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Do pets have more health care mishaps when the moon is full?

A study at Colorado State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Science suggests that cats and dogs may get themselves into more medical mischief when the moon is full or near its fullest.

The study found a 28 percent greater likelihood that dogs and a 23 percent greater likelihood that cats be admitted to vet emergency rooms during the 12 days surrounding the full moon.

The types of emergencies experienced by pets included traumas of various kinds, cardiac attacks, toxic episodes and epileptic seizures.

“We were surprised by the results,” said Dr. Raegan Wells, DVM, the primary author of the study. “We thought we would debunk the whole myth about all the craziness that comes with the full moon, but instead we found out that there might be something to it.”

Full moon rising

Wells said the whole thing began after hearing colleagues joke about how busy the emergency room was on nights when the moon was big and round. “They’d say things like, ‘Gee, it’s so crazy there must be a full moon tonight’ or ‘Watch out, this weekend the moon is full and it will be really busy.’ We’ve all heard or said these things, and we don’t really know whether to believe it or not. So we decided to find out if it was true.”

What resulted was a 10-year “look-back,” or retrospective study, that analyzed 11,940 emergency room visits from 1992 to 2002 at the CSU vet hospital. Numerous studies have focused on human behavior during periods when the moon is full, including one that investigated the incidence of dog bites. This is the first study of its kind to measure emergency room visits in pets.

“We need to be careful and keep everything in perspective,” Wells said. “We don’t have a large case load at the vet hospital, so it would be nice to see this study repeated but in a larger institution that sees more pets.”

For example, she said, the CSU critical care unit might see a few cats and a few dogs on nights without a full moon, and the data in the study showed an increase of about one dog or one cat during nights with full moons – an increase that may not be significant.

“I don’t want people to worry,” she said. “I don’t want people to think their pets are at increased risk on nights with full moons.” She also doesn’t believe vet offices should take extra precautions every 28 days. “This study doesn’t put anything to rest; in fact, it opens up more questions than anything else.”

Different theories

One question yet to be answered: If there are more incidents of injury on nights of the full moon, what is the explanation? One theory might be that pets are more active when there is more moonlight, perhaps while hunting outside. According to the study, however, there is no data to indicate that cats suffered more injuries more often during full moons.

Another theory might have to do more with human behavior than that of animals. In other words, perhaps the moon has more of an effect on humans, who, in turn, might find reasons to bring their pets to the emergency room. “There are some theories that studies done on humans during the full moon have to do more with psychology than actual biological effects,” Well said. “And after all, these pets were all brought in by people.”

She hopes that other studies will be done in the future about lunar cycles because the information gathered might be helpful in predicting emergency room visits. In the meantime, we’ll have to make do with superstitions.

Credit: Reviewed by Amy I. Attas, V.M.D.
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