat.

Don’t get me wrong – if your dog is huge and finds drinking from an elevate bowl more comfortable, by all means use it! But in terms of avoiding bloat, or GDV, these are not the wondrous solution people think. We’re learning that bloat is mostly brought on by stress, and no link between food or water bowl height and GDV has been demonstrated. And, as one astute professor pointed out: “Everyone wants to compare their dog to a wolf in the wild. If you want to do that, then ask yourself, do you see wolves carrying around trays to elevate their food and water?” Touche.

8 – Poinsettia plants will kill your cat dead.

Many websites preach this. Yes, poinsettias will make your cat vomit if she eats it. No, they are not poisonous and deadly. She pukes, you clean it, you’re done. But no one likes to clean up cat puke, so maybe put it out of reach, for both of your sake.

9 – The Bordatella vaccine prevents dogs from getting kennel cough.

I sure wish it did, but no. Why? Kennel cough is complicated, and can be caused by a number of viruses and/or bacteria. Bordatella is a type of bacteria that lives in dog’s respiratory tracts and can get out of control when they get kennel cough, but often is not the primary cause. So the bordatella vaccine will keep the kennel cough from getting crazy bad, but your dog will still be coughing. Here’s my detailed article on it.

10 – Dogs and cats need to be vaccinated for everything, every single year.

This myth exists because the veterinarians of yesteryear used to recommend this. It was the standard of care for decades, and every good pet owner was trained to take their pet for annual shots every single year. We didn’t know any better! Fast forward to the 2000’s, and we have learned that many vaccines, namely the rabies and distemper combos (DHPP in dogs, FVRCP in cats), are effective much longer than a single year. Nowadays vaccines are labeled for 3 years, the manufacturer often guarantees them for 4 years, and many are effective even 7 years from the last shot! Because they are officially labelled for 3 years, the standard of care is a 3-year protocol. Some vaccines are not effective for more than a year – Bordatella, Lepto, Feline Leukemia, and Canine influenza, for example.

These are ten pet myths that I encounter commonly, but there are many more! Any other myths that we all thought were true, and now aren’t? I’d love to hear them!

Posted in Behavior, General health, Myths & Hot Topics, Vaccines.

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