7 Pet Health Care Myths

It’s not unusual to bump into urban myths about pet care, so let’s clear up some common misunderstandings about cats and dogs.

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What do the following have in common?

  • Walt Disney was cryogenically frozen.
  • There are alligators living in Florida’s sewers.

The answer? These are both urban myths that are popularly believed but have no basis in fact.

During my working day, it’s not unusual to bump into urban myths about pet care, so let’s eavesdrop on a few conversations to clear up some common misunderstandings.

1. Brothers and sisters won’t mate.

This was what one shellshocked client thought — before her collie mix went into labor and produced a litter of puppies. The birth was apparently a miraculous conception, with the mother having been under lock and key during her heat — that is, except for unrestricted access to her brother.

Mother Nature has scant regard for propriety, I’m afraid, and yes, brothers and sisters will breed together when given the opportunity.

2. The mother can’t get pregnant while nursing.

I’ve lost count of the number of female cats that fall pregnant within days of giving birth. Their humans mistakenly believe that because their nursing kittens, they can’t conceive.

Unfortunately, Mother Nature is more interested in perpetuating the species than contraception, and yes, nursing mothers do fall pregnant, so keep her indoors until she’s desexed.

3. Female pets should breed before being spayed.

This is an entrenched myth with roots deep in the human psyche that dogs or cats should know what it feels like to be a mother. Either that or people think it’s beneficial to the pet’s health in the long term.

Both views are misconceptions — pets are unlikely to feel a sense of loss for something they’ve never had, and pregnancy carries risks of its own and no health benefits in later life.

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4. Desexing will calm humping dogs or stop cats from spraying.

This falls into the category of there being a fix for everything…but sometimes the answer isn’t what people want to hear. Yes, in a young animal who has yet to get into the habit of humping or spraying, desexing will fix it.

However, for the mature pet, his antisocial behavior quickly becomes a habit and then a deeply entrenched learned behavior. Although the hormonal triggers are reduced, the pet doesn’t forget and, given the right set of circumstances, he’s likely to repeat the humping or spraying.

Don’t expect a magical improvement in behavior. Be prepared to put re-training and deodorization strategies in place.

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5. Cats don’t get bored.

There is a common perception that cats like to sleep (OK, I’ll give you this one) and therefore don’t need to be entertained.

However, just because a creature is peaceable doesn’t mean she doesn’t need stimulation and an appropriate outlet for natural behaviors.

When a cat starts clawing furniture and toileting where she shouldn’t, many people are understandably annoyed. But scent marking and claiming territory are part of cat communication and are far more likely to occur when a cat is bored.

You may have a cuddly lap cat, but give her scratch posts, high platforms, hiding places, games of pounce and a chance to hunt for meals so she can mimic actions in the wild for maximum cat-isfaction.

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6. Cats will happily share a litter box.

This is such a common assumption that it’s not until the cat develops urinary tract disease or goes to the bathroom in the wrong place that the truth comes out: Cats actually find sharing very stressful.

Many people think of cats and the bathroom in human terms (i.e., sharing is cool). But the territorial nature of cats means they need their own facilities or risk frustration or accidents. With this in mind, provide 1 litter box per cat — plus 1 spare.

Here’s a fun, simple primer on puppy vaccinations:

7. Vaccination is for life.

There’s a great deal of confusion between vaccine protocols for people and for pets. Many people believe the myth that a puppy or kitten, once having had startup injections, is protected for life — which is not the case.

This is understandable in a way. We aren’t perpetually popping over to the doctor’s for annual vaccinations, but the truth is there’s a rule for a humans and another for our pets, and your veterinarian should advise when your pet needs to visit again.

And finally…

I have a client who swears her cat gets constipated when there’s a full moon. Initially, I quietly poo-pooed the idea. (See what I did there?)

But recently I heard on the radio about how people notice events more when they happen on a full moon. So perhaps this cat’s constipation is not a myth that needs busting after all!


This pet health content was written by a veterinarian, Dr. Pippa Elliott, BVMS, MRCVS. It was last reviewed Oct. 11, 2018.

Dr. Pippa Elliott, BVMS, MRCVS

View posts by Dr. Pippa Elliott, BVMS, MRCVS
Dr. Pippa Elliott, BVMS, MRCVS, is a veterinarian with nearly 30 years of experience in companion animal practice. Dr. Elliott earned her Bachelor of Veterinary Medicine and Surgery from the University of Glasgow. She was also designated a Member of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons. Married with 2 grown-up kids, Dr. Elliott has a naughty puggle called Poggle, 3 cats and a bearded dragon.

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