Written by Pedro Bento, DVM, DACVM, and Katie Sakakeeny, DVM, DACVECC
We’ve all been there, and we know we’re not supposed to. But in the internet age, it’s hard to fight the urge to pick up your phone to Google what that lump could be, why your cat is losing weight, or why your dog has had diarrhea for the last 3 days.
The internet can be your friend in some cases, providing you with guidance and helping you make informed decisions. But it can also be your enemy, providing you with incorrect, incomplete, or irrelevant diagnoses and treatments. It also causes pet owners to become pet doctors, but the problem is:
Pets can’t tell us what they’re feeling, so owners only see what’s on the surface.
Because of this, pet owners don’t get the whole story and will not know about any internal issues that can only be determined through an exam, imaging, lab work, etc.
Here’s what a couple of our specialists have to say about our good frenemy, Dr. Google:
Expert Opinion: Pedro Bento DVM, DACVIM (SAIM)
There are many reasons why internet-based medical advice is ill-advised and sometimes detrimental to your pet’s health. Dr. Google is not the only potential bad source of information. More and more forums, even Facebook, are being used as a source of bad advice.
Many common clinical signs, such as decreased appetite, lethargy, or weight loss are caused by various disease processes, not just one.
It is rare that one single finding provides a diagnosis. Thus, diagnosing our dogs or cats is made by integrating various pieces of information:
- Clinical History (what has been happening with the patient before consultation)
- Physical Exam
- Diagnostic test results
All of this information (and more) is evaluated by a veterinarian to reach a diagnosis. In more complex cases, this cycle may recur multiple times. For a non-medical person, it is very easy to find information that is not applicable or relevant to your pet. This can lead to self-medicating him/her, delay in seeking medical care, and distrust between pet parent and veterinarian when the latter doesn’t agree with the online findings. Occasionally, we even see owners where their pet has a severe disease, they refuse all diagnostics, and elect for euthanasia based on what they saw online. Anyone can write anything in the online world. This doesn’t mean it’s true.
The outcome of a pet with a certain disease doesn’t guarantee the same outcome in another patient. There are patients that die of relatively “simple” diseases, while others can survive despite a very poor/grave prognosis. Furthermore, the internet cannot distinguish between true versus false information, let alone if it applies to your pet or not. The popular results on your browser don’t necessarily contain correct or the best information.
Ultimately, trying to obtain medical information online is not a substitute for health care. While online information can help make informed decisions, it must be used in conjunction with your veterinarian. In addition, make sure to find trustworthy sources of information. These include government websites, medical societies, specialty colleges, colleges of veterinary medicine, veterinary journals, and peer reviewed articles.
Real Veterinary Patient Stories
The Ice Cube Scare
Around 2 years ago there was something posted on Facebook that circulated as an advertisement to NEVER feed your dog ice cubes- it could cause bloat and GDV. This created a lot of panic and we received all kinds of phone calls around that time from panicked dog owners. There is absolutely no scientific evidence to support that this is even close to a true statement.
Advice: Don’t trust everything you read on the Internet.
The Pancreatitis Problem
Many people will Google the treatment for pancreatitis, and often times the owners are misinformed that “resting the gut” and withholding any kind of nutrition is the correct way to treat pancreatitis. This treatment has fallen out of favor in both human and veterinary medicine, and there IS evidence to support early enteral nutrition in both dogs and cats with pancreatitis if they can tolerate it.
Advice: Don’t attempt treatment at home unless approved by your veterinarian.
Often, we get secondhand warnings from owners that their breeder told them their dog can never have a certain type of anesthesia or analgesia. While there is some validity to specific breeds having sensitivities to certain drugs (like sighthounds to barbiturates), most of the time there is no research or evidence to support these claims as well.
Advice: Consult with your veterinarian before making any breed-specific medical or lifestyle decisions you heard from a breeder.
Inducing Vomiting at Home
I fear that many people Google the dose of H202 (Hydrogen Peroxide) to give to their dog to make them vomit at home to avoid a trip to the ER. There is evidence to suggest that the H202 may do more harm than good, and there are additional risks associated with doing this at home. My preference is to always have a pet brought in to the hospital, and if we choose to make them vomit, we have safer agents and are better able to monitor and address complications quickly.
Advice: Call your veterinarian immediately before inducing vomiting, or go straight to an ER.
The lesson here is that Dr. Google is not Dr. Licensed Veterinarian. When in doubt, give your veterinarian a call to discuss your pet’s symptoms, your options, and the urgency and severity of your pet’s condition. If you need us, we are here 24/7/365.