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Issue: 65 - May 15, 2014
Swiffers Poison Pets, Trifexis Kills Puppies, and Other Internet Rumors We Wish Our Clients Never Heard
By: Patty Khuly VMD MBA
Patty Khuly VMD MBA

If there’s one thing we veterinary workers can’t stand it’s the distribution of misinformation on the Internet. Because ever since the Web became a widely accepted way to get smarter, people have been getting dumber, too. Which, as you well know, often makes our jobs a lot harder. 

It’s like a game of telephone, this whole pet-related mis-education thing. Someone starts with a question about their lawn chemicals and the next thing you know there’s a sad story attached and –– voilá –– mass hysteria.

The formula is deceptively simple: Just enough fact. Just enough fiction. Just enough salacious detail. That’s all you need to yield these common Internet rumors:

Fill-in-the-blank kills!

Thirteen years ago it was Febreeze. New to the market at the time, this mild but effective deodorizer became the bane of pet-owning households everywhere after a mean-spirited email meme went viral. 

But (as far as we know) there was no evidence it caused any harm. Though it did at one point include less than 1% of zinc chloride as a stabilizer, even this amount would not have led to any great concern among toxicologists. But someone apparently had it in for the product because this rumor was tenacious!

Fill-in-the-blank causes X!

A memorable one I came across a couple of years ago implicated iced water of all things: Beware! Bloat is caused by drinking ice water!

Of course, the truth is that we’ve identified very few risk factors for the dreaded and confounding GDV and ice water consumption is NOT one of them. Yet damned if I wasn’t fielding all manner of calls on the subject for months.

X disease is rampant!

Last month it was Lyme. Though I live in thankfully Lyme free-ish Miami (our white-tailed deer are quite a ways off) and few hunting dogs grace our practice, Lyme disease-based fear was all the rage. 

The evil sponges of death

The rumor was that Proctor & Gamble was marketing sponges that caused cancer. You know the kind: The ones with the green rough side and the detergent-laced spongy yellow side?  Well, they supposedly killed fish via an “Agent Orange”-like substance. Lurid, no?

Aspartame causes blindness and brain damage

Well … no. Though a) aspartame is metabolized into methanol in the body, and b) methanol toxicity can lead to blindness and brain damage (hence the rumor), the body can safely metabolize small amounts of methanol. Turns out no animal could possibly consume enough aspartame to cause methanol toxicity, anyway.

The tennis ball court of opinion

It’s amazing how many rumors a simple tennis ball can launch. Everything from tennis balls that cause cancer (no evidence there) to toxic gas leaking from the inside (patently false).

The Swiffer thing

Apparently, as the rumor went, the Swiffer cleansing fluid contains a compound that’s “one molecule away from antifreeze.” But since water is one molecule away from antifreeze, I sensed a tall tale lurked somewhere. Further inquiry revealed zero cause for alarm.

Litterbox rumors

Every time you turn around it seems there’s a new litterbox rumor. Everything from pine-based litters eliciting asthma to clay litters causing anemia. There was even one highly sensationalized rumor that was actually started by NBC after it identified a radioactive substance in cat litter. All were easily refuted by independent toxicologists.

Microchips cause cancer

There’s been one documented case in which a French bulldog’s cancer’s epicenter coincided with a microchip site. Others involving foreign bodies also offer evidence of correlation. But these are just a few case studies among millions of implanted microchips. Let’s keep things in perspective, shall we?

So what to do should your clients suddenly start calling with Internet rumors?

#1 Find the correct information

Not sure if it’s true or not? Don’t pass the buck. It’s our job to get the scoop. To that end, solicit opinions from the usual sources: The AVMA, VIN, the ASPCA’s Animal Poison Control Center, the ABVT (American Board of Veterinary Toxicology), the FDA and the EPA. Even mythbusting sites like Snopes, TruthOrFiction and HoaxSlayer can be of help here.

#2 Dedicate one employee to mythbusting

Don’t squander valuable veterinary resources. Dedicate one less-busy staff member to client education on this issue. This’ll help you handle the queries in a timely fashion (they usually come in a flurry of phone calls and emails) and help squelch the rumor ASAP.

#3 Fight back with education

Let your clients know they should take to social media, contact the media, respond to their friends and otherwise disseminate the right information. All you have to do is plant the seed. Let them do all the watering.

Good luck as you battle all those Internet demons!