How to find the facts when you encounter Internet rumors
If you're online, you've seen them: the social media rumors, emails or blog posts claiming that particular products are hazardous to a pet's health. Whether we're talking foods, treats, cleaning products or pharmaceuticals, there are likely stories floating around that one or another of them causes illness or death.
They sound alarming. But are they true? The Internet is wonderful, but not everything you read on it is fair or even factual. Heck, I read things about myself on the Internet all the time that aren't true.
How can you know if what you're reading is accurate? We have some advice and sources that will help you separate fact from fiction. So forget the panic: Here are five ways to avoid the spin and get the real skinny.
-- Go to the source. By law, drug manufacturers must report all potential adverse effects to the Food and Drug Administration. The FDA defines an adverse drug experience as any unfavorable or unintended reaction after a drug is administered, whether or not that reaction is believed to be related to the product and whether or not the drug was given as instructed on the label. You can find adverse drug experience reports for veterinary drugs online at www.fda.gov.
"Each pharmaceutical company is required to conduct a thorough investigation of all adverse events," says my colleague Michael Dryden, professor of veterinary parasitology at Kansas State University College of Veterinary Medicine. "In these investigations, all relevant information is obtained, such as the medical history of the animal, clinical pathology reports, toxicological data for the product, necropsy reports and any other available information. This information is used to help determine the likelihood that a product is linked to the reported event in the patient."
-- Contact the company directly. Most manufacturers provide a toll-free number on their packaging. In fact, food manufacturers are required to provide contact information on the label. Ask what is being done to investigate the situation.
-- Go to neutral fact-checking sites. Neutral sites aren't associated with or supported by manufacturers, and their only goal is to seek the truth. You might say that they don't have a dog in this hunt. These independent sites present evidence and facts to verify or debunk all kinds of rumors. They look for confirmation from authoritative sources and list their references. Reputable sites that often address pet-related e-rumors include snopes.com and truthorfiction.com.
-- Don't confuse correlation with causation. In other words, coincidence happens. Here's what my colleague Tony Johnson, DVM, an emergency medicine and critical-care specialist, has to say about that:
"If a dog or cat is diagnosed with an infection or cancer or organ failure, and the owner had used a certain product in the preceding days or weeks, it's human nature to want to associate something new with the outcome. It looks bad, but there's not necessarily any correlation."
For more about how to distinguish between correlation and causation, especially in the context of science and health, take a look at George Mason University's website stats.org, which addresses the subject in a way that's easy to understand.
-- Talk to your veterinarian. Your pets' veterinarian is trained in looking at data and has experience with many different pets and the products made for them. There's no doubt that adverse drug events can occur, especially in pets with underlying health conditions or other unknown causes of sensitivity, and that foods or other products can become contaminated. When you have concerns, your veterinarian is the best person to help you sort out reality from rumor and science from spin.
Senior cats prone to
high blood pressure
Q: My cat is 9 years old. At her recent annual exam, her veterinarian suggested checking her blood pressure. I didn't know cats could get high blood pressure. Is it a common problem? -- via Facebook
A: High blood pressure, or hypertension, is the most important cardiovascular disease seen in senior cats, says Clarke E. Atkins, DVM, professor of medicine and cardiology at North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine. He presented a lecture on the topic at the 2014 World Small Animal Veterinary Association conference in Cape Town, South Africa.
The condition is most often seen in cats 7 years and older. Dr. Atkins has seen hypertension only once in a cat younger than 7 years.
Among the causes of hypertension in cats are chronic renal (kidney) disease, diabetes and hyperthyroidism. Cats with hypertension may show signs such as seizures or circling, heart enlargement or murmurs, and eye problems. The eye is one of the more fragile organs that can be affected by hypertension. If the condition goes untreated, cats can develop retinopathy, or blindness.
A cat's blood pressure can be measured at the front leg, the back leg or the tail. Dr. Atkins likes using the tail because the cat can bury his head in the owner's arms during the procedure, allowing him to feel more comfortable. The front leg is his second choice.
If they are treated, the prognosis is good for cats diagnosed with hypertension. Medication is available to help reduce blood pressure to a normal level and control the heart rate. Your veterinarian may also suggest ways to correct conditions that may be causing hypertension, or recommend a switch to a renal or senior diet to reduce sodium intake.
It's also important to ensure that the cat always has plenty of fresh water and, if necessary, reduce the cat's weight if he is obese. No data suggest that fat cats are more prone to hypertension, but being overweight most likely isn't good for them. -- Dr. Marty Becker and Kim Campbell Thornton
Do you have a pet question? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org or visit Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker.
What's the beef?
It may be something else
-- What's listed on the label isn't necessarily what's in your pet's food. According to a study published in August in the journal Food Control, researchers using DNA testing to identify the type of meat present in 52 pet food products found some inconsistencies between what the label said and what was actually in the food. Of the tested foods, 16 contained meat that was not listed on the label. Researchers looked for beef, chicken, goat, goose, horse, lamb, pork and turkey. Pork was the most common type of meat not listed on labels. Chicken was the most commonly included type of meat, and goose was the least common. None of the samples contained horsemeat.
-- A group of rescuers in India spent four hours rubbing vegetable oil onto the body of a young dog who was found stuck in a pool of hot tar that had spilled at a construction site in the city of Udaipur. The oil helped them free the pup from his sticky situation, reports CNN. It took another few days to completely remove the tar, but the dog has since recovered and is being cared for by Animal Aid Unlimited, the animal welfare group that came to his rescue.
-- Health care reform spreads to Max and Muffin as California becomes the first state to regulate pet insurance. The bill, signed into law by dog-loving Gov. Jerry Brown, establishes disclosure rules and other measures to protect consumers. The bill, which goes into effect next July, requires carriers to sufficiently explain all plans and address annual coverage limits and policies regarding pre-existing conditions. The measure also allows for a 30-day trial period during which people can return the insurance and receive a complete refund. Companies that violate the law can be fined up to $10,000. -- Kim Campbell Thornton
ABOUT PET CONNECTION
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "The Dr. Oz Show" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. They are affiliated with Vetstreet.com and are the authors of many best-selling pet-care books. Joining them is dog trainer and behavior consultant Mikkel Becker. Dr. Becker can be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at Facebook.com/KimCampbellThornton and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at Facebook.com/MikkelBecker and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.
CAPTIONS AND CREDIT
Caption 01: Before becoming alarmed by what you read online, get a reality check to make sure the information isn't misleading, or just plain wrong. Position: Main Story
Caption 02: Pet food mislabeling can be a concern for owners of animals who are allergic to certain proteins. Position: Pet Buzz/Item 1