Have you been sold a puppy?
An increase in pet ownership from the pandemic means there are more than a million additional dogs in Australia than in 2019. But the fact that many people are willing to spend a lot on their pets has spawned the snake oil sellers too.
You can buy healing crystals for your Collie, homeopathic junk for your Jack Russell, and Reiki for your Rhodesian Ridgeback. The anti-Vaxxers have also entered the kennel.
Then there are the providers of “natural” nutrition, vegan lifestyles or raw food; from massage and acupuncture and gourmet meals that cost as much as … gourmet meals for humans.
Some of what is on offer and promises wellness is total nonsense. Some are an easy way to part your money and pamper your pooch. And some, like the food, are a little more complicated.
Research by Animal Medicines Australia found that the number of households with pets rose from 61% before the Covid outbreak to 69% in May 2021. This includes more than a million “new” dogs.
The report, Pets and the Pandemic, also noted that there is a lot of money at stake. The average dog costs about $ 3,237 per year, of which $ 58 is spent on alternative health treatments, including acupuncture and massage.
At the national level, that equates to $ 20.5 billion a year, with about $ 270 million spent on alternative treatments.
David Neck, a spokesman for the Australian Veterinary Association, has been a veterinarian for about 30 years. He says he has seen people lured in by false promises and warns that the market is “ripe” for those pushing unproven treatments and diets.
The average Australian dog costs about $ 3,237 per year, of which $ 58 is spent on alternative health treatments. Photo: David Baileys / Alamy
“People believe things they read on the internet,” he says. “We have people who immediately become experts in this field – they pass on their opinion.”
Some dog breeders dig up information online that could be completely wrong, he says, and pass it on as a guide for new owners.
Neck says a breeder may have been breeding five dogs a month for years – for veterinarians, five dogs is a morning’s chore.
Don’t pay for water
A surprising number of websites have Crystals for Dogs that make a wide variety of completely unproven claims. If there is no evidence that crystals work for Homo sapiens, then why should they work for Canis lupus familiaris? Sure, they’re pretty. People might find it comforting. A dog would prefer a stick with its paws lowered.
Crystals: ‘A dog would prefer a stick with its paws down.’ Photo: deteetarkan / Getty Images / iStockphoto
Homeopathic products are also in abundance. Again, there is no evidence that homeopathy works. At all. It is not an “alternative” to anything. It is mostly and sometimes entirely water. Water is important, but don’t pay for it – fill the dog bowl from the faucet.
As for Reiki, a summary of studies found no evidence that “therapeutic touch” works. As with many complementary therapies, it can help people feel better – but there is no reason to believe that it would be better for a dog than an abdominal massage. There are even people who recommend “Fernreiki” – basically sending healing thoughts.
Neck says vaccinations and diets are more common and much more complicated for veterinarians.
Like humans, dogs need vaccines to protect themselves against disease. And, as in the human world, some people have fallen victim to misinformation and conspiracy theories about vaccinations for dogs.
In a way, it’s easy. Vaccinations are proven, safe, and effective, and side effects are rare.
There are countless places promoting “alternatives” to vaccination, but there is no evidence that any of them work. Photo: Dorling Kindersley / Getty Images
But there is a complication in the canine world – some vaccines that are given annually can last longer, but they are not approved for use every three years, for example. A dog is therefore considered unvaccinated after one year, unless a blood test, a so-called titer test, shows that it is still immune.
“But blood is drawn from a dog by sticking a needle into the carotid artery,” says Neck. “I’m not sure if, as a dog, I would rather have this done than a small needle.”
So many vets give the annual injection even when the dog may still be immune. Some anti-Vaxxers have clung to it, spreading misinformation about “vaccine overload”.
The idea of vaccine overload is “questionable,” Neck says, and any adverse event concerns can be discussed with her veterinarian. The vet can also tell if the deadly parvovirus is nearby, which makes vaccination more urgent, for example.
There are tons of places promoting “alternatives” to vaccination – mostly nutritionally based – but there is no evidence that any of them work.
Green tripe and penises
Diets are of course part of all the wellness palaver. All sorts of things. Seafood and insect-based diets are marketed as sustainable options for dogs.
There are also vegan diets that are difficult to get right and, if done incorrectly, can be disastrous.
“Raw feed always carries the risk of parasites and bacterial contamination.” Photo: Faba-Photograhpy / Getty Images
The biggest food trend for dogs is “raw”, which can be fresh, freeze-dried, dehydrated, homemade or bought in the store. Raw food usually has a high ratio of meat, bones and offal to vegetables and is often marketed as “grain-free”. The manufacturers spit green tripe and animal penises, fat and edible bones.
Raw food diets sometimes include a day of fast (good luck with that).
Proponents of raw food say it can do anything from better skin and hair to better fertility to less body odor. It is touted as “more natural”. However, according to the World Small Animal Veterinary Association, there is no evidence that it is better than commercial or homemade cooked food.
Neck says that when a patient walks through his door, there is no telling whether he is eating raw or cooked.
“I can’t measure anything on the patient … it doesn’t change anything measurably,” he says. “Raw feed always carries the risk of parasites and bacterial contamination.”
There is an incredible amount of information on the internet that is not always from reputable sources Anne Chester, RSPCA
The WSAVA also warns of these risks, and earlier this year European researchers found that all of the raw dog food samples they tested contained bacteria, some of which were antibiotic resistant. There was also the possibility that the super bacteria could infect humans.
That year more than 20 dogs died and 44 became seriously ill from contaminated pet meat. The RSPCA recommends avoiding feeding dogs raw meat or bones.
Commercial dry dog food that meets voluntary Australian standards is recommended by the RSPCA, although both vegan and meat-based products have occasionally been recalled due to possible links to toxins that cause the potentially fatal condition of megaesophagus.
The federal government has resisted the pressure for binding standards in the pet food industry.
If owners want to feed raw food, says Neck, they should “do it themselves, know the quality of the ingredients and know how they are handled”.
And, he says, get to know your vet. This also applies to vaccinations. Find a trusted veterinarian who will know your dog’s history.
Anne Chester, Senior Veterinarian at RSPCA Queensland, joins this council. “You should develop a relationship with your veterinary clinic and get any advice from your local veterinarian,” she says.
“With everything, buyers watch out, there is a lot of information on the Internet that does not always come from reputable sources.”
And Chester warns of household foods that are dangerous to Doggos with a special Christmas warning – ham.
“People have to be very careful when feeding dogs the fat from the ham. It can cause [life-threatening] Pancreatitis. “
Be careful with scattered food at Christmas in case your beloved dog just gobbles it up.