More than 75 percent of pet owners surf the internet for pet health answers before they make a veterinary appointment. Not a surprise, given that 80 percent of people search the web for information on their own health, according to a recent study by the Pew Internet & American Life Project.
It’s understandable. Who wouldn’t want to save the expense of a veterinary visit? But as with all things on the internet, there’s both good and bad information. Here are three ways the internet can put your pet at risk:
1. The Chatroom Consultation
It’s not hard to find breed-specific Facebook sites where owners can share adorable photos of their Weimaraners wearing hats or sawing logs in a sunbeam. But many pet owners use those sites to solicit advice from strangers by posting, “My pet has X, Y, Z symptoms — what do you think it is?” Or “Here’s a picture of a skin lump, what should I do?” Of course, putting your pet’s health in the hands of people with no medical training can be dangerous.
2. The Premature Diagnosis
Approximately 40 percent of pet owners bring their dog or cat to the clinic with a diagnosis they have already determined, according to a survey of 225 Veterinary Hospital Managers Association members. The problem is, many conditions have similar symptoms. A cat that drinks and urinates more than usual, for example, could have kidney disease or diabetes — or a range of other problems.
The only way to arrive at the right diagnosis — and treatment — is with a physical exam and possibly diagnostic tests. Without these things, a misdiagnosis could lead you to believe the problem isn’t serious so you might put off getting help when your pet needs it. Or it may lead to the wrong treatment.
3. The Home Remedy
The internet is full of advice on how to treat just about any medical condition. The trouble is, some of these treatments can be either ineffective or downright dangerous for your pet.
“Natural” and “homeopathic” treatments aren’t always harmless, and the small companies that provide some of these products may not have government oversight of their manufacturing processes. Over-the-counter human medications that may seem harmless, such as aspirin and some types of Pepto-Bismol, can be toxic to pets.
So how can a pet owner use the internet to make informed decisions?
Stick to Trustworthy Resources
Your veterinarian can steer you toward websites that offer sound medical information. Chances are, you can even find suggested resources on the clinic website. For general details about health and diseases, for example, you can go to the American Veterinary Medical Association at www.avma.org/public/PetCare or to www.veterinarypartner.com, a site managed by veterinarians. For cat care, check out www.catfriendly.com.
Consult Your Veterinarian
If you’re going to search the internet for pet health information, discuss your findings with your veterinarian. He or she can help guide you to the information that can be most helpful for your pet. The same goes for medications: don’t give anything to your pet without asking your veterinarian first.
Remember, the internet can offer some good information, but it can be hit or miss. Dr. Google doesn’t know your pet and can’t hear your dog or cat’s heartbeat. That’s why the internet should never be a replacement for a veterinary consultation. Your pet’s health is too important to trust to anyone else.