With great power, comes great responsibility

Myths abound among consumers on everything from nutrition to declawing

I have a new job: I am now an Avenger. Not the Marvel comic book superheroes you’re familiar with, mind you. I save the day by being a veterinary mythbuster. Here are three examples of how I did just that:

Righting wrongs

Waiting in line to board an airplane recently, I couldn’t help but overhear the pilot relaying to a flight attendant that pet food companies use roadkill in their diets. He noted his dog had died of cancer not long ago—he didn’t recall what type of cancer—and said a veterinarian writing for a Canadian website attributed various pet foods as the cause of certain cancers. The writer alleged the makers use plastics or heavy metals, as well as roadkill, in their diets. The website apparently recommends “paying as much as you can for the best pet foods.”

As Avengers do, I donned my red cape (figuratively speaking) and sprang into action. I politely introduced myself, and explained that while I am not a veterinarian, I work in the industry and have personally toured many pet food manufacturing plants. “You’re an intelligent guy,” I said to the pilot. “Think about it. Do you really believe Purina, Mars, or Hill’s employs locals to drive up and down the highway searching for roadkill?” He laughed, “Of course not.”

I explained to him the website was likely referring to the 2007 pet food recall, an extensive and tragic event involving the discovery of melamine and cyanuric acid in products that turned out to originate in China.

I also noted pet owners are welcome to pay as much as they want for so-called super premium pet foods, but that the difference likely comes down to really good marketing. I offered an alternative website he should visit, one that is arguably far more credible and certainly science-driven: Cummings Veterinary Medical Center at Tufts University Petfoodology (vetnutrition.tufts.edu/petfoodology).

“It was my fault,” he said, regarding the death of his 15-year-old, small mixed-breed dog. “No, it’s not your fault,” I insisted. “Here’s the truth—nutrition is a complex issue and there are many factors pertaining to it, but it’s far less likely your grandmother’s dog would have lived to 15 years of age. Superior nutrition is one reason why our pets are living longer. I am sure you did nothing wrong.” He thanked me, and even took some notes as I spoke.

Mythbuster to the rescue

“Hello, you’re on the air,” I said, during a recent taping of my national radio show.

“I want to go away for Christmas to see my sister and my crazy brother-in-law,” the caller said. “I’m going out of my mind trying to find a kennel that will take my dog without forcing me to give her a flu shot. I dare them telling me to give my dog a shot that might give him the flu. And everyone knows vaccines cause cancer.”

Again, I put on my Avenger mythbuster cape and asked why she is anti-vaccine? She said she read “the story” in Time magazine several months ago about how vaccines cause reactions, such as cancers, in dogs.

I felt like growling, but kept my cool. Instead, I asked her to Google the story and reread it, pointing out the journalist who wrote it actually suggested just the opposite and noted there’s little data to support the pet anti-vaccine movement.

I explained many kennels have suffered flu outbreaks as a result of not suggesting or mandating the canine influenza vaccine (CIV).
I also told her how difficult it is to decontaminate a clinic that has suffered an outbreak. Some have closed for days at a time and lose business. Mandating the CIV vaccine is a way for kennels to protect themselves, and also to protect your dog, I told her. She had no idea how sick some dogs with CIV can get. Of course, I noted the injection is an inactivated vaccine, and explained it’s impossible to get sick from an organism that is not alive.

Sometimes you have to talk to people to reach the core issue. In this instance, she buried the lede: she hates going to the veterinarian because her dog hates it. I explained the Fear Free initiative and told her to visit
www.fearfree.com to find a Fear Free hospital or Fear Free professional near her. She said, “My dog screams when getting a shot, and I just can’t take it.” I assured her it doesn’t need to be that way.

My (super)powers of persuasion apparently worked. She emailed me a few days later. “I found a Fear Free clinic and really like it, and Toby didn’t mind getting that dog flu vaccine. Totally, no big deal.”

No thanks is necessary

Hopping into my Lyft for the airport after presenting at the Fetch Veterinary Conference in Kansas City last summer, the driver asked what I spoke about with the “vet people.” I co-presented one of my sessions with Robin Downing, DVM, MS, DAAPM, DACVSMR, CVPP, CCRP, who spoke about the latest data regarding the effects of onychectomy (declawing). Some of these include how cats’ gaits are often affected in a subtle but important way. We also spoke about using behavior modification and other tools such as Feliscratch to encourage scratching in all the right places.

The driver said, “What does that all mean? You don’t like declaw? I’ve always done this with our cats, and we’re scheduled next Tuesday for our kitten.”

The driver was a big dude and looked to be in his early sixties. I asked him to take one hand off the wheel. (OK, maybe not the smartest move at that exact moment.) He did, and I had him bend a finger, showing him the equivalent of what is cut off in a declaw. I let him know many refer to it as an amputation.

He looked horrified. “Are you sure? I don’t believe it.” You all know my answer. Then he said, “The cats aren’t in pain afterward, not really.”

I said, “After an amputation, how can your cat not be in pain? Cats have the same neuroreceptors you do. Of course, pain meds help. But some cats can suffer chronic pain for a lifetime as a result.”

He said show me again, and held out his finger. “Where do they cut from?” I showed him.

He looked the other way—his voice began to crack. “I’ve been doing this to my cats all these years?” I said, “You didn’t know, but now I do.” He promised to cancel his scheduled declaw appointment.

The veterinary mythbuster strikes again!

Steve Dale is a certified animal behavior consultant who speaks at animal welfare and veterinary conferences. Visit his website at stevedale.tv. Columnists’ opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Veterinary Practice News.

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