Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Top Ten Pet Wive's Tales

Madeline and I take a little work break.

If there is a trade that has been around since the dawn of time we adopt and accept a few of the old wive's tales as gospel and continue to use them as a foundation for making decisions for generations to come. Sadly, almost all of the most common wives tales have no basis as fact, and worse, almost all of them are completely wrong.

I seem to have a client a day who sites them as a reference for their medical knowledge, diagnosis, assumption of disease, lack of disease, reason for waiting to get help, etc. etc. Those wive's tales always seem to do much more harm than help, and always at the pets expense.

So, I decided that it's time to start dispelling those old wive's tales for good!


NUMBER 1. "A dog licks it's wounds to clean the infection."
OK, before the advent of modern medicine when we all lived in our own sewer this might have had a shred of efficacy to it. But with the invention of soap this became a true wives tale. Your mouth, your dogs mouth, every ones mouth, is full of bacteria. That's why a dog bite on your arm will cause infection. Saliva is not an antibiotic. Soap and water are. And just because we are on the topic of cleaning a wound, I will add my 2 cents on hydrogen peroxide. Hydrogen peroxide is best when used only on a "dirty" wound. A dirty wound is one where there are pieces of dirt embedded in your wound, like when you fall off of your bike and skin your knee in the dirt/asphalt. Think of the bubbles in hydrogen peroxide as those scrubbing bubbles in the toilet bowl cleaner commercials. After your wound is clean you need an antibiotic or soap. Don't use hydrogen peroxide after you have gotten the wound clean because those same bubbles are killers to your newly forming cells that are trying to heal your wound. Using hydrogen peroxide after the wound is clean will delay healing.

Most of the dogs that I see who are cleaning their own wounds, are self traumatizing them to the point of causing more damage than they would have if they could just leave the wound alone. Think of it as a scab that you keep picking. Your wound will never heal if you don't let it scab over and heal. And think of your tongue as a wet bath towel you have left on the floor for weeks. Yuck and Yuck.

If your pet has a wound it should to be cleaned by flushing copious amounts of water and soap to clean out any dirt, debris, and bacteria. After the wound is clean and dry we usually place protect bandages and antibiotics over the wound. There are exceptions to this! So if your pets wound is deep, and/or extensive you need to see your vet. Many deep wounds should be closed surgically after they are explored for pockets and deeper tissue damage. We also usually start oral antibiotics and a put an e-collar on. An e-collar will keep your pet from licking their wound and/or removing their bandage.

Many people are very reluctant to use an e-collar. But I really think that they are the only effective means of keeping your pet from causing any more damage to their wound then they already have. Also please know that there are many types of e-collars available. So if your pet isn't tolerating the one you have been given there are some other options. I really like the Jor-Vet soft e-collar. It is easy to clean, easy to sleep in, and goes out 90 degrees from the neck so dogs don't feel so claustrophobic with them.

NUMBER 2. Letting your dog have a litter to improve their emotional health. 
Your dog doesn't need to have a litter  for any reason, and the likelihood of things like mammary tumors (breast cancer) is almost 0% if you spay before their first heat cycle. They run the risk of unwanted, unplanned pregnancies, or uterine infections. These can be life-threatening, expensive, and cause emotional and financial hardship. The thought that female dogs need to have a litter or experience motherhood is silly. You are responsible for your dog, their mental health and their offspring. Providing a safe place full of love and exercise is what your pet needs mentally. See Coco's story.

NUMBER 3. "A mother bird won't take care of her babies if you touch them or the nest."
If you find a baby bird and you know which nest they belong in, you can put them back. But maybe the baby is out of the nest because it is learning to fly, in which case it will just plummet out of its nest again. A mother bird does a better job at raising their babies than you or I do so leave the baby alone and let it's mom resume her duties. In just about all cases she is watching you eyeing up her baby, she just thinks that you are too big to fight. (Oh, last thing to mention. Keep your inquisitive predatory pets in the house while the babies are learning how to fly).

NUMBER 4. "A dog won't lift its leg if you neuter him before 6 months old."
OK, lets differentiate between peeing (urinating), marking (territorial), and lifting a leg. Some dogs pee on four legs, some pee on 3 legs, regardless when they were neutered. But a dog that is allowed to become sexually mature will usually "mark their territory" by placing a small amount of urine as high as they can on a vertical surface. This might be a tree, a shrub, or your couch arm. Once a dog starts marking they may not stop even if you do neuter them. We recommend neutering at 6 months old so that your dog doesn't start marking your property because he thinks it is his.

This is my five year old mix, who usually pees on all fours, but will "mark" should the mood strike him.
He was neutered at 6 months old.

This is my other pup, Jekyll.
He was also neutered at 6 months old.
He usually pees on three legs, but rarely urinates to mark anything.

NUMBER 5. A wet cold nose is a sign that your  pet is adequately hydrated and doesn't have a fever, OR, a dry warm nose is a sign of a fever, OR, a pet that feels warm has a fever.
The only way to know if a pet has a fever is to take their temperature. A digital rectal thermometer should be used with proper lubrication and inserted deep enough to get an accurate internal temp. Dogs and cats have a normal resting temperature of about 100-102 degrees. The rest of your pet is just what it feels like at the time. How often are your feet warm, your hands cold and your temperature is still normal? Your pets nose can change from warm to cool, moist to dry, and any variation in between based on humidity, temperature, activity, metabolism, etc.. If your pet feels warm take a temperature, or make a visit to your vet.

Madeline's nose in our selfie.
NUMBER 6. Garlic and onions can be used to treat fleas, ticks, and heartworms. 
Ugh, these are not safe nor effective options. I have seen pets almost die from these. There are many affordable and safe options available, just ask your vet. And please, please, don't use garlic, onions, or any other crazy thing that you read might ward off parasites. (I once had a client soak his kitten in fuel oil..it almost killed the kitten. It was horrible and heartbreaking). See Top Ten Kitchen Toxins here.

NUMBER 7. One year of life for a dog/cat year is equivalent to seven human years.
Cat's can live to their late teens. All of my last generation of cats lived to see 18-20 years old. In fact I just read about a 32 year old kitty. Small breed dogs can also live to see their 16 or 17th birthday. Giant breed dogs live to about 7 to 8 years old. So, you see there isn't a linear conversion equation.

Taking care of your older dog. Savannah's story.

NUMBER 8. Dogs with black tongues are dangerous. 
Sounds a little bit like profiling based on color, or prejudiced opinion. Certainly dogs of all breeds have a few consistent traits, like Golden Retrievers tend to be silly and happy, Labs outgoing and playful, Jack Russell's driven and determined, and Chow Chows often have a black tongue. Every single dog has the capability of inflicting harm, and every pet should assessed independently by a person who can understand the subtle clues a pet gives. If you approach a pet always ask the parent if the pet is able to be touched or approached. Or be respectful and give a safe distance. Don't assume a pink tongue is a friend, nor is a black one dangerous.

This is Bismark, who would take great offense to being told that he was dangerous.
He is indeed a fine well-behaved sweet boy.

NUMBER 9. Dogs scoot their butts because they have worms.
Dogs that scoot usually have either anal sacs that are full, distended, impacted or infected. If the anal sacs are normal then check for itchy skin. For more information on anal sacs please see The Scoot Story.

NUMBER 10. Feeding soup bones helps keep teeth clean. 
Feeding, watering, adding, etc..all of those advertisements for products that promise to keep your pets teeth clean are full of malarkey. Your pets teeth will only stay clean if you brush them. A few minutes daily will help protect your pets mouth from dental disease, bad breath, dental infection, a painful mouth, difficulty eating, and even heart disease. Offering dry soup bones can lead to broken teeth (which should be extracted if the pulp is exposed) bone shards causing gastrointestinal upset, obstruction and sepsis. I know that no one wants to hear it, but the only safe and effective way to keep your pets mouth and teeth clean and healthy is the same way you keep your own, brush daily.

Lower canine is worn and fractured due to chewing.

OK, there are more out there, toss them to me. Let's see if we can think of any that might have one shred of credibility.

If you have a wive's tale to share please tell me!

If you have a pet question you can find me anytime at Pawbly.com. Pawbly is the place for all things pet! Pawbly is a community driven pet focused social media platform. It is free to use and everyone is welcome.

You can also find me on Twitter @FreePetAdvice, or on the Jarrettsville Vet Facebook page.


  1. Thank you so much for clarifying these wive's tales. I work in animal rescue so I especially appreciate the tale about letting every dog have at least one litter of puppies. And earlier this week I found a baby bird sitting my itself in a park, under a tree. I thought about taking it home with me or to the vet and I've worried about the little guy every day. You made me feel much better about my decision to leave him alone and let nature take its course.

  2. What a nice surprise finding this! So many wives tales but you hit the big ones on the nose. Posting this on FB and will share with the cattledog group that drives me nuts on the garlic and onions for heartworm, hydrogen peroxide for any injury and so on. I am constantly typing, "Take the do to a vet please" Thanks!