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Old Wives Tails: Pet Wellness Myths and Reality

Blog Home Oct 6, 2020

Are we doing what’s right for our furry pals? The pet wellness myths and the realities

When it comes to taking care of our pets, we’ve all heard the myths. But does a dry nose really mean your dog’s unwell? And is it really safe to give our feline friends a dish of milk every now and then? 

We surveyed over 2,000 Brits to find out what they think about the most common pet wellness myths. To make sure we’re not telling fibs, we’ve also brought our resident Itch Vet, Zoe Costigan, on board for her expert advice around what works and what doesn’t work for our little floofs.

How can I tell if my moggie or pooch is unwell?

Is your pup’s tail wagging a little less enthusiastically than normal? Is your cat being even more stand-offish than usual?

Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between when our pet is a little down in the dumps and when they’re genuinely unwell, but there are a whole bunch of myths and superstitions out there that could be causing pet parents confusion and concern (not to mention your pet’s look of betrayal when they realise you’re taking them to the vet).

Our research showed that one of the biggest myths is that a dog having a dry nose suggests they’re unwell. Despite this having no scientific basis, nearly half (46%) of Brits believe a dry snout should set alarm bells ringing!

Zoe agrees that it’s something she hears regularly from pet owners. “It’s a common theme among owners when we get calls saying pets are ill,” she says, “but we always reassure them that it’s not a factor we’ve ever included in our clinical exams.”

A change in habit is usually the best indicator that a pet is under the weather, but it seems like we’re letting the tell-tail signs pass us by! Nearly two-fifths (39%) don’t believe that a pet going to the loo more often than usual is an indicator that they might be poorly, with nearly half (45%) saying they don’t consider increased cat (or dog) naps to be a concern.

A pet isn’t just for lockdown. As a pet parent, what do I need to do?

When you welcome a pet into your home, it’s obviously a big, exciting moment; but you also take on the responsibility of keeping them flea free, fighting fit and happy. From regular vet check-ups, jabs and insurance, to worming and exercise, there’s a big ol’ checklist of things a pet needs to live a healthy, happy life. After all, they are our fluffy lifelines. 

According to Zoe, all pets require at least an annual vaccination and health check, but our research shows that many pets are missing out – over half of us (54%) don’t believe pets should be taken to the vet once a year. Plus, with as many as two-fifths (38%) thinking they don’t need to take out insurance for their furry friend, there could be a large number of at-risk pets in the UK.

We’ll fleas you on this one – worryingly, 28% of pet parents don’t believe that they need to regularly check their pets for fleas. Londoners (41%) are the worst for letting the little critters get away with it.

Regular preventative parasite control for fleas and worms is super important – left untreated, fleas can cause all manner of health problems – not to mention them being an absolute chore to hoover out from your
home carpets, wardrobes, furniture – you name it, the list goes on, and on! To help your pets stay flea-free, treatments should be administered monthly to keep the little blighters at bay.

What about your canine’s canines? We discovered the majority of people don’t think it’s necessary for a pet owner to give their pets teeth a scrub every day (65%), when this is in fact recommended by vets. Whether it’s using a toothbrush or finger brush with dental toothpaste, it’s vital to look after your pet’s gnashers to help avoid painful (and expensive!) dental treatments further down the line

While many aren’t brushing their pet’s teeth, it does seem like there’s a number of people in the country who like to bathe with their pets! 5% of the population don’t see a problem with hopping in the tub with a pet, including 11% from Northern Ireland.

Is your four-legged friend suffering from lockdown rolls?

Our pets rely on us to help keep them fit and healthy, and a balanced diet is a key part of this. What and how much your pet eats will vary from breed to breed, along with other factors such as age or neutered status. But as a general rule of thumb, keeping a close eye on your pet’s body condition score can help determine how much grub is in the bowl. Your vet will be able to fix you up a plan, and will often run weight clinics to help keep those extra pounds in check.

Our research shows that a quarter of people have been told that their pet is packing on the pounds (25%). Zoe suggests that overweight pets often tend to stay overweight, needing multiple trips to the vet in order to lose the puppy fat. She says: “It often takes a lot of education, exercise and dietary management to help dogs and cats lose weight, so it’s unlikely an obese pet will have magically dropped to a healthy weight when they next visit”.

Despite a diet consisting of more avocado on toast than you can shake a stick at, it seems Millennials might not be quite so careful with what they’re feeding their pets.

Over a quarter (26%) of those aged 18 to 34 have been told their pet needs to shift a few pounds, compared to only one-fifth of pet parents over 55.

Londoners are again the most likely to have a podgy pooch or tubby tabby, along with Wales (both 31%). Northern Ireland has the lowest rate of overweight pets (15%).

All of this shows that the area where a dog or cat lives likely has an impact on its quality of life, which really shouldn’t be the case at all. We all want happy, healthy pets across the UK, so keeping tabs on these responsibilities is a must for pet parents.

Is it okay to leave my hound at home? And how long is too long?

It may break your heart every time you pop out to the shops, but sometimes there’s no other choice but to leave your dog on their own. There’s often contradictory advice out there and massively varying beliefs as to the amount of time it’s fair to do so, so we thought we’d try to get to the bottom of it! 

According to our research, the average amount of time that Brits believe you should leave a dog alone comes in at just under 6 hours (5 hours, 47 minutes). That’s a whole working day for the Swedish! 

That varies quite significantly depending on where you’re from though. Dogs living it up in Scotland are the least likely to be left alone for long periods of time, with the average time being 3 hours and 18 minutes.

London pups, on the other hand, seem to have a bit more of a ruff time of it, at an average of 8 hours, 47 minutes! That’s three hours longer than the national average, two hours longer than the next highest (Northern Ireland), and we dread to think what it equates to in dog hours!

Dogs with older owners are less likely to be left alone ever, with 14% of those aged over 55 claiming to never leave a good boy behind. By contrast, only 8% of those aged 18 to 24 think a dog should never be left on its lonesome.

Zoe says: “8 hours is far too long to be leaving a dog alone.

“In this day and age it’s possible for your dog to have a better social life than you and it’s clear they definitely have a need for companionship. There are plenty of dog walkers available, so we really recommend organising regular interaction for your dog if it’s necessary to be away for an extended amount of the day”.

Does my pet need to workout too?

They’re unlikely to be smashing out HIIT workouts or setting PB’s on the bench press, but everyone knows exercise is an important contributor to a pet’s health. But how much is enough and is it possible to go overboard?

When a dog is healthy and has the ability to do so, it’s important pet parents are taking them on daily walks. However, approximately a third of people (32%) don’t believe dogs need at least 30 minutes walking per day.

Dogs in London seem to be getting a raw deal when it comes to walkies, with 38% of people from the capital not thinking they need at least 30 minutes of walking a day. This is in stark contrast to those from the North East, where a whopping 82% believe that a dog should be walked for at least this amount of time. You go, North East!

Whilst regular exercise is obviously important, there’s a balance to strike. Before setting off on a walk that would make Forrest Gump think twice, take a second to pawse (see what we did there?) and think about breed, age and regular habits of the dog you’re setting out with. Nearly a quarter of people (24%) believe there is no upper limit for how long you can walk a dog, when in fact there can be health consequences if a dog’s abilities are not taken into consideration.

Fido may be super pumped to breathe the mountain air and may be wagging his tail excitedly, but it’s important to know his limits. Zoe adds, “We often see exhausted dogs coming into the vets after weekends where they’ve gone from very little walking to hiking up mountains on holidays. It’s very important that you ensure you and your dog aren’t overdoing it with walk frequency, intensity and duration”.

But what about our feline friends? One of the biggest misconceptions is that house cats don’t need regular exercising. In fact, it’s important to make sure house cats are regularly exercised, otherwise you’ll only have yourself to blame when they decide to take on a nocturnal sprint around the house!

House cats from London and the South East are the least likely to be getting the exercise they need, with 25% of kitty carers not believing it to be necessary. North East moggies, on the other hand, are likely to be the fittest in the country; only 12% of people from the area don’t think you need to exercise house cats.

Whether it’s toys or even a laser pointer, it’s important for pet parents to ensure their cats get the exercise they need.

Raw, kibble, dried, whole food, soft food, fish food. What do I need to feed my furry pal?

Another area with conflicting advice and myths revolves around pet diets. Every animal is different, with different dietary requirements, so if you’re in any doubt about what you can and can’t feed your pets then it’s worth checking with your vet. It’s not about creating Michelin star cuisine for your canine, just a balanced diet free from dangerous foods to help them feel their best.

One such dangerous food is bones. Yes, every cartoon dog ever has had a big ol’ bone wedged between his gnashers, but actually there are significant risks involved with giving bones to your pets, such as intestinal obstructions or choking. Despite this, nearly two in 10 (29%) believe that it’s safe to give bones to dogs or cats.

In fact, fewer people (28%) believe it’s safe to feed carrots to dogs than bones! Carrots are great, low-calorie alternatives to dental sticks, helping to reduce plaque, slow down the progression of dental disease and possibly help them see in the dark (though the jury is still out on that one).

One big area of debate is around the raw food trend. 30% of people believe that it is safe to feed dogs or cats raw food, but in reality, many vets feel that the risk of infection or intestinal problems as a result of feeding some raw diets is problematic. 

Another myth that many people seem to believe is that cats should drink milk – perhaps, again, it’s a case of cartoons impacting our thinking.

Nearly a fifth (19%) believe that it’s safe to feed milk or cheese to cats. In reality, cats are lactose intolerant, so this should be avoided!



1. All consumer research figures according to research carried out by Research Without Barriers, conducted between 30th September 2020 and 1st October 2020, sampling 2,014 UK adults

2. Rehn & Keeling, 2011