When your pets are not feeling well or you have a veterinary related question, who do you consult with first? Do you call your veterinarian or an animal emergency hospital, consult your friends on Facebook, or do a Google search?
In addition to my role as mom to Piglet, the deaf blind pink puppy, I’ve been a small animal house call veterinarian for a very long time. This translates to the reality that I am much older than Dr. Google and Facebook combined!
When I graduated from vet school I was conscientious about purchasing the latest editions of the most extensive and very expensive textbooks. Textbooks and veterinary conferences were our main source of continuing ed and they were not readily available to the general public. That left veterinarians in a position of being the Go-To when it came to answering pet owner’s medical questions and concerns.
Now with social media as the center of our lives, I commonly find out my patients are sick when I’m on a local Facebook mom’s group. My clients first make the rounds on Google finding every possible cause for their dog’s 12-hour bout of diarrhea. They convince themselves that their dog has a terminal illness caused by their monthly heart-worm preventative and quickly head over to Facebook to survey their friends and members of the local mom’s groups. Sometimes their pets have been sick for days before they finally give me an opportunity to help. Most of this is part of the bad habit of social media rather than an avoidance of their veterinarian. But unfortunately, it can lead to a delay in diagnosis and treatment of serious illness in the pets that they love. It can also lead them astray into an unknown world of propaganda and misinformation.
Comparing notes with friends about each other’s cats that are drinking more water than usual, urinating all over the house, and losing weight is like comparing a water leak in a dishwasher to an overflowing bathtub. There is water all over the floor but the causes have nothing to do with each other.
There are so many possible causes of excess water intake, urination, and weight loss symptoms in a cat that there isn’t much to gain from a Facebook discussion or Google search. Without a good physical exam, lab work, and other diagnostics, you are likely to accomplish very little in an online search. It’s not to say that you can’t come up with a list of possibilities, but generally, it’s best to bring your sick animal to a veterinarian.
Once the proper steps have been taken to establish a diagnosis and treatment plan it is helpful to improve your understanding by learning more about the disease, treatment options, and prognosis. Most vets have printed information handouts or will recommend reliable online resources for their clients to review.
My biggest fear for my clients that are devoted to Google searches is that they can find pretty much anything they are looking for–both good and not so good. There are positive and negative reports for almost every medication available for human and animal use. The same is true for dog foods, supplements, and other pet products. If you search for a product or topic in your area of expertise, you will be able to sift through all sides of the information. But if you have no prior knowledge, it’s not easy to differentiate between truth and propaganda.
It’s not that pet parents shouldn’t be informed, educate themselves, and ask questions. The internet holds a wealth of extremely useful information about dog and cat veterinary care. It’s just really important that pet parents use credible sources that won’t lead them down the wrong path of misinformation and unnecessary worry. It’s also important to keep Facebook surveys under control as everyone’s experience with their own pets is unique. Even with the same exact diagnosis, individual pets will present with their own manifestation of the disease. Taking many factors into consideration, their treatment protocol will be tailored to their own individual situation at that time.
Establishing a good working relationship with a reputable veterinarian who you trust is the best way to provide your pet with optimal medical care. Veterinarians spend a great deal of time, energy and money on their education. They are dedicated to keeping their patients healthy and their clients happy. Find a veterinarian who’s general philosophy, approach to practicing medicine, and bedside manner fits into your comfort zone.
Regular preventative care and wellness visits allow us to be aware of underlying or ongoing issues in the early stages rather than finding them when in a full blown disease crisis. Keep copies of your pet’s pertinent medical records in an organized file so that it is available in the case of an emergency. See specialists when needed but keep your regular vet in the loop as they know you and your pet best. They can break down the issues in an understandable context and provide support for making tough treatment decisions.
When you have a good relationship with your veterinarian, you can relax and trust that they will provide your pet with the best care available. If you must check in with Dr. Google, at least check with your vet first so they can recommend reliable websites before you delve into the world of the unknown. Balancing contact with your veterinarian along with the use of social media is the best way to keep your pets happy and healthy.