Your dog has lost weight, and you wonder if he might have worms.
This is an example of a popular myth linking worms to weight loss.
However, while this is partially true, weight loss is a relatively late-stage sign, and dogs may have a heavy worm burden for some time before they lose weight. Thus, in a celebration of pedantry, let’s look at 5 health myths that contain a grain of truth but could do with clarification.
1. Pets With Worms Lose Weight
The logic here is that the worms absorb nutrition from the gut and rob the dog of calories. Over time, this leads to weight loss.
Well, yes and no.
Take your typical “wormy” puppy with a pot belly. That’s because all those wriggly roundworms filling the intestines have mass — or weight, rather — and some pups actually weigh more before deworming than they do afterward.
However, a heavy worm burden robs the body of trace elements and minerals, resulting in a dull, lifeless coat. Plus, worms take up space within the stomach, and the dog can’t eat much (busting another myth about pets with worms always being hungry), meaning they take in fewer calories.
So what the myth should really say is that pets with worms lose “body condition.” This means they lose fat cover over the ribs and their coat becomes unkempt.
2. Blood Tests Screen for Cancer
It’s not uncommon for a pet guardian to breathe a big — and premature — sigh of relief when she’s told her pet’s tests are “clear.”
Unfortunately, routine screening tests don’t work that way. When a vet runs tests because of a problem such as increased thirst or weight loss, she’s casting a wide net by looking at organ function and how healthy the blood is. This gives clues that a pet may have a health problem, but it doesn’t give a definitive answer.
Searching for cancer often requires imaging, such as radiography or looking at the abdomen with ultrasound, to find the lump. The science of identifying cancer by markers in the bloodstream is in its infancy, and even then you must search for a specific cancer, such as lymphoma. There’s no one-size-fits-all option.
So while a normal blood panel is encouraging, it’s not a guarantee that all is well.
3. Coughing Is an Early Warning Sign of Heart Disease
Yes in dogs, but no in cats.
If your dog has a heart murmur and is otherwise well, be vigilant for a cough — fluid in the lungs or an enlarged heart pushing on the windpipe can induce coughing. In cases with a murmur where heart disease is likely, a cough is a valuable early warning sign to seek help.
Felines, however, have relatively insensitive airways and hence are less likely to cough. It’s far more likely that your cat will present symptoms of sleeping more and eating less.
4. Kidney Disease Is a Death Sentence for Cats
Cats generally respond well after a diagnosis of kidney disease, especially when the problem is found early.
Indeed, when cats in early renal failure are managed well, they usually survive for several more years, and it’s often not kidney disease that causes their death. That management includes actions such as:
- Feeding a special diet
- Using drugs to support kidney function
- Feeding food supplements to reduce phosphate levels
- Managing high blood pressure
Recently, things look even more optimistic for the future longevity of our cats — a new blood test can detect the earliest signs of kidney disease several months ahead of traditional tests. This opens the door to meaningful early screening programs that could help extend life even further.
Listen to this vet go over the process of deworming your pup:
5. Neutering a Male Dog Protects Against Cancer
Yes and no.
Neutering protects against tumors of the testicles (because they’re long gone) but statistically slightly increases the risk of prostatic cancer. This is a pedantic difference, but it’s an important one because of the different nature of these 2 cancers.
- Testicular cancer is slow to progress, usually localized to the testicle and curable with surgical removal of the testes.
- Prostatic cancer is aggressive, often spreads to other parts of the body and is extremely difficult to treat.
Thus, when people weigh the pros and cons of neutering, the “anti-cancer” argument is a shaky one.
I hope you have enjoyed this brief outing to “Pedant’s Corner,” but as the saying goes, it’s all in the details.
This pet health content was written by a veterinarian, Dr. Pippa Elliott, BVMS, MRCVS. It was last reviewed Feb. 3, 2017.