5 Pet Health Myths

Pet health shouldn’t be measured by nose temperature, and despite the recent pet-food recall, avoid feeding your pets table scraps.

By Leah Zerbe, Rodale.com

As if last year’s massive egg recall wasn’t rotten enough, Salmonella may also be lurking in the treats of man’s best friend, prompting a recall of more than 75,000 packages of Hartz dog treats.

All this may have you thinking a bit more about not only what is on your plate, but what’s in your dog’s bowl, too. So Rodale.com invited Shelly Rubin, VMD, director emeritus of Blum Animal Hospital in Chicago, and past president of the Illinois State Veterinary Association, to debunk common pet myths so we can keep our furry friends safe. (Rubin also served as veterinarian to Oprah’s dogs for 15 years!)

Myth #1—Table scraps are good for dogs.

The reality: With the dog treat recall and past dog food scandals, such as the melamine-tainted food that killed thousands of pets in 2007, it might seem like people food could be a better choice for your animal companions. But Dr. Rubin warns of going there, because our animals’ health improves when they receive a consistent source of fat, protein, and carbohydrates—which isn’t how human diets generally work. He recommends a high-quality, natural food, such as the Wellness and Holistic Selectbrands. Organix is a high-quality pet-food line that’s certified organic.

Dr. Rubin also emphasizes feeding your dog appropriate portions of a high-quality food twice a day, as opposed to letting food sit out in a bowl all day. And forget doling out excess treats—the majority of America’s pets are already obese. “Show love with petting and attention rather than feeding them,” says Dr. Rubin. Healthy dog treats include baby carrots, cauliflower, cut-up apple pieces, lettuce, pear pieces and even watermelon (just don’t give them seeds, and avoid stringy produce that could cause digestive distress and get stuck in their teeth). And never feed dogs grapes and raisins because they often cause renal failure in dogs. (Avocado pits are also extremely toxic to dogs.)

10 Foods Poisonous to Pets

Myth #2—Cats need milk.

The reality: While many of us can conjure up a cute image of a cat lapping a bowl of milk, resist the temptation to offer this in real life. Cats and dogs don’t have the ability to appropriately break down lactose in milk, and drinking it can lead to diarrhea, vomiting, and other issues. To make sure your cat is hydrated properly, invest in a cat water fountain; the animals are naturally drawn to moving water. (That’s why they’re often found lapping up water beneath a leaky faucet.)

What’s the Best way to Treat Cat Allergies?

Myth #3—A warm nose means your dog is sick.

The reality: If you want to figure out if your dog’s ill, look for signs of lethargy, loss of appetite, coughing, vomiting, diarrhea, and other signs of distress. If a dog’s nose is cool, it may have just had a drink of water. If it’s warm, they may have been out in the sun. You can also feel the dog’s head with your hand—although, a dog’s normal temperature is 101 to 101.5, so it will feel slightly warm to a human.

Does Your Dog Know When You’re Sick?

Myth #4—Cats always land on their feet.

The reality: We wish this were true, but Dr. Rubin says he’s seen too many instances of high-rise syndrome, in which cats hanging out by windows accidentally fall out when a passing bug or bird steals their attention. Install a window bay, or a cat condo, and keep the window closed. And keep your cat healthily occupied in other ways, too. Dr. Rubin suggests a daily exercise routine in which the cat chases a toy on a string or a laser light on the wall. During the day, you can put a few pieces of cat food in a feed-and-treat ball and hide it, which will stimulate your cat’s natural hunting instincts.

Does Your Cat Eat Strange Things?

Myth #5—It’s OK to kiss your dog.

The reality: “A dog’s general mouth bacteria may be OK for us, but where the dog’s tongue has been, it’s not a clean environment,” says Dr. Rubin. (Think butt-licking, poop-sniffing encounters in the dog park, and such.) In fact, you can actually come down with salmonella poisoning after receiving a dog lick to the face!

While this may not deter everyone from face time with their loyal companion, people with weak immune systems, such as people living with HIV or undergoing chemotherapy, should refrain from getting schlecked on the face.

While dogs are inherently prone to licking gross things, there are some things you can do as a pet owner to keep your pet’s mouth as clean and free of dental disease as possible. The gold standard is brushing your dog’s teeth. (NEVER use human toothpaste, though; it could contain xylitol, a substance that causes a precipitous drop in blood sugar, leading to hypoglycemia and possibly death in dogs. Always use toothpaste designed for your pet.)

Some dogs, such as golden retrievers and labs, could benefit from rope bones. As they cart the rope with knotted ends around like a bone in their mouth, it can actually mechanically clean teeth to a certain extent. The right-size ridged Kong toy can do the same.

For fun facts about pet behavior, see:
Why Cats Play with Water
Does Your Dog Watch TV?
Why Dogs Bury Things

235 comments

Ryan Yehling
Ryan Yehling2 years ago

Thanks for sharing!

Margie B.
Past Member 4 years ago

When I was in my teens we had a family cat that only drank water from the bathroom sink tap.
It was comical - He would sit in the sink and wait patiently until someone noticed him and to turn on the water.

Helena K.
Helena K.4 years ago

I didn't know about kisses. Thanks!

Kath R.
Kath P.4 years ago

The only people food one of my cats will eat is cheese. We give a piece the size of a pea once a day. He loves it.

Eco Muse
Eco Muse4 years ago

I have to thoroughly disagree with the first "myth". Granted, table scraps may be bad for your pet (if they contain a lot of fat, oils, condiments, etc.). However, "people food" is actually better for animals than the standard, dry kibble stuff. You have to be careful with those and read the label (and ingredients) thoroughly because even "natural" pet food can be guilty of greenwashing.

Aside from that, you don't hear about dogs and cats hunting for kibble in the wild. They go after birds, rodents, and even plants, because that is what they would naturally eat. Not processed food that contains additives, fillers, chemicals, and other unnecessary things.

I would suggest looking into organic, holistic, or raw diets for your pets. There are even recipes online and pet cookbooks, so you can plan their meals and always know what is exactly in their food (which is especially useful if they have food allergies or other health issues). Plus, real/organic food can boost their immune system and give them a healthier coat, unlike the processed stuff (which may actually lead to more trips to the vet).

And it doesn't have to be a masterpiece, it can be as simple as some chicken and veggies. But if you decide to stick with the kibble route (high quality or not), please read the packaging thoroughly...

This site has some good info on raw diets:
http://www.rawdogfood.com.au/index.html

Robin R.
Robin R.4 years ago

I knew about the carrots (and the grapes) - but cauliflower and apples - what great ideas! My mom's dog will do pretty much anything for carrots. It makes me laugh to watch how excited she gets.

Megan B.
Megan Beery4 years ago

Thanks for the info!

Ina d.
Ina d.4 years ago

Thanks...I already know these but it is not always easy to do the right thing. My cats are always begging...

Suz Forman
Suz F.4 years ago

...thanks for the tips--never did like dogs or cats licking my face = /

Deborah S.
Deborah Servey4 years ago

Worth sharing!b Thanks!