Education. Professional Association. Passion. Experience. Cool Websites. What attracts you to a particular expert when looking for pet information? Personally, I look for folks who have a genuine interest in pets and possess an understanding of the difference between rational knowledge, clever marketing, and online malarkey (yes, I used the word “malarkey”). There are many half-truths, and smaller fractions, out there about pet health and wellness. Here are a few examples of people who have stepped outside the realm of their personal expertise and given inappropriate advice to pet owners.
Historically, breeders have raised one or two specific breeds of dogs or cats to a particular kennel club standard. The standard is based on the original function of the animal as a hunter, protector, or lap warmer. Puppies and kittens grow to a specific height, coat type, and conformation. The goal is to breed healthy, happy animals of excellence. Great breeders also show or work with their animals to share information, network, and learn from their colleagues.
When a breeder gives you a specialized puppy food recipe of 1% milk, raw chicken, and coconut oil, ask where they learned about this formula. Do they know that many dogs are lactose-intolerant? Do they know puppies are more sensitive to Salmonella and E. coli contamination than adult dogs? Do they know coconut oil is actually very low in polyunsaturated fatty acids and the medium-chain triglycerides touted for brain-health work best in a well-balanced and complete puppy formula? Nutrition is a very complex subject requiring discussion about life stage, breed, and health status to make the best decisions for your pet.
Great breeders will want to ensure that you are right for their puppies and kittens. Look for a breeder who is proud to show you their home kennel, generational pedigrees, and satisfied customer references.
Dog trainers are a valuable resource for early puppy classes, good citizen doggy manners, and teaching some pretty nifty dog sports. Great dog trainers use their understanding of canine learning theory and positive reinforcement to help you and your dog develop a great relationship based on mutual respect.
When you tell me that your dog trainer believes that vaccines cause epilepsy, cancer, or death, give me a few seconds to regain my composure. The anti-vaxxer movement in pets takes unproven associations and rare reactions to justify offering advice that isn’t based on the reality of contagious disease spread. As a veterinarian, I have experienced treating kennels of parvo puppies as they suffered from bloody vomiting and diarrhea and death. I don’t recommend every vaccine on the market for every pet. Let’s have a conversation about potential exposure to preventable diseases, core immunization programs, and scientifically-based booster schedules.
Great trainers can be a wonderful educational resource for dogs of any age. Look for those who understand the value of teaching healthy, appropriately vaccinated pets in their facilities.
Pet Store Employees
Pet stores are great places to look for toys, leashes, and kitty condos. Environmental enrichment and engaged playtime are key to keeping pets mentally and physically happy. I love browsing these places to see what’s new and fun.
Be cautious about other advice you may receive. These folks may try to educate you on topics like the hazards of letting your dog watch the solar eclipse. Most of their information has a thread of truth. Dogs who stare at the sun (eclipse or not) can develop retinal damage, but they do not evaluate weather and their immediate surroundings based on the position of the sun and moon in the sky. Scientists tell us that birds and mammals sensitive to light changes at dusk may begin evening activities like nesting or heading back to the barn during an eclipse. Dogs are unlikely to notice the darkening sky of a solar eclipse any more than they would during a cloudy day.
Pet store employees want to help pet owners as they are making purchase decisions for their pets. Look for staff members who recommend Kong Starpods, because they know that tennis fuzz toys act like sandpaper on your dog’s teeth.
Our local pet gurus are passionate people when it comes to most things animal related. Just be cautious when they are offering advice outside of their particular area of expertise. Advice based on partial information and pseudoscience are often grounded more in marketing and fulfilling OUR needs as pet parents. Always question potential personal bias, scientific foundation, and individual context of recommendations. Feel free to discuss the suggestions of other pet professionals with your veterinarian. A good veterinarian will be happy to review the medical basis of the advice without prejudice, so that you are providing the best care for your pet.
See you next time in the waiting room!