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Online Pet Medical Advice from Dr. Google—Your First Opinion?

By May 2, 2016Information

No, we didn’t hire a new veterinarian when you weren’t looking, but Dr. Google might as well have his own office. Forty percent of people have visited the internet for pet medical advice before calling their vet. We often hear our clients say, “I read on the internet…” or, “I searched Fluffy’s symptoms and I think she has…” We are glad our clients are doing their research; an educated pet owner is a great pet owner! Having knowledge and the right information results in a deeper understanding of your pet’s health and better outcomes of treatment.

Dr. Google Can’t Know Your Pet Like a Veterinarian Can

When the unexpected happens, like Fido nabbing a few wayward milk chocolate chips when you are making cookies, you basically have 2 choices. 1) Call us! We would love to hear from you! 2) Google “How much milk chocolate is toxic to dogs?” Google will even finish your sentence for you! Either choice will result in the same answer; your otherwise healthy 50 lb. Labrador will be just fine after enjoying his three to four milk chocolate chips.

The same holds true when your pet is experiencing minor symptoms. Wonder why your dog suddenly has a fit? It’s not exactly a sneeze, not really a cough. A few minutes poking around on the internet will net you your answer: reverse sneezing! Who ever heard of such a thing?! You quickly scan the description and breathe a sigh of relief. It’s a harmless response to an irritant in the respiratory tract. Satisfied, you click off—and here is where some of the frustration with Dr. Google occurs with veterinarians. If your dog does this all the time, it could be a sign of a nasal tumor, blockage, or dental disease. All of these, if caught early, have a higher rate of treatment success.

Dr. Google Doesn’t Know Your Pet’s Medical History

Being too quick to treat your pet with online information also becomes a problem when your pet’s medical history is not taken into consideration. Going on a trip with your dog that’s a nervous traveler? Some research could yield you a pretty tempting alternative to making an appointment with the vet and discussing your options: Benadryl. It helps with motion sickness and is a mild sedative! Two birds, one stone! The website even tells you the dosage for your dog’s weight! But does your dog suffer from glaucoma? High blood pressure? Cardiovascular disease? If so, you would never want to self-administer any type of medication. Even if your dog is the picture of health, did you know that Benadryl can sometimes have the opposite effect, causing your pet to become more hyper?

Dr. Google Isn’t Always Consistent with Pet Medical Advice

The other problem with relying on online pet medical advice is that not all information you find is accurate. I know someone who, during a debate with a workmate, hopped on Wikipedia and changed information in order to win the argument. The unsuspecting co-worker didn’t question what they read, even though I think most of us have been warned about the accuracy of that particular website! But whether it’s an online forum with people giving well-meaning advice, a blogger with no medical training who’s suggesting natural treatments, or you simply stumbling across outdated information, pet owners should never rely on the internet as a substitute for their vet.

The information you find online can be a great supplement to veterinary care, provided you are using websites from professional associations and organizations. Generally, these sites are well researched and updated regularly, resulting in the most accurate information. But just as you might want a second opinion on a diagnosis, be sure to check what you find against other websites, and most importantly, your vet’s advice.