You want the best for your pet, and one of the hardest things about keeping them at their healthiest is that they can’t exactly tell you when something’s wrong—at least not in English. That means it’s up to you to be educated about the best health practices for your dog or cat, as well as know fact from fiction when it comes to common pet health myths.
HealthiNation asked veterinarians around the country about the pet health myths they most commonly hear, and here’s what they said:
MYTH: Dogs should lick wounds to heal them
Stopping dogs from pulling out their stitches is only part of the reason they have to wear the “cone of shame” after surgery.
“Licking wounds slows the healing process,” says Jaimee Alsing, animal nutritionist and author for purringpal.com. “Dogs do not have clean mouths and saliva can introduce new infections into the wound.” Additionally, constant licking in the wound area can actually irritate the wound, further slowing down healing.
MYTH: Dogs’ paw pads are heat resistant
It’s actually the opposite: “Dog’s paw pads are very sensitive to hot and cold and should be protected in extreme temperatures,” says Sara Ochoa, DVM, small animal and exotic veterinarian in Texas and veterinary consultant for doglab.com.
On hot days, consider walking your dog in the grass or on shaded sidewalks. You can also try using booties on your dog’s feet during cold winter walks.
MYTH: Indoor cats don’t need vaccines
It’s true that an indoor cat doesn’t need all the vaccines that an outdoor cat does, but that doesn’t mean an indoor cat doesn’t benefit from any vaccines at all. At the very least, your indoor cat at least needs a rabies vaccine.
“In most areas, rabies vaccines are required by law. Not having a rabies vaccine can result in fines or even having your cat put down,” says Alsing.
In addition to the rabies vaccine, the FVRCP vaccine—commonly known as the feline distemper vaccine—is also important for cats, according to Alsing. That’s because this disease can be carried into your home via your clothes or shoes.
MYTH: Grain-free diets are healthy and natural
Some people believe that domestic dogs should eat more like their wild ancestors—that is, raw meat only. However, throughout the long history of human-dog relationships, domestic dogs have evolved to eat more like humans. Some dogs do have allergies or sensitivities and can benefit from a grain-free diet, but this is pretty uncommon.
“While protein should make up the majority of a dog’s diet, grains can add beneficial fiber, vitamins, and minerals,” says Jamie Richardson, DVM, medical chief of staff at Small Door Veterinary. In other words, grains are not just “fillers” in your pet’s food product.
The popularity of grain-free diets exploded when “grain-free” eating was popular among humans (thanks to the so-called paleo diet). It's more of a "fad diet" than a scientific guideline. In fact, “research is showing that grain-free diets can actually be detrimental to heart function,” says Dr. Richardson.
There’s less research available about grain-free diets and cat health, but currently, there is no evidence that a grain-free diet is healthier for your cat than the traditional diet.
MYTH: A warm, dry nose means your dog is sick
“A dog’s nose temperature or moisture level does not indicate much in regards to systemic health,” says Dr. Richardson “There are certain conditions that can cause the nose to dry abnormally, but these are almost always associated with cracking or sores on the nose as well.”
So why is your dog’s nose dry? It’s more likely a reflection of the temperature and humidity in your home or region. Just like your skin can become dry in certain conditions, so can your pup’s nose.
MYTH: Cats clean themselves and need little maintenance
Cats have a reputation of being low maintenance, and compared to other animals, that’s pretty true. But there’s one area of your cat’s hygiene that you may want to put on your radar: “One of the most common diseases in cats is dental disease,” says Amanda Landis-Hanna, DVM, senior manager of veterinary outreach at PetSmart charities.
“Most of us don’t think to brush our cat’s teeth, but they need regular dental care just as we do. Most cats over the age of 3 have gingivitis or periodontal disease and can benefit from regular oral health care,” says Dr. Landis-Hanna.
There's one common saying about pet health that's definitely true: If your cat or dog is acting "different" or "strange," that's a good indicator that something is wrong, and it's a valid reason to consult with your veterinarian.