I pull up to my animal hospital at 7:53am, I see a panicked looking man with his dog standing outside our doors. By his expression and stance, I can tell he’s been counting the seconds until our doors open. Once in the exam room, I find a happy, energetic, and seemingly healthy pup. By his side is a very tired, nervous pet parent. Dad immediately shows me a video of the dog coughing. Both the man and his dog have been up all night. The man is concerned his dog has bloat, a potentially fatal illness in which the stomach fills with air and twists upon itself. He hesitantly admits he has been researching sick dog remedies on Google all night and has not slept at all with worry and panic.
He did what?!
After reassuring him that his pup is stable and does not have bloat, I diagnose his dog with kennel cough. I prescribe antibiotics for the dog and at least 3 hours of sleep for the relieved pet parent. Then off they both go, feeling very happy and much more relaxed.
So how often does this exact scenario occur for me?
It happens at least 10 times per week. Some clients proudly label themselves “Google doctor” with a sense of accomplishment. I often spend my time at work examining patients, explaining to pet parents what is going on, recommending treatment plans, and battling Google.
Ahhhhhhhhhhh, my best friend Google!
I’ll guess that, like me, every other physician (human and veterinarian alike) will get on their soap box if given the chance and rant about frustrations over talking their clients off the “Google cliff,” as I like to call it.
With the worldwide web and access to computers at every turn, knowledge and information is at our fingertips. The amount of information is overwhelming. From medical and professional articles, independent trials, and medication studies to opinion blogs, personal articles, and product reviews based on personal experiences, there is a never ending amount of information available with the click of a few buttons.
But are we getting reliable, dependable information all the time?
Is it information that we can use to make an educated decision on diagnosis and treatment for ourselves, our family members, and our pets? Perhaps some of the information may help guide us in the proper direction, but much of it does not, and causes panic, anxiety, and decisions that are made based on fear and inaccurate information.
So today I want to discuss the dangers of using search engines for medical advice, how to properly use Google, and reassure you that your trusted physicians are much better resources than Google.
The Dangers of Using Sick Cat and Dog Remedies from Google
Anyone can write anything on the Internet. There are no guidelines, no criteria, and no rules. Google is a place to vent about your toddler’s reflux and what you did to help the problem, write a review for a local business based on your own experience, or make drug dosing recommendations based upon what worked for you. But Google and other search engines are open forums. Anyone can access or write information on the web on any topic. How do you know what you are reading is exactly what your pet is experiencing. Or how do you know it’s actually sound advice?
So to kick things off, let’s begin with 7 dangers of self-diagnosing with Google:
1. Incorrect Clinical Signs
Many times, pet parents perceive symptoms differently than the actual clinical signs. This misconception can be reflected in their online search, leading to the next danger.
2. Incorrect Diagnosis
This problem is probably the most common one I see with Google searching. If you search based on your perception of what your pet is experiencing, the search often leads you to the wrong diagnosis.
3. Incorrect Medication Dosing
There are no rules for Google, so many of the medication dosing online is not accurate and based on opinion or personal experience.
4. Mixing Medications
Often, a Google search leads people to give pets medications without knowing the possible adverse reactions when combined with other medications their pet may already be taking.
5. Tendency to Think Worse Case Scenario
I dedicate this one to my husband.
I see this one ALL THE TIME. As practitioners, we are trained to remain calm, not panic, make decisions based on objective facts, and leave emotion out of our plan to treat. Understandably so, pet parents are often more emotionally driven, panic with concern, and jump to the worst case scenario. This is the very reason I have a difficult time treating my own pets.
When people think worst case scenario, they base their Internet searches on that gut feeling, and diagnose accordingly and often incorrectly.
6. Unnecessary Stress
Any pet parent would be devastated to learn of their pet’s untreatable disease. So a false alarm, while a relief, still causes unnecessary panic and stress.
7. Unnecessary Harm
I see this mistake over and over again. When self-diagnosing and treating based on potentially inaccurate information, we can cause great harm to our pets, our children, or ourselves.
So what’s the solution?
The reality of it is that everyone uses Google. It’s only gaining more steam, and it’s just not reasonable to expect that people are not going to jump on the computer to search for sick cat and sick dog remedies before consulting their veterinarian.
6 Tips for Using Google to Find Accurate Sick Cat and Dog Remedies
- Make sure the information is valid and comes from a sound source. Check if there are footnotes.
- Have your practitioner recommend websites to refer to for general health questions.
- Before treating or attempting to treat your pet, yourself, or a family member, seek guidance and advice from your veterinarian or physician.
- Develop a trust and strong relationship with your physician and feel confident in their experiences and expertise.
- Do not hesitate to print information you find on the Internet and ask your physician about it.
- Know how to assess for an emergency. There are clinical signs that I teach my clients to look for that can determine if their pet is stable and can wait to be seen by a doctor. If you have an emergency, always seek the help of a professional immediately.
Final Thoughts on Using Google to Diagnose Sick Pets
I love motivated, passionate, and dedicated pet parents. My clients know their pets the best and I trust in what they tell me. I never want to discourage my clients from being concerned and involved in the care of their pets. I believe there is a way to work as a team to properly diagnose and treat their pets by listening to their concerns, understanding how they feel, and then using my education and objective opinion to make an accurate diagnosis and proper treatment plan. Treating your pet based on information you find on the Internet can be very harmful. It is imperative that you feel comfortable with your doctor and trust that they are choosing the correct treatment for your pet.