These days we all do it – we run to the Internet to check for information. Fact checking may be as simple as checking ingredients of a favorite recipe, to something as complicated as diagnosing an unknown illness in a pet.

Multiple times over the years, before my retirement, I’ve smiled with my clients when they told me they checked on the Internet with what was going on for their pets. Truth be told, for my clients who were very astute in identifying all of their pets’ symptoms, they would often get a pretty decent answer from Dr Google. Other clients, who perhaps were newer pet owners, who maybe weren’t  as aware of some of the symptoms they were missing, got a much less accurate — sometimes dangerously wrong — diagnosis from Dr. Google.

This raises the question about when and how Dr. Google can be most helpful. Because realistically, as society becomes more information dependent, pet owners will search the Internet regarding their pets’ health more often.

All of a sudden my dog isn’t eating his food” is a blog post that has received literally hundreds of comments because this is a serious concern for pet owners. The people who have commented on this post do so because they’re having a hard time figuring out what to do for their dog.

Like most people, if it is a minor illness, people would prefer to manage that at home.

While the owners of inappetant dogs, as in the above example, have a difficult time getting a diagnosis by searching on Dr. Google, once diagnosed with dietary indiscretion, the same pet owners can return to Dr. Google for accurate suggestions of how to proceed for their dog.

However a diagnosis of parvovirus will have that same pet owner rushing to their veterinarian. Another example would be the itchy dog or cat. There are dozens of reasons why dogs and cats scratch. The specific diagnosis of mange is difficult to gain from the Internet. However, once the diagnosis of mange has been made, a return to the Internet yields many useful suggestions, including do it yourself mange bath recipes.

A cat with itchy ears may or may not have ear mites. The Internet can help with that diagnosis. A dog with itchy ears, on the other hand, rarely has ear mites unless it came from a puppy mill, but Dr Google will steer pet owners in that direction if they ask how to treat your mites in dogs; the search should’ve been “causes of itchy ears in dogs.”

If you find yourself saying “I think my pet has fill in the blank” you may not get the best advice from Dr. Google. Dr. Google is limited by the information that is input into the system. On the other hand, if you find yourself saying “My pet has fill in the blank, what do I need to know or do?” you are going to get much more useful information from the Internet.

The difference between “I think” and “I know” is often obtained through professional medical advice. That professional advice can sometimes be obtained virtually through a phone or email consultation, or it may need to come from an in person appointment with your veterinarian.

Like many healthcare providers, I write blogs like this and have written books and speak publicly to help pet owners gain information so that they can go from “I think” to “I know.” When reaching out to someone on the Internet for medical advice, be it veterinarian or physician or nurse practitioner, be sure to give enough patient information so they can help you with the diagnosis. Basic information would include age, breed, gender, how long it’s been going on, what else you’ve tried, and describe the symptoms. In the case of animals, it also helps to know if the pets are intact or neutered.

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