ER Vet Debunks Popular Pet Myths Because You Can Teach An Old Dog New Tricks

How many times have you heard the phrase “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks?” This old saying is actually false — along with quite a few other popular pet expressions. The Dodo talked to Dr. Ally Faust, an emergency vet with VEG Philadelphia, to get the actual truth behind these popular pet myths.

Myth: You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.

Truth: Yes, you can!

“Dogs of all ages can learn new tricks,” Dr. Faust told The Dodo, “including getting into things they shouldn’t. Don’t assume that just because your dog is old and has never gotten into anything before that they won’t start now. Dogs of all ages have been seen in the emergency room for getting into things, such as rat poison, and ingesting foreign objects (even if they haven’t in the past). Additionally, age is not a disease!”

Old dog on a bed

Myth: A hot, dry nose means your dog is sick.

Truth: A dry nose could actually mean many things (not just sickness).

Dr. Faust explained that a dry nose doesn’t mean your dog is necessarily dehydrated. Sure, it might indicate dehydration and illness, “but a dry nose could also mean many other things, such as allergies, sunburn (yes, dogs can get sunburn too!), aging, auto-immune conditions and more,” she said.

“A dry nose that occurs over time and with age does not indicate a serious illness,” she added. “However, a dry nose that occurs suddenly with other changes (change in color, shape, size, nasal discharge, etc.) could indicate something serious, and your dog should be evaluated by a veterinarian.”

Myth: A dog’s mouth is cleaner than a human’s mouth.

Truth: Dog mouths and human mouths are just bacteria-filled.

“This is simply not true,” Dr. Faust said. “Dogs have just as much bacteria in their mouths as humans. The typical amount of bacteria in a normal dog mouth is numbered in the billions. Therefore, if your dog ever has an injury or has recently had emergency surgery resulting in an incision, you should never allow them to lick at these wounds as this could result in serious infection or dehiscence (opening) of the incision.”

And that means … you probably shouldn’t let them lick you on the mouth, either!

Shutterstock/Murrr Photo

Myth: Dogs should eat like wolves.

Truth: Dogs’ genetic makeup differs greatly from the wolves they are descended from, and, therefore, they require different diets.

“The average family dog does not have the same energy requirement or metabolism as a wolf,” Dr. Faust said. “Raw diets can have serious consequences for dogs, including bacterial infection (salmonellosis), pancreatitis, foreign body obstruction (from bones), chronic gastrointestinal disease and more, which can land your dog in the emergency room. While not recommended, if you are interested in pursuing a raw diet, you should speak with a board-certified veterinary nutritionist first.”

Myth: Pets don’t need flea, tick and heartworm prevention medications during the winter.

Truth: All pets should be on pest and parasite preventatives all year round.

Dr. Faust said that even if your pet remains indoors at all times, they should also be on preventative treatment plans.

“Flying insects such as mosquitos can get into your home through windows and carry parasites and other diseases that are completely preventable,” she explained. “Additionally, we can track fleas and other bugs inside via our shoes and clothing. Fleas can lay eggs in the environment (flooring) that can last for years before they hatch. Finally, flea, tick and heartworm prevention should not be skipped in any season as warming temperatures lead to shorter seasons.”

Shutterstock/Jaromir Chalabala

Myth: Spaying or neutering will change a pet’s personality.

Truth: Spaying or neutering will not change their personality, but it could eliminate unwanted behaviors.

“This is a big myth,” Dr. Faust said. “Spaying your female pet or neutering your male pet will not change their personality. While it will not change their personality, it may help eliminate unwanted behaviors, such as spraying the house or marking territory. It may also just save their life.”

“Intact male dogs are more likely to seek out a mate and exhibit roaming behaviors, which, unfortunately, is one of the reasons male intact dogs are more likely to be hit by cars,” she explained. “If spayed, female dogs and cats have a greatly reduced chance of developing mammary cancer and other reproductive emergencies, such as pyometra (infected uterus). In other words, spaying or neutering your pet might just save their life or save you a lot of money in the long run!”

Myth: Pets eat grass when they’re sick.

Truth: Pets can eat grass for many different reasons, and vets don’t actually know why!

“Although it is not completely understood why pets do this, studies show pets do not eat grass because they are sick,” Dr. Faust said. “A very small percentage of pets appear ill prior to or after ingesting grass.”

She noted that some research even shows that pets may eat grass to help add more fiber to their diet, which helps their digestion. Other studies suggest that eating grass may just be something pets do because they’re bored!

“Nevertheless, eating non-food items such as grass consistently could be a sign of pica, which can be associated with nutrient-deficient diets,” Dr. Faust said. “If your pet is consistently eating or licking things they shouldn’t, reach out to your veterinarian. If your pet ever ingests too much grass or other objects, they should be seen right away as this could lead to a life-threatening intestinal blockage.”

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