Vet Talk

Those Pesky Veterinary Myths

The Universe, in its wisdom, did not create a vomiting species.

February 13, 2017 (published)

Cat Vomit

Photo by Teri Ann Oursler, DVM

Back in the last century when I was in veterinary school, I distinctly remember a dermatology lecture given to our junior class. The lecturer, an internationally respected veterinary dermatologist, stopped mid-way through a talk about nutrition and skin disease to ask: Does anyone in this room believe that when a dog eats bacon grease, the grease somehow gets into the hair shaft and makes the coat more lustrous?

Not a hand went up, because by the time you get to third-year studies, you learn to pay attention to how a question is asked.

That day no one was embarrassed by going along with a common veterinary myth that giving a companion animal grease benefits the haircoat. Ask any veterinarian about these myths and more likely than not the response will be rattling off many others heard throughout the years. Here are a few of the more common ones that require your veterinarian to hold a neutral facial stance, while their systolic blood pressure soars.

Hairballs are normal in cats
Many a person who lives with cats erroneously believes that the vomiting of food, fluid and/or hair is what “normal” cats do. However, as I tell my clients: The Universe, in its wisdom, did not create a vomiting species. While I’ll give every cat one hairball a year, any more than that and it’s more likely than not that your kitty has some significant intestinal issues. A corollary of this myth is that if you give enough petroleum jelly or another similar “hairball remedy,” the hair will pass and the vomiting cease. Hairballs are not due to a grease deficiency. Better to have kitty evaluated appropriately and treated for what can be a significant and serious disease.

Certain food ingredients are toxic to pets
Not only do veterinarians have to keep up on the latest advances in internal medicine and surgery, they also have to keep tabs on the latest foods on the market. Many a Sunday have I perused the food aisles at my local pet superstore so that I have a modicum of familiarity with the foods that are now available. It’s a bewildering number. I want to be on top of new brands so that when my client says "I only feed the best organic food available; that’s the corn-free version of The Rings of Saturn Cat Food; you know of that brand, correct?" I can answer in the affirmative. While food sensitivities and allergies do exist in our dogs and cats, there are no across-the-board toxic food substances. This myth goes hand-in-hand with the prohibition against feeding organ meats. Those who advocate this stance have never seen a cat go for a hapless mouse’s innards with gusto. Another corollary to the food myth is that the 17-year-old stock kid at the pet superstore is the best source for selecting a food.

This particular breed (fill in the blank) cannot have certain anesthetics or vaccines
I will go on record to say that a reputable breeder will never dictate medical protocols. If you find yourself in receipt of a contract that stipulates a vaccination schedule that varies from the one recommended by your veterinarian or that prohibits a certain anesthetic medication, you have been rick-rolled, dear reader. Most veterinarians take their anesthetic protocols seriously, fine tune them to each patient and use a combination of anesthetics to make sure that their patients not only survive the procedure, but are comfy afterwards. As far as vaccines, most veterinarians now subscribe to an effective protocol that provides protection but does not result in over-vaccinating. You can check out the recommendations for vaccination of cats at the American Association of Feline Practitioners, and the American Animal Hospital Association has a similar one for dogs.

Elderly dogs and cats who are losing weight are just getting old
While there is some loss of muscle mass that occurs in older patients, dogs and cats who steadily trend downwards in weight usually have some underlying disease. Kidney disease, diabetes, hyperthyroidism (in cats) and intestinal disease can all cause weight loss in veterinary patients. Most times, feeding more won’t result in weight gain because the disease process is prohibiting the dog or cat from holding on to the “groceries” that are being given.

On-line forums are good places for cheap/free and great veterinary advice
To be sure, there are several forums (one each for feline chronic kidney disease and diabetes come to mind) that feature sound veterinary advice and good forum moderating. However, if you are using Facebook to ask your friends what you should do with your Schnauzer who has vomited multiple times this evening, you are doing yourself and your companion animal a great disservice. Sneaking a peek at Google to get a general idea of what might be going on is common these days and I think we’ve probably all done it. However, taking a minimum of three years of intense science courses (organic chemistry and biochemistry, anyone?), sitting for and doing well on a difficult entrance exam (often the same one given to would-be physicians) and then going to a four-year medical school curriculum that requires the knowledge of at least six species is not the same as doing a few quick clicks with your computer mouse. The best medical advice comes from a veterinarian who sees the animal.

Dental care is for the birds
This myth is, of course, incorrect from the get-go because the avian species doesn’t have any teeth. However, for other companion animals, dental care is important. Inflammation of the gums, abscessed teeth and all other manner of mouth disease have been shown to have a negative impact on overall health, whether one walks on two or four legs. There’s not a veterinarian who hasn’t seen the remarkable improvement in a patient who has one or more painful teeth removed. Follow your veterinarian’s advice on regular dental care for your pet; who among us wants to live with a chronic tooth ache?

Dogs and cats urinate and defecate inappropriately due to spite
Consider for a minute that there are millions of dogs and cats in this country and how, if this was true, they could make our lives miserable (not to mention intolerably messy). Companion animals who lose house training typically are sending potent signals that something is amiss, either due to a medical condition, pain and/or a behavioral stressor. The problem is that the longer our dogs and cats lose their house training, the harder it often is for them to return to how things used to be. A word to the wise: If your cat has decided to call a strike on using the cat box and/or your dog has suddenly decided that the living room beats the fire hydrant, get your pet evaluated pronto; the rug and wooden floor you save could be your own.

It’s okay to wait overnight and see if he or she gets better
Early in my career I worked in a veterinary emergency hospital, so I know well that the average person doesn’t want to be there with their companion animal at 10 p.m. on a school night. However, if your cat is straining in the cat box and seemingly cannot urinate or defecate, if your dog or cat has difficulty breathing, is vomiting repeatedly (or trying to vomit and cannot), is having difficulty walking and/or appears disoriented, waiting that extra 12 hours for your regular veterinary hospital to open may be the difference between life and death.

When deciding whether something is a veterinary “myth” or fact, ask the most informed source you have: your veterinarian!

VIN News Service commentaries are opinion pieces presenting insights, personal experiences and/or perspectives on topical issues by members of the veterinary community. To submit a commentary for consideration, email

Information and opinions expressed in letters to the editor are those of the author and are independent of the VIN News Service. Letters may be edited for style. We do not verify their content for accuracy.