Fact Vs. Fiction
What is best for our furry family members? The internet is rife with conflicting advice and home remedies. I know it’s not easy to separate the wheat from the chaff, but Creature Clinic is here to help! We’ve asked some top pet experts to share and debunk common myths they deal with every day.
I know you’re an awesome pet owner/parent. If you weren’t you wouldn’t have clicked on this article and you wouldn’t be spending valuable time here that could have been allocated to hilarious cat videos on YouTube. I put this post together because everyone makes mistakes. For years I “ignored” my dog’s anxious behaviour during thunderstorms instead of comforting her, because I was afraid of “reinforcing” the behaviour and making it worse. Now I know that you can’t really reward a phobia. It’s like my fear of spiders. If I see a spider and freak out, it doesn’t matter if someone offers me a cookie or slaps me, either way I will still be scared of spiders next time. The way they act may, however, influence the way I feel about them!
The most important thing is that we do the best that we can. And when we know better, we do better.
In the spirit of learning so we can all know better, please let me introduce you to some of my heroes. I am so honored to have these clever pet experts here today to weigh in with their top pet myths. I hope you learn something new, and please feel free to ask any questions in the comments section at the end.
If any of these amazing pet people aren’t already on your radar, I strongly recommend you drop by their websites or follow them on social media. You won’t regret it!
This post has become a little bit epic, so you can jump straight to your expert of choice from here should you choose.
Dr. Jessica Vogelsang
The number one myth I see with my patients is the idea that just because a pet isn’t vocalizing or obviously limping, he or she is not in pain. Oftentimes people don’t realize that chronic pain and acute pain are very different beasts, and the vast majority of time older pets in chronic pain from conditions like osteoarthritis will have much more subtle signs that they are in pain. Decreased activity levels, decreased appetite, failure to jump onto beds or counters when they once did so all the time, and even increased aggression, can often be attributed to levels of pain that have gone undetected by the owner. Since veterinarians are trained to recognize and isolate these signs of illness, any change from your pet’s baseline level of behavior should be brought to her attention. Chronic pain stinks, but there’s lots we can do to help!
Sadly, owners are still being told that their dog is being dominant and that they need to be more assertive. They are told their dog does not respect them and that is why the dog is barking, mouthing, biting, being destructive, or any number of other problems (take your pick) that owners have with their dog’s behaviour.
We now know that the reason that many dogs behave in ways that are unacceptable to their owner has more to do with anxiety, a medical and mental health issue, than it has to do with training (or lack thereof). In fact, many behaviours are made worse when inappropriate methods of training such as “showing the dog who is boss,” being the “leader of the pack,” etc. are used. Some methods – especially those that use punishment – can border on abuse.
Managing anxiety issues in dogs involves 3 things:
- Managing the environment
- Modifying the behaviour
- Judicious use of medication.
Owners would laugh if they were told that training is all they need to treat their dog’s diabetes or broken leg. They would also laugh they were told that the reason that their dog had cancer or thyroid disease was because they were not assertive enough or let the dog sleep on the couch. Yet this is exactly what owners hear every day about their dog’s behaviour.
Mental health issues are common in dogs and need to be diagnosed and treated by veterinarians for the sake of the dog’s welfare.
A great book for learninng more:
Decoding Your Dog: Explaining Common Dog Behaviors and How to Prevent or Change Unwanted Ones
Dr Andy Roark
The myth that I want busted is that big veterinarian and veterinary technician salaries are the reason that pet healthcare is expensive. Veterinarians make about as much as pharmacists, and they often have crippling debt. It’s not uncommon at all for vet students to graduate and have debt loads 3 to 5 times greater than what their annual salary will be. For technicians, it’s just as bad. I’m personally embarrassed by what we as a profession pay the technicians who work themselves to death to make our practices go. It’s our greatest shame.
I know pet owners have it hard too, and I’m not saying this to make anyone feel bad or to come off like I’m whining. We as veterinarians and technicians are capable of making our own decisions and we have chosen the life that we have. I personally have no regrets at all. I want this myth busted because there is nothing worse than working yourself physically, emotionally, and mentally threadbare while struggling to make ends meet just to have someone tell you that they believe their pet didn’t get the best care possible because you are “greedy.” This myth needs to end.Back to top
Dr Anne Fawcett
The number one myth about pets that I’d like busted is that pets are all well cared for. When we think about animal welfare we tend to think more broadly about the welfare of farm and laboratory animals, or stray animals, or wildlife. Just because someone lives in your back yard or lounge room, however, does not mean that their welfare is optimal.
I think we can improve the welfare of companion animals by appreciating that these are complex creatures with species-specific and individual needs. They do an incredible job assimilating into our lives – but can we do better by providing environmental enrichment, the ability for them to express their own unique behaviours (many creatures need to nest, for example) or even studying their behaviour. After a lifetime of education (so far!) I feel there is so much more to learn about the non-human critters I live and work with. I would encourage pet owners to keep an open mind, be prepared to revise their attitudes in the light of new evidence, and try to think about what the home environment is like from an animal’s perspective.
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Dr Pete Wedderburn
One of the biggest challenges that I see in practice is overweight pets that suffer because of their increased body mass. I see 20 kg pug crosses, waddling around with their already-compromised brachycephalic breathing aggravated by the compression of their airways by body fat. I see 50 kg Labradors struggling to stand up because their arthritis is made worse by the pressure of an extra 5 – 10 kg on their painful joints. I see grossly obese cats who refuse to get out of their beds because it is such an effort to move their lard-filled bodies. Obese pets present a daily insult to animal welfare, with the bizarre twist that they are genuinely loved by their owners.
And this is where the myth comes in: When I discuss nutrition with these owners, they tell me that their pet barely eats anything at all. They tell me that they offer their pet low calorie dried food, but they only eat a small amount. They then tell me that they need to tempt their pet to eat, hand feeding them with tasty treats like left overs from the human plate.
The truth that these well-meaning people cannot understand is that the reason their pet is not eating the standard rations is simple: They are not hungry because they do not need the food. They are overweight, and their body is telling them “you do not need to eat”. Offering tasty treats to these pets is like offering sweets or ice cream to children: They will never say no. And the extra calories in the treats aggravate the serious issue of carrying too much body fat. These owners genuinely worry that if they don’t tempt their pets to eat, they will suffer hunger and perhaps malnutrition.
To correct this myth, I simply tell people the truth: If your pet refuses to eat the pet food that you are offering, in most cases the worst that will happen is what you actually want to happen: They will lose weight. The answer is simple: You just need to stop feeding them anything other than the standard rations. But the myth is so strong that I don’t think they believe me. The challenge of helping owners deal with pet obesity would be much easier, and the suffering of pampered pets would be significantly eased if this myth was not so widely held.
Of course it’s still necessary to be humane and sensible about doing this, making it a gradual process of treat reduction so that the animal accustomises to the situation. And it’s important to remember that a pet can be inappetant because of underlying illness, so a veterinary check is the safest option rather than just assuming that your pet is “being fussy”. And finally, there is one important exception to the rule: if obese cats stop eating completely, they can start to burn up fat so quickly that toxic by products of fat metabolism can cause them to become dangerously ill. So while it still makes sense to reduce the amount of “tasty food” fed, this needs to be done very cautiously with cats, under close veterinary supervision.
Almost every behaviour we see in our dogs is a reflection of our relationship with them. Certainly, behaviours are influenced by a combination of factors including genetics, however there is increasing supporting evidence that dog behaviour, regardless of genetics, can be modified through their environment.
As their owners, we are the ones making the decisions for our dogs, so let’s start to make good decisions. I have three tips that will get you on track…
- With each behaviour you see from your dog, ask why it happened and then answer from your dog’s point of view. Empathy helps us become not only better dog owners, but better people. This is what I love about animals, they can teach us to be better people.
If it is a behaviour you want, reinforce it with what your dog wants. Sometimes, people don’t understand what their dog loves and therefore can’t reinforce the behaviour. For instance, I have seen some people try to train their dog without food, even though their dog is highly food motivated. It’s kind of like being asked to work, but not getting paid and instead, getting a pat on the back. Would you spend your days working hard just for that?
- Reward your dog intermittently with what they love. Write down all the things your dog loves to do/eat and use these as rewards, not freebies.
- Capture the behaviours you want. I focus on the good, not the ‘bad’ behaviours. Our dogs do something great at least 50 times a day, but we tend to ignore those times and focus on the negative behaviours. Capture when your dog is
- making the right choice.
Showing our dog what we want and reinforcing those behaviours helps our dog make the right choices more and more often.
Use your dog’s daily intake of food as 50 small treats each day and capture all the good stuff they offer you.
Dr Justine Lee
As a veterinary specialist, my goal is to help your pet be healthy and happy! So, one of my biggest pet peeves is the myth that you “love” your pet more by feeding it more snacks and treats. Pet obesity is one of the biggest growing problems all over the world, with over 40-70% of pets in the United States being over 20% of their ideal body weight. Long-term studies have shown that the skinnier you keep your dog, the longer they live (on average, over 1.2 years!). Keeping your pet on the thin side also minimizes the risk of osteoarthritis, back pain, ACL tears, diabetes mellitus, and extra strain on the cardiopulmonary and neuromuscular systems.
The second myth about pets that I want busted? The rumor that the #1 cause of pets being surrendered to shelters is due to pet overpopulation. It’s actually due to irresponsible pet owners who surrender their pets for behavioral problems (e.g., they didn’t have time for the pet, they didn’t appropriately crate train or obedience train the puppy, etc.). My general veterinary rule? If you can’t exercise your dog for 30 minutes a day, you shouldn’t get a dog.
Dr Jo Righetti
Cat owners are every bit as bonded to their cat as dog owners are to their dogs. Cats are our feline friends. Here’s how we know…
- Cats recognise the sound of their owner’s voice, often responding with a little cat chatter of their own. This solicitation meow or purr encourages us to give them attention or feed them.
- While cats may appear to ignore us, it’s just that they acknowledge us in a cat-like manner, with a flick of their ear. Cats have 32 muscles in each ear so, while we might interpret this solitary ear movement as a very conservative use of energy (ie. lazy!), we should remind ourselves that this is actually an animated feline.
- Most cats save their affection for their owners. The exception to this, of course, is the cat who makes a bee-line straight for the person who dislikes cats! Trying to avoid eye contact may actually encourage the cat to approach!
- Cats love giving head butts, rubbing against you, padding their paws on your lap or sitting on your chest. All that smooching ensures your cat is adorning you with their scent, claiming ownership of you.
What’s not to love!
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Putting your hand(s) on a dog as a form of punishment is not only wrong but is harmful to the relationship you want with your dog. Counterproductive in fact.
In her book, It’s Me or the Dog, famed positive reinforcement trainer and star of her own dog behavior show on Animal Planet, Victoria Stilwell, writes, “When you hit a dog, you teach him to fear you, break his trust, and you weaken his confidence. Insecure dogs are the ones who are more likely to lash out in an aggressive display.”
A few years ago, I was out walking my dog. I witnessed a man chasing his dog down the street. Ever the “I’ll help, be right there” person that I am, my random act of kindness was quickly thwarted by a slap.
The dog apparently got loose while on a walk and his owner was chasing after him. As he scooped the little guy up (a Shih Tzu mix perhaps), he smacked the dog on the butt and repeatedly yelled over and over “No! No! No!” and jerked the dog close to him.
I yelled over “hey” and before a second word could float his way, he picked his dog up and quickly walked off, perhaps caught in the act or just not wanting to deal with an obviously stunned me.
Some people don’t want to hear it. My friends tell me someone is going to turn on me someday, with my crusading to educate and help save a dog. I wonder if my words help or hurt that dog when the owner gets behind closed doors.
I can’t do nothing. That means I don’t care. I care so much that a life with, for, and by dogs is my career choice. I never do anything with half measures. And I won’t start now.
This is a common misconception by vets and pet owners.
When your dog injures its cruciate ligament, this causes pain, swelling and inflammation. Often this is displayed as limping or in extreme cases, your pet won’t use its leg. The body’s reaction to the pain is to shut down the muscle fibres nearby. The muscles – particularly on the front of the thigh – can look as though they waste away overnight. If your dog has surgery this problem is made even worse by the surgical incision. This is tricky business – your dog needs the surgery, but the process itself causes the muscles to switch off or become inhibited.
Contrary to the popular belief that these muscles will fire back up again and go back to working just with walking, this is not the case.
If we examine the thigh muscle mass in a dog that has had cruciate surgery, with no rehabilitation, even at a year post surgery we would find a discrepancy in the muscle mass. Your dog, however, may appear to be managing fine. They have 3 other limbs to shift the load around to.
The consequences are that the other limbs are preferentially loaded when the surgical leg becomes tired. This can contribute to your dog injuring the cruciate ligament in the other knee.
So what to do? Your dog, just like you if you have a knee surgery, should have a specific and structured rehabilitation program. This involves treatment and exercises to re-activate the affected muscles, then help rehabilitate your dog back towards normal muscle mass, and normal function, along with prevention of further injury. This can be provided by an Animal Physiotherapist or a Vet qualified as a Canine Rehabilitation Therapist.
Remember, walking and swimming are low-load, high repetition exercises – they build endurance, not muscle mass. The only way to regain muscle mass is with targeted rehabilitation exercises.
Dr Belinda Parsons
Whilst the main reason that I treat pets with acupuncture is for musculoskeletal problems (including arthritis), it is not the only reason I reach for my acupuncture needles. Acupuncture can be effective at reducing the symptoms of stress, controlling seizures and treating and reducing the recurrence of cystitis in cats. It also can help increase appetite (particularly in cats in renal failiure), relieve nausea (think chemo patients), and increase gastric motility (which is great for bunnies with gastric stasis).
I have used it to help treat dental pain, stimulate breathing in puppies and kittens post caesarean section, and in emergency medicine to increase heart rate, stimulate respiration and improve blood pressure. GV26 (the needle in the nose), has been studied and proven to help increase heart rate, increases stroke volume, increases mean arterial pressure and reduces peripheral resistance. There is also an 88% response rate to apnoea compared to placebo acupuncture.
Acupuncture can do so much more than just provide relief from the symptoms of arthritis. Whilst it is the most common condition I treat with acupuncture, by far it is not the only one.
So What Did You Think?
I think our experts did a pawesome job in debunking their chosen pet myths! Did you learn something you didn’t know before?
Remember, I love comments and questions, so please feel free to add yours below. I read every single one.
Give your pets a cuddle from me.