Veterinary Pseudoscience and Common Pet Care Misconceptions

Clemson University
Avery Millo (1) and Dr. Elliot Ennis (2)
1. Department of Animal and Veterinary Sciences, 2. Department of Chemistry


– The importance of high quality client education in primary care veterinary clinics is an often overlooked and under-researched aspect of veterinary medicine.

– A lack of adequate communication and education by the veterinarian can leave pet owners confused as they often turn to additional sources, such as the internet or social media, to find veterinary medical information.

– Unfortunately, pet owners may have trouble differentiating between reliable and unreliable sources of information, which could potentially have negative impacts on pet health and wellness.

– Many online blogs and social media posts present compelling, but incorrect and potentially dangerous pet advice and home remedies that often appeal to pet owners.

– The purpose of this study is to investigate a potential correlation between the level of pet care provided by pet owners and the basic veterinary medical knowledge of the pet owner.

– This study is designed to test the pet owner’s knowledge of basic pet care concepts in addition to their knowledge regarding common pet care misconceptions.

– It is hypothesized that if a pet owner answers more pre-survey questions with “yes,” they will answer a higher percentage of the survey questions correctly and therefore, will be more educated regarding common pet care misconceptions and veterinary medical topics. 

– Pet owners and veterinary processionals alike should be concerned with the results of this study as an increasingly educated generation of pet owners may lead to a healthier pet population.

– Veterinary professionals are encouraged to utilize the results of this study to understand the aspects of veterinary medicine that are less understood by pet owners and some of the most common misconceptions that pet owners may believe. 

– Veterinary professionals should strive to create a well-rounded educational program for their clients by educating pet owners regarding common pet care misconceptions that may negatively influence their pet’s health and wellness. 

– Similarly, pet owners should strive to find a veterinarian that will take the proper time and care to educate them regarding the most important aspects of their pet’s care.

Materials and Methods

 – The veterinary pseudoscience and common pet care misconceptions survey draft was created and received written corrections from Karen Stallings, DVM and James Love, DVM.

– A variety of veterinary medical topics were selected to be used in the survey such as heartworm facts and prevention, companion animal nutrition, and vaccination in an attempt to obtain data for a large selection of veterinary medical topics in order to study the topics that pet owners are most and least informed of.

– The survey draft was edited five times and the final draft received verbal approval by both Karen Stallings, DVM and James Love, DVM.

– The pre-survey questions and survey questions were entered into Qualtrics and the survey was submitted to Clemson University’s Institutional Review Board for approval.

-Following it’s approval by Clemson University’s Institutional Review Board, the survey was distributed to the public through social media websites such as Facebook.

– Survey responses were collected for one month.

– The cat owner’s survey received 238 responses and the dog owner’s survey received 567 responses.

– Following data collection, responses for each survey were exported into an Excel workbook for data analysis.

– The percentage of respondents that answered “yes” and “no” were calculated for each of the 6 pre-survey questions.

– The percentage of respondents that answered correctly and incorrectly were calculated for each survey question.

– A Pearson correlation coefficient and P-value were obtained for the percentage of respondents that answered “yes” to each pre-survey question and the percentage of respondents that answered each survey question correctly to investigate a potential correlation between involvement in pet care and knowledge of select veterinary medical topics.


Pre-Survey Questions:

1. Is your pet microchipped?

2. Is your pet fixed (spayed or neutered)?

3. Is your pet currently up to date on their Rabies vaccine?

4. Does your pet take an FDA approved heartworm preventative as directed?

5. Has your pet been to the veterinarian in the past year (12 months)?

6. Do you have any other pets (of the same or different species)?

Survey Questions:

Cat Owners:

– If your cat is showing signs of pain (crying out in pain, limping, etc.) and you cannot get to the veterinarian, you can give them low doses of Tylenol: FALSE 

Cat owners: 90.1% correct

– Certain varieties of lily plants are toxic to cats and ingestion can lead to kidney failure: TRUE

Cat owners: 97.1% correct

– If a male cat is struggling to urinate and is producing small amounts of urine, they need to be seen by a veterinarian immediately: TRUE

Cat owners: 98.6% correct

Dog Owners:

– Veterinarians recommend that pets be given heartworm preventative monthly for the rest of their lives and be tested yearly for heartworms: TRUE

Dog owners: 96.1% correct

– Most veterinarians advise against feedings dogs a “grain-free diet” as there is minimal evidence that it provides any health benefits: TRUE

Dog owners: 73.7% correct

– Feeding your dog a raw diet could increase the risk of you or your dog developing a foodborne illness: TRUE

Dog owners: 71.2% correct

– Symptoms of canine parvovirus (Parvo) include vomiting and bloody diarrhea: TRUE

Dog owners: 98.4% correct

– There is no vaccine for canine parvovirus (Parvo): FASLE

Dog owners: 88.6% correct

– Raisins and grapes are safe for dogs to eat: FALSE

Dog owners: 98.4% correct

– Feeding your dog garlic is a safe and natural flea and tick repellent: FALSE

Dog owners: 84.3% correct

– It is safe to give your dog Ibuprofen without consulting your veterinarian: FALSE

Dog owners: 98.4% correct

– The canine influenza vaccine is required by law: FALSE

Dog owners: 93.3% correct

– Benadryl is safe to give to dogs if they experience a minor allergic reaction: TRUE

Dog owners: 88.2% correct

– Dogs should take their first dose of heartworm preventative prior to 6 months of age: TRUE

Dog owners: 53.9% correct

Cat and Dog Owners:

– Heartworm disease can be passed from one pet to another through direct contact with another pet’s saliva: FALSE 

Cat owners: 76.8%, Dog owners: 78.8%

– Heartworms are spread by the bite of an infected mosquito: TRUE 

Cat owners: 79.7%, Dog owners: 81.4%

– Respiratory symptoms, such as persistent coughing and trouble breathing could indicate that your pet has heartworm disease: TRUE

Cat owners: 82.0%, Dog owners: 83.9%

–  There are no proven health benefits to spaying or neutering your pet: FALSE

Cat owners: 95.3% correct, Dog owners: 96.5% correct

– It is important that your pet stay up to date on their rabies vaccine, as many states have laws regarding the frequency of the rabies vaccine: TRUE

Cat owners: 94.8% correct, Dog owners: 98.8% correct

– Tea tree oil is safe to use topically to treat irritated skin or allergies in pets: FALSE

Cat owners: 79.2% correct, Dog owners: 74.3% correct

– Zoonotic diseases are diseases that can be passed from animals to humans and vice versa: TRUE

Cat owners: 78.3% correct, Dog owners: 78.0% correct

– Regularly brushing your pet’s teeth will not likely have any impact on their dental health: FALSE

Cat owners: 87.7% correct, Dog owners: 94.1% correct

– It is safe to use human toothpaste when brushing your pet’s teeth: FALSE

Cat owners: 96.2% correct, Dog owners: 96.8% correct

– Studies show that feeding your pet a raw diet has significant health benefits: FALSE

Cat owners: 65.1% correct, Dog owners: 65.8% correct

– Changing food should be done slowly, ideally over the course of a week or two to avoid stomach upset: TRUE

Cat owners: 97.6% correct, Dog owners: 99.2% correct

– Indoor pets do not need to be on an FDA approved heartworm preventative because they are not at risk of heartworm disease: FALSE

Cat owners: 75.0% correct, Dog owners: 98.2% correct

– Natural remedies are an acceptable replacement for FDA approved heartworm preventatives: FALSE

Cat owners: 96.7% correct, Dog owners: 97.6% correct

– Your veterinarian can determine whether or not your pet’s mass is cancerous by looking at it and feeling it: FALSE

Cat owners: 90.1% correct, Dog owners: 94.9% correct

– Food allergies are more common than environmental allergies in pets: FALSE

Cat owners: 39.0% correct, Dog owners: 45.1% correct

– Anesthesia is very safe for pets and rarely results in complications: TRUE

Cat owners: 50.5% correct, Dog owners: 53.5% correct


– Dog owners that are more involved in their pet’s health and wellness are more educated regarding pet care and common pet care misconceptions.

– The Pearson correlation coefficient between the number of preliminary survey questions answered with “yes” (indicating a higher level of involvement in pet care) and the total number of survey questions answered correctly is 0.254.

– Cat owners demonstrate a similar relationship as the Pearson correlation coefficient between the number of preliminary survey questions answered with “yes” (indicating a higher level of involvement in pet care) and the total number of survey questions answered correctly is 0.223.

– The preliminary results of this study indicate that there is a correlation between the level of client education and overall knowledge of owners regarding select veterinary medical topics.

– This study will continue to explore this correlation in the context of additional veterinary topics such as companion animal nutrition, toxicology, vaccines, and proper management practices.