Have you been sold a puppy?
An increase in the number of pet owners due to the pandemic means there are over a million more dogs in Australia compared to 2019. But the fact that many people are willing to spend a lot on their pets also brought out the sellers of snake oil.
You can buy healing crystals for your collie, homeopathic junk for your jack russell, and reiki for your Rhodesian ridgeback. Anti-vaxxers also entered the kennel.
Then there are the purveyors of “natural” diets, vegan lifestyles or raw foods; human-grade massages and acupuncture and gourmet meals that cost as much as… human-grade gourmet meals.
Part of what’s on sale that promises well-being is a total mess. Some are an easy way to part with your cash and spoil your pooch. And some, like food, are slightly more complicated.
Research from Animal Medicines Australia has found that the number of households with pets fell from 61% before Covid hit 69% in May 2021. That includes more than one million ‘new’ dogs.
The report, Pets and the Pandemic, also found that there was a lot of money at stake. The average dog costs around $ 3,237 per year, of which $ 58 is spent on alternative health treatments, including acupuncture. and massages.
Nationally, this equates to $ 20.5 billion per year, including about $ 270 million in alternative treatments.
David Neck, spokesperson for the Australian Veterinary Association, has been a veterinarian for about 30 years. He says he has seen people drawn to false promises and warns that the market is “ripe” for those who advocate unproven treatments and diets.
“People believe what they read on the Internet,” he says. “We have people who instantly become experts in the field – they convey their opinions. “
Some dog breeders unearth information online that may be entirely false, he says, and pass it on as a guide to new owners.
Neck says a breeder can have raised five dogs a month for years – for vets, five dogs is a morning’s work.
Don’t pay for water
A surprising number of websites offer crystals for dogs, raising a wide range of entirely unproven claims. If there is no evidence that the crystals work for Homo sapiens, why would they work for Canis lupus familiaris? Of course, they are pretty. Humans might find them calming. A dog would prefer a stick with its paws down.
Homeopathic products also abound. Again, there is no evidence that homeopathy works. At all. It is not an “alternative” to anything. It is mainly, and sometimes exclusively, water. Water is important, but don’t pay for it – fill the dog bowl from the tap.
When it comes to reiki, a series of studies have found no evidence that such a “therapeutic touch” works. As with many complementary therapies, it can help humans feel better – but there’s no reason to think it would be better for a dog than a belly massage. There are even people who recommend “remote reiki”, meaning sending healing thoughts.
Neck says vaccinations and diets are more common and much more complicated problems for vets.
Like humans, dogs need vaccines to protect themselves against disease. And, just like in the human world, some people have fallen prey to misinformation and conspiracy theories about dog vaccination.
In a way, it’s simple. The vaccines are proven, safe and effective, and side effects are rare.
But there is a complication in the canine world – some vaccines given every year may protect longer than that, but they’re not approved to be given, say, every three years. So a dog will be considered unvaccinated after one year, unless he has had a blood test, called a titration test, which shows he is still immune.
“But getting blood from a dog is done by sticking a needle through the jugular vein,” Neck explains. “I’m not sure as a dog I would like to have this rather than a little needle. “
So many vets will administer the annual injection even if the dog is still immune. Some anti-vaccines clung to this and spread misinformation about “vaccine overload”.
The idea of vaccine overload is “moot,” Neck says, and any concerns about adverse events is something people can talk to their vets about. The vet will also be able to tell if the deadly parvovirus is in the area, for example, making the vaccination more urgent.
There are a myriad of places that advertise “alternatives” to vaccination – largely diet-based – but there is no evidence that any of them work.
Green tripe and penis
With all the well-being palaver come, of course, diets. All kinds of them. Foods made from seafood and insects are marketed as sustainable options for dogs.
There are also vegan diets, which can be difficult to obtain and can be catastrophic if improperly practiced.
The biggest food trend for dogs is “raw,” which can cover fresh, freeze-dried, dehydrated, homemade, or store-bought foods. Raw foods generally have a high ratio of meat, bones and offal to vegetables, and are often marketed as “grain free”. Producers of spruik green tripe and animal penises, edible fat and bones.
Raw diets sometimes incorporate a day of fasting (good luck with that).
Proponents of raw food say it can do it all from giving your dog better skin and coat, better breeding power, and reduced body odor. It is presented as more “natural”. But there’s no evidence it’s better than commercial or homemade cooked foods, according to the World Association of Small Animal Veterinarians.
Neck says that if a patient walks through their door, there is no way of knowing if they are eating raw or cooked.
“I can’t measure anything on the patient… it doesn’t change anything in a measurable way,” he says. “Raw foods will always run the risk of parasites and bacterial contamination.”
The WSAVA is also warning of these risks, and earlier this year European researchers found that all raw dog food samples they tested contained bacteria, some of which were resistant to antibiotics. There was also a chance that superbugs could infect humans.
This year, more than 20 dogs have died and 44 have been seriously ill from the contaminated meat. The RSPCA advises against feeding dogs raw meat or bones.
Commercial dry dog food that meets Voluntary Australian Standards is recommended by the RSPCA, although sometimes vegan and meat products have been recalled due to potential links to toxins that cause megaesophagus, a potentially fatal disease .
The federal government has resisted pressure for mandatory standards in the pet food industry.
Neck says that if owners want to feed a raw diet, they have to “prepare it themselves, know the quality of the ingredients and how they are handled.”
And, he says, get to know your vet. This also applies to vaccines. Find a vet you trust who will know your dog’s history.
Anne Chester, chief veterinarian at RSPCA Queensland, echoes that advice. “They should develop a relationship with their vet clinic and get all of their advice from the local vet,” she says.
“With everything, beware of the buyer, there is an enormous amount of information on the Internet that does not always come from reliable sources.”
And Chester warns of household foods that are dangerous for doggos, with a specific Christmas warning – ham.
“People have to be very careful to feed the ham fat to dogs. It can cause [life-threatening] pancreatitis.
In fact, watch out for any stray food this Christmas in case your beloved dog gobbles it up.