by Diana Bocco
Warm noses, eating grass, and dangerous foods—none of them mean exactly what you think they mean. Misconceptions about your pet's health abound and some of them can actually harm your furry one if you aren’t able to differentiate truth from myth.
Here are six common myths about dog health that you may have fallen for in the past.
Myth 1: A Warm Nose Means Your Dog is Sick
Warm nose equals a fever, right? Sorry, but no. In fact, it is absolutely a myth that a warm nose means your dog is sick, according to Dr. Shelby Neely, DVM, a Philadelphia-based veterinarian.
While it's difficult to pinpoint how this myth got started, Neely suspects it might have become a prevalent belief when canine distemper, a contagious viral infection, was more common. “Dogs that are sick with distemper may have a thickening of the nose, which may alter its temperature and moisture,” Neely explains.
So why is your dog's nose warm sometimes and not others? It could be for many reasons—“from being overheated to genetics to normal fluctuations throughout the day,” Neely says.
If your suspect your dog might be sick, Neely says a much better diagnostic measure is to observe the way your dog is behaving, eating, drinking, urinating, and defecating. “In addition,” Neely adds, “nothing replaces an actual thermometer for assessing a dog's temperature.”
Myth 2: A Few Table Scraps Will Not Hurt Your Dog’s Health
This is also a myth. In fact, human food can be quite dangerous for dogs. “Dogs are not humans and they have very specific diet requirements to keep them healthy, which are different from ours,” Neely explains.
Take, for example, things like garlic, onions, grapes, potato leaves, walnuts, and anything containing the artificial sweetener Xylitol—all seemingly innocent foods that could cause serious harm to your dog, according to Neely.
Other foods to worry about include cooked bones, as they can splinter and pierce the bowel, explains Dr. Judy Morgan, DVM. Dr. Morgan is certified in acupuncture and food therapy and is a member of the Veterinary Botanical Medicine Association.
In addition, many table foods are too high in salt, sugar, preservatives, and carbohydrates, according to Morgan. “So if you want to share some broccoli, feel free,” says Morgan. “But foods high in salt, sugar, and fat can be problematic for our pets.”
Why is that? Simply put, sugars cause the pancreas to release insulin, which is then used to convert the excess sugars into fat. The result: pet obesity.
“High fat diets and snacks cause the release of pancreatic digestive enzymes and can lead to pancreatitis, which can be life threatening,” Morgan adds.
Myth 3: Dogs Must Be Vaccinated Every Year
While rabies vaccines are mandatory in most states, the rest of the vaccines are discretionary and should be given only to dogs that really need them.
To be clear, all puppies should receive a full core vaccination protocol to build immunity against a multitude of highly fatal diseases, says Dr. Rachel Barrack, DVM, owner of Animal Acupuncture and a licensed veterinarian certified in both veterinary acupuncture and Chinese herbology. “These [core vaccinations] include canine adenovirus, canine distemper virus, canine parvovirus, and rabies,” Barrack explains.
Non-core vaccinations, on the other hand, may not be necessary for all dogs, depending on their lifestyle. “This also is true for older dogs, whose vaccination frequency recommendations depend on the individual lifestyle in question,” Barrack says. “It is important to take into account geographic location, exposure to other dogs, and underlying disease.”
A clear example: If dogs do not have contact with other dogs in day care or boarding, it makes no sense to vaccinate them for influenza and bordetella, explains Morgan. And the leptospirosis vaccination should only be given to dogs that have exposure to the disease, said Morgan. Leptospirosis is a bacterial infection spread through the urine of wildlife and rats.
Additionally, it's important to keep in mind that some vaccines likely create immunity for longer than one year, so they do not need to be administered annually. “Distemper and parvovirus vaccinations may give immunity to pets for 5 to 7 or more years,” Morgan says.
If you are unsure whether your pet needs to be revaccinated or not, Barrack recommends asking your veterinarian for a blood test run called a titer. “Titers can be taken from a blood sample to determine if the dog has enough antibodies to maintain immunity status or if booster vaccines are needed,” Barrack explains.
Depending on your pet’s titer, revaccination might not be immediately neccessary.
Titers measure the quantity of antibodies present in the bloodstream of a previously vaccinated dog, but the results do not necessarily parallel with immunity status. And antibodies are only one portion of a healthy immune response to a particular bacterial or viral disease. Titers are useful for identifying animals who are potentially at risk—that is, those with negative titers—but a positive titer doesn’t mean a pet is 100% protected.
“Titers are most commonly performed for distemper and parvovirus,” Morgan explains. “We recommend titers for all our patients and we recommend never giving vaccines if a dog is sick, has cancer or other chronic disease, or is being treated for an illness.”
If you would like to explore your options in titer testing for your pet in place of an annual vaccination, discuss your pet’s individual heath risks with your veterinarian.
Myth 4: It's OK for Dogs to Lick Their Wounds
Many pet owners actually believe that they should let their dogs lick their wounds to speed up healing. While there is evidence that some of the enzymes in saliva can aid in the healing process, there are other things lurking in the mouth that can do just the opposite.
According to Neely, while licking the wound can help remove dirt, there's more harm than good that can come from allowing your dog to lick his wound.
“Dogs' mouths, just like every living being, can have some nasty bacteria that could cause a wound to become infected,” says Neely.
In addition, while licking can keep an incision moist—therefore delaying healing, which can be good for a wound that needs to be allowed to continue to drain for a bit—Neely points out that it can also irritate the wound, making it worse. “[Licking] can even remove stitches that have been placed there by your veterinarian,” Neely says.
The best move? Prevent your pet from licking its wounds at all costs, even if it means making your dog wear the dreaded E-collar for a while.
Myth 5: Dogs Eat Grass to Make Themselves Vomit
The truth is that not all dogs eat grass, and those that do may do it for different reasons, according to Morgan. In fact, Morgan points out that a lot of dogs simply seem to enjoy eating grass, either because of the taste or because they're attracted to some of the nutrients it contains. “Grass is high in potassium, chlorophyll, and digestive enzymes,” Morgan explains.
That said, some dogs will instinctively eat grass when they have an upset stomach, and while a sick dog does not know to eat grass with the intenion of vomiting, doing so often does result in vomiting. “Coarse, tough grasses are particularly effective at inducing vomiting,” Morgan says.
If your dog enjoys eating grass, Morgan recommends making sure there are no chemicals or pesticides sprayed where the dog has access.
“Unlike cats, dogs aren’t exclusively carnivores, so they like some roughage or plants in their diets,” Barrack says. “So if you notice your dog eating a lot of grass, you may want to include more vegetables as a source of roughage in their diet, or get a small tray of grass for your home.”
Myth 6: Only Old Dogs Get Kidney Disease
Although kidney disease is often seen in older pets, it can occur at any age. Some breeds, such as Golden Retrievers, Bull terriers, Doberman Pinschers, and others, are more likely to develop some type of kidney disease, but all dogs and cats are at risk.
If you suspect that your dog might be suffering from kidney disease—excessive drinking and urination are early signs—get your dog to your veterinarian right away.
A urinalysis should be performed to assess the kidney’s ability to concentrate urine, says Neely. This is done by measuring the urine specific gravity, which will be lower than normal in pets with kidney disease. “In addition, blood tests can be performed to assess kidney function, with the two most common being creatinine and BUN, or blood urea nitrogen.”
While kidney disease can be fatal if left untreated, early detection can easily change the outcome. “With early detection, treatment can be started, which can lead to pets living many years—even normal lifespans,” Neely says.
This article was verified and edited for accuracy by Dr. Joanne Intile, DVM, DACVIM.
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