Debunking myths about pets and pet care

by Dr. Bonnie Jones, DVM

One of the primary roles I have as a veterinarian is to be an educator. With that responsibility foremost in my daily toiling, I would like to take this opportunity to debunk several myths about pets and their care. These wives� tales are not only incorrect, but can also be dangerous to a pet�s well-being.

Probably the most common false belief that my clients communicate to me is that a female dog needs to have a litter of puppies to be a �better� pet. On the contrary, a female dog spayed prior to her first heat cycle will have a greatly decreased risk for malignant breast tumors and life-threatening, uterine infections. Unspayed female dogs have messy vaginal bleeding for a three week period while they are in heat. During this time, male dogs may arrive from far and wide asking �to marry� the resident female dog in heat. The fact is, pet heat cycles are not always a pleasant experience for pet owners, and having puppies does not alter the dog�s temperament.

Along that same line of thinking, the second myth I frequently address is that sterilizing a pet will cause the pet to become fat. While sterilizing pets can slow metabolism as much as 25 percent, the reality is the pet does not feed itself! So, if your neutered pet is plumping out, you need to reduce your pet�s daily food allowance to accommodate this change. A good rule of thumb would be to reduce your pet�s food intake by 25 percent at the time of sterilization. Like humans, animal metabolism slows with age; your pet will likely require even less food as it ages. Simply adjust the pet�s daily ration accordingly.

Speaking of aging,

one year in an animal�s life does not equal seven human years. Pets actually age more quickly in their first two years of life, then each successive year approximates four human years in the aging process. Also, toy and small breed dogs age more slowly than giant breed dogs. A Saint Bernard or Great Dane will be considered a �senior� at five years of age with an average life span of seven to ten years. Small breed dogs such as Pomeranians, on the other hand, frequently experience lifespans extending into their teens.

With this pet-aging concept in mind, consider this fact: a 1-year-old dog could be a mother just as well as a nine 9-old-dog could be. I don�t know of any 7- or 63-year-old human mothers! This is yet another strong argument for early sterilization of pets.

Another myth that makes me cringe is that feeding bones to pets is acceptable and good for the pet. No bone fed to a pet is ever risk-free. While pork chop and steak bones are probably the worst, any bone has the potential to get caught in the teeth or throat, obstruct or perforate the intestine, act as an intestinal foreign body, or cause gastroenteritis and/or constipation. Why would you want your pet to experience any of the above maladies? By the way, rawhide has all of the same risks associated with its ingestion as bones. Please don�t give your pet bones nor any type of rawhide chew.

Okay, so you fed your dog a bone yesterday. Now you are worried that Rover might be sick. So you quickly feel Rover�s nose and � aha! Rover�s nose is cold and wet so he must be just fine. You have fallen victim to yet another wives� tale. Rover�s cold, wet nose is only a reflection of his environment, not his health status. By the same token, warm ears don�t always indicate that your pet has a fever. A very ill pet that is dehydrated and depressed may have a very dry nose, but only your veterinary professional can determine if your pet is feverish or dehydrated.

And, since you fed Rover the bone and now he has begun to �break dance� on his butt, could it mean that Rover now has worms? Actually, scooting is an indication that any of a number of things could be irritating the anal area, including digested bone material and intestinal worms.

More commonly, scooting is a sign that your pet�s anal or scent glands are full or infected, and need to be emptied. Your veterinarian can help you determine the need for your pet to have its anal glands expressed. Other causes of scooting include yeast skin infections around the anus and stool �tag-a-longs.�

Your pet could also be break dancing because it has fleas � opportunistic bloodsuckers that like to hang out around the rump area where it is difficult for the pet to reach. However, you can�t see any fleas, so your pet doesn�t have them, right? You�ve succumbed to yet another myth! Fleas are often so elusive that you may only find their feces on your pet via a thorough flea combing. Flea feces or �flea dirt� looks like pepper, often in a comma or curly-q shape. If you find flea dirt on your pet, it is safe to assume that your pet has or had fleas.

Finally, this column would not be complete without a discussion of the myth of �spiteful,� a.k.a. inappropriate eliminations, by cats. Everyone knows that cats cease using the litter box because their humans have done something the cat didn�t appreciate, like adding a new spouse to the household, or better yet, a new baby. Wrong again. Understanding cat elimination behaviors can be very complex, but I�m not so sure cats are capable of the act of �spite.� More likely, your cat�s inappropriate elimination stems from its strong sense of territoriality and the fact that we have domesticated and contained a free-ranging, independent species in the confines of our homes. Your cat is expressing a need � a need to be a cat in the complexity of a human-dominated world.

I hope that by debunking the aforementioned myths, I have been successful in educating you about pets and their care. If not, just check out your dog�s �smart bump� on the back of its head. If the �bump� is really large, your dog is likely very intelligent and could probably teach us both a thing or two. Or� is that just another myth?

Bonnie Jones, DVM, operates a mixed animal practice in Delphos with her husband, Dr. John H. Jones. She is the president of the Lima Area Veterinarians Group and a graduate of The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine. Questions about pet care can be sent to: Dr. Jones, c/o The Delphos Herald, 405 N. Main St., Delphos, Ohio, 45833, or e-mailed to

Posted by rosevine69 on 03/30 at 12:19 PM in Pet People

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