Those Old Wives and all Their Tales

Those Old Wives and all Their Tales

By Dr. Ed Mapes
Stonebridge Animal Hospital
McKinney, Tx

Who are the “old wives” that come up with so much bad information? I picture a gathering of ladies sitting around a large circular table, slurping gin and tonics while spending all afternoon thinking of outlandish ideas. The gal charged with taking minutes of the meeting records everyone’s thoughts, and then transcribes the most nonsensical into a gobbledygook book. A select committee of gossipers then takes over distribution to a network of outlets very effective in spreading the word to an unwitting public.

The animal world is not immune from this propaganda, and we in the world of Veterinary medicine find ourselves in the position of explaining away these fallacies about our pets. Following is a discussion of just a few:

1) Dogs eat grass because they feel nauseous and want to induce vomiting as a relief.
This tops the list because it’s maybe the most pervasive of the myths. When dogs obtain medical degrees; I’ll start believing it! The simple truth is that dogs eat grass because instinct tells them to do so. Modern day canines’ ancestors did eat grass, but modern dogs cannot digest the cellulose. Blades of grass irritate the stomach lining, causing inflammation and even bleeding as they pass through the intestinal tract. The result is often vomiting and diarrhea – sometimes containing blood. The lush, green grass of springtime is a special delicacy, and we often see sick dogs at that time of year due to their grazing of the long stems.

2) Garlic prevents fleas.
I’ve had to talk a lot of folks out of feeding garlic to ward off fleas. Word has it that fleas have even developed a taste for it, and now like garlic bread with their spaghetti. Studies done at Purdue University have actually demonstrated that garlic has no effect on flea populations – except to give them bad breath.

3) Distemper in dogs causes a bad personality
When presented with a tale like this one, my Dad would say, “Don’t eat that Elmer, that’s horse manure”.
The disease distemper is caused by a virus called Paramyxovirus morbillivirus. It is related to the organism causing Measles in humans, and causes disease affecting the respiratory system, skin, gastrointestinal tract, and brain tissue. It is highly contagious and causes life-threatening illness, but it does not give dogs a bad personality; though they may be less social when severely ill.

4) Bad breath is just part of being a dog or cat
It’s hard to believe anyone would buy this one – of course it’s not true. Food particles, cells, bacteria, and assorted material adhere to the teeth and cause inflammation and infection of the gum tissue. This infection eventually reaches the tooth roots, leads to abscessation and loss of the tooth. This is painful of course, but also leads to bad breath. All dogs and cats are prone to tooth and gum disease; smaller dogs the most of all. Periodic teeth cleaning and a variety of preventative measures minimize the gum disease and bad breath that comes with it.

5) Animals gain weight after being spayed or neutered
Removing the ovaries and testicles stops the production of hormones such as estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone; which require cholesterol as a building block. The decreased utilization of these small amounts of cholesterol is only a very minor contributor to weight gain.
Animals eat more when they’re growing, from around three to nine months of age; more for larger breeds. It is during this fast-growth period that many animals are spayed or neutered. Once they reach maturity, the nutritional need for calories decreases – but they’re very often fed the same amount. This leads to weight gain. Mature animals should be fed a diet lower in fat, protein, and calories than what is contained in kitten or puppy chow – this is the best way to keep them lean. Oh, and watch those treats!

6). Being neutered stunts the growth of male dogs
Nope. Body size is determined by genetics and diet. So long as a male dog receives adequate nutrition, he should reach his full growth potential. Testosterone contributes to muscle growth in the pre-adult dog, but there’s no evidence that males are significantly smaller after neutering. It can decrease the tendency toward male aggression, but does not stunt growth.

7) Dousing with used motor oil cures fleas and mange
This one’s way up on the ridiculocity list! I suspect motor oil could kill some fleas, and perhaps Sarcoptes scabeii mites; but the damage it can do to animal’s skin is not worth attempting this treatment. There are many products that safely treat these bugs, and no animal should be subjected to this.

8) Veterinarians start to look like their patients


Okay; maybe there’s some truth to that one!

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