1. Mercola's Healthy Pets
Although the level of concerning misinformation is about equal, Mercola's Healthy Pets site snatches top spot from Dogs Naturally in virtue of one thing: Joseph Mercola's tendrils of woo extend far beyond dogs. Dr Mercola's empire of bullshit is vast, and ecumenical in scope, covering everything from anti-vaccination falsehoods, rampant conspiracy theories and bizarre diet advice to, of course, promoting his own substantial line of "natural" products and supplements.
When it comes to advice about pets, Mercola's site is downright confusing. Medically-oriented articles about treating real conditions like osteomyelitis with real drugs like antibiotics are mixed in with fantastical claims about the power of "healing energy" to treat diseases in dogs. One of the most prominent contributors to the site, Dr Karen Becker, never misses an opportunity to disparage "traditional" veterinarians, preferring to label herself as "holistic" and supportive of "wellness" - which of course means, intervening before a dog gets sick, and then claiming that intervention was the reason the dog didn't get sick, when of course there can be no evidence that it did any such thing.
In sum, Mercola's Healthy Pets website is an offshoot of one of the most dangerous sites on the Internet in terms of the level of misinformation and potential to cause real harm, and as such any links to it should be considered with deep suspicion.
2. Dogs Naturally
Dogs Naturally reads like the furry lovechild of Deepak Chopra and Vani Hari; half quasi-spiritual, perpetually-smiling ramblings about "synergy", half shrill, paranoid proslytizing about the latest "chemikillz" that are out to get us. In short, this magazine would be hilarious if people didn't actually believe what it was telling them.
With posts about how to create a "first aid kit" out of herbal preparations, how to repel fleas by dressing your dog in a special necklace, and linking fear of thunderstorms to - you guessed it - rabies vaccinations, Dogs Naturally isn't just a one-stop shop for kooks, it's genuinely dangerous.
Not only does Dogs Naturally, like Mercola, offer a ringing endorsement to anyone wishing to put their dogs at risk by not vaccinating them, they also question the ethics of the veterinary profession on a seemingly weekly basis, with no evidence to support their frankly scandalous claims of vets being "murderers". For their relentless sowing of distrust and misinformation under the guise of "taking control of your dog's health", Dogs Naturally are a close second on the list.
3. Cesar's Way
Thankfully, public opinion seems to finally be beginning to turn on TV personality Cesar Millan, as he has been subject to criticism from television, online, and by industry figures. However, his Facebook page has over eight million likes, and articles from there regularly attracted shares in the thousands, so the job is clearly not yet done.
Cesar's techniques have been repeatedly shown to involve unnecessary levels of violence and intimidation, couched in the language of self-empowerment. It is this linguistic trick - making yourself feel better as you kick your dog in the ribs - that makes his materials so dangerous. The site contains many articles advocating positive punishment and adherence to the hand-wavy weirdness of "energy", along with a shop that sells potentially dangerous muzzles and a collar designed to cause maximum discomfort when used for "quick corrections".
Like the rest of the pages in this list, not every article from the Cesar's Way website contains false or misleading information. Once they get away from the area of behavior, the site is mostly unproblematic and contains a refreshing lack of column inches on nutraceuticals, even suggesting that supplements might not be needed in most dogs.
Everyone and his equally-important dog has an opinion on PETA. They're the source of those pictures of suffering cattle and battery hens that pop up on our timelines, and a major reason vegans are the target of so much vitriol. In fact, even people who are vegan - like myself - and who support stronger advocacy about animal welfare find the group's well-known tendency to deliberately provoke and outrage irritating at best.
This is because the PETA brand is toxic; whether the point they are making is valid or not, the fact that the information is coming from them is usually enough to turn people off. PETA often publish articles full of unreferenced claims, using such hyperbolic language and deliberately shocking imagery that any good point gets lost entirely. Often the images they choose are not an accurate portrayal of the situation they are describing, giving critics an instant way to dismiss the entire piece out of hand.
Linking to PETA is likely to get you dismissed as a crank - if the story is good, it will more than likely appear elsewhere, with references.
Myth and falsehood of an entirely different kind are the purview of Dogsbite. The site claims to be "a research and education nonprofit organization dedicated to conducting research on the growing, but underreported, public safety issue of severe and fatal dog attacks inflicted by well-documented dangerous dog breeds", but is in fact little more than a campaign for the destruction of pit bulls.
Dogsbite runs a slick operation, and is often mistaken for an expert voice on the issue of dog aggression and breed-specific legislation, but in fact it has been demonstrated to be no such thing. The "academic" who is supposed to lend authority to their claims, Merritt Clifton, has repeatedly been shown to have engaged in professional fraud. Furthermore, the evidence he has put forward has been dissected and demonstrated to be lacking in basic logical sense.
The website publishes news articles about dog attacks, albeit selectively, choosing to report most thoroughly on pit bull attacks and rarely mentioning any other breed. Such bias makes dogsbite.org an untrustworthy source of information and a reservoir of disturbingly violent opinion, covered with a patina of concern for safety and help for victims.
6. Dr Peter Dobias
By now you might be thinking, "does this really need another entry for a website filled with woo?" but trust me, this one is a doozy. Not for the volume of content per se - peterdobias.com is first and foremost an online store selling ridiculous "natural" products claiming to prevent cancer, "detox" the liver and the rest of the usual sham science claptrap - but the sheer dissonance between the author's qualifications and his worldview. How can a licensed veterinarian say, for example:
If you see your dog's, cats or your own body as an energetic system that is composed of the same molecules, atoms and even smaller energy particles, achieving health has to consist of creating harmony. Energy flows freely to all parts of the body evenly. Imagine this flow as light and every disease part represents a dark area that sucks the light out like Dementors from Harry Potter.
When disease sets in, it can be compared to a black hole – the darkness that sucks the life out of cells, body parts or of organs. This state can be caused by energies from the outside like toxins, viruses, stressful situations, trauma but also by emotional trauma, and also negative thoughts or fears. This applies to animals and people.
The mind boggles. The only reason Dr Dubious isn't higher up in the list is that frankly, he doesn't get quite the same traction as the other entries - something of an irony for an advocate of canine chiropractic.
7. The Whole Dog Journal
Some people might think that including the WDJ, a respected publication among dog trainers and non-professionals, is a little harsh. After all, the WDJ lists some of the top people working in dog behavior among its contributors, and it's true that the Journal is a great source of information for training, enrichment, and problem solving. However, when we start to move away from behavior and training, the WDJ starts to look increasingly shaky.
Their writing on nutraceutical flavors of the month is often backed up with little more than anecdotes, yet also makes strong claims about usefulness: the evidence for turmeric's efficacy is overstated, for example, as is the need to add coconut oil to the diet. Claimed benefits are often generalized without comment from humans to dogs. WDJ also publish "reviews" that are little more than long advertisements for various "natural" remedies; I've never seen them write about a supplement or alternative treatment that actually doesn't work.
Let me be clear, I have no problem with the WDJ's writing on behavior or general issues in dog care. The contributors do excellent work in that section. The issue is, when these high-calibre articles are listed right alongside waffling, unsubstantiated claims about "natural remedies", the sense of reading quality material can transfer from the good to the bad. This is why we should take care, and why Whole Dog Journal made the list.