Well-meaning pet owners turn to the Internet when they want a quick, homemade remedy for their pet. But Doctor Google, as every vet knows, isn’t always s great resource for pets. Unfortunately, a ton of misinformation persists online.
There are plenty of natural and holistic treatments that simply don’t have enough evidence to back them up, while others are actually toxic and harmful to pets. On top of that, there are a huge variety of misconceptions about domestic animals, even among longtime pet owners.
As vets who work with vets, we want to push back against a few of those misconceptions, and encourage clients to come to us before a search engine.
Yes, there are plants that have curative properties, but there are plenty more that can make pets sick.
In the mid twenty-teens, coconut oil became the trendy “superfood” that the health and wellness world adopted as a favorite cure-all. Coconut oil may be an effective moisturizer, and it could also serve as a dressing for minor scrapes — the lauric acid in coconut oil can inhibit the growth of certain bacteria.
While there is some evidence for coconut oil’s specific benefits, it’s something that many forums and listicles online will describe as a dietary supplement with no drawbacks. In fact, dogs can get diarrhea from eating too much coconut oil. And feeding dogs even small amounts of coconut oil isn’t without its dangers. One study showed that saturated fats, including coconut oil, lessened the overall sharpness of dogs’ sense of smell.
Essential oils are another major offender in the world of pseudoscientific treatments. Many fans of essential oils are convinced they can cure anything. Certified Veterinary Technician Jo Marshall laments, “It seems that there is a new horror story every day on essential oils and pets.”
The Pet Poison Helpline mainly took issue with the following: In dogs, pennyroyal oil can cause liver failure, wintergreen can cause severe gastrointestinal upset, and tea tree oil can result in an allergic reaction, paralysis, and vomiting. (Tea tree oil may be effective at killing off bacteria and yeast infections in dog ears, but the side effects can be worse than the cure. Essential oil diffusers may cause respiratory irritation in cats.
Bottom line: Some essential oils might be helpful in some specific conditions, but more often than not, they are dangerous.
Somewhere, somehow, the rumor that you can use olive oil to clean dog ears got started. Vets are doing their part to stamp this one out by educating pet owners that pets who have infections most likely require a prescription for topical medicine.
Human Medicine for Pets
“If [a drug] works for you, it works for them.” This statement has not been evaluated by the FDA, but it is widely circulated among pet owners. Technically, this is true for drugs like antihistamines and some painkillers — but there are significant dosage concerns. Tylenol and ibuprofen can be quite poisonous to pets, and can cause liver failure. Pet owners should know that if their pet needs medicine, they also need a prescription from a vet.
Pets’ Mouths Are Clean + Dog Saliva Has Healing Properties
It’s fairly easy to guess where this pet myth came from: Pets lick us all the time, but we don’t often contract diseases from domestic pets. This isn’t because of the cleanliness of their saliva, but rather the fact that they have different strains of bacteria in their mouths — strains of bacteria that won’t affect humans.
Animal bites need to be cleaned and monitored for signs of infection.
Speaking of bites…
Pets and the Full Moon
There are some particularly persistent myths around dogs and the full moon — according to rumor, dog bites are the most frequent around the full moon. According to a study from BMJ, entitled “Barking mad? Another lunatic hypothesis bites the dust,“ that’s just not true.
Animals Don’t Feel Pain
This is another big no. Many animals don’t express discomfort when they’re in pain, which scientists believe may be an evolutionary hangover from their predecessors. It’s essential for animals in the wild to not show outward signs of pain, and many of their domestic descendants have inherited their stoic countenances.
The reluctance of animals to react to pain makes them all the more difficult to diagnose, but studies of their neurons and pain receptors have helped veterinarians further their understanding of how best to prescribe painkillers for pets.
Promoting Skepticism & Science
Vets should encourage clients to scrutinize Facebook posts about pet health the same way they would posts about celebrities who are secretly reptilian overlords in human disguises. Today, pet owners have a way to answer questions about pet health that’s nearly as easy as just Googling it — getting in touch with a vet via their telemedicine provider.
Speaking of reptiles, the myth that pet snakes stretch out next to their human owners to see if they’re the right size for a meal? Also not true.
Humans are an inventive, sometimes ingenious species. But remember: We also like to make stuff up.