Monday, October 10, 2016

Musings of Dr Liz - My pet is sick so I went online...

"My pet is sick so I went online...."

What an interesting thing for a vet to hear when she is surfing the net, and listening in on a public available webinar on pet care.
Online advice given to a sick pet! You are coughing? Wear a mask. (wrong advice by the way)

It was spoken by a pet owner, whose only claim to knowledge about pets is that she found one on the beach, and kept it.


She is a caterer for humans, and as she has a pet, cooks for them too.

She did her research online on what was good, and what was not so good, and used her cooking skills to come up with her recipes. Since her pet improved from her cooking, she reached the conclusion that her cooking was good for her pet. 

She spoke with such authority that  anyone would believe everything she said.

I do not doubt that her pet (or any pet) would improve with any nutrition compared to what they probably were able to get when they were on the beach.  What is concerning is that she has used this as an example of her expertise in pet nutrition.

What I heard and saw epitomizes the problem with the internet

But, I do understand her dilemma - her new found pet was unwell.  What I do not understand is her solution to this dilemma -  she went online for help. 
Online advice would not identify this cause for "a watery eye" - this is a huge corneal ulcer which requires a special stain to identify the extent of.

How many of us are guilty of going online to find the answer to a problem that we may be having?

I know I am guilty of going to google to find out what is wrong with my car or computer.  Ask a computer person or a mechanic on how dangerous that can be.  (Hint - it is very dangerous,)

So how dangerous is it getting information online for your pet?

Well, it depends.

Dr Google or the internet is not evil or wrong.

It can give us the right answer if we are asking the right question, and if we are looking at the right places.

If you already have a definite diagnosis, then searching for information online can help you understand the condition better. There is nothing wrong with that. I would do the same. 
Online advice can give you the wrong answer if the wrong question is asked - Oops!

Ideally, you should be asking your vet for the information, but I do understand that sometimes it can be hard to understand difficult medical concepts when you are really worried about your pet.

What if you aren't sure what your pet has? Or if you think you know what the problem is, so you go searching for that?

  A classic example of where the internet can steer you wrong,  would be the dog that is straining to go to the toilet - it is not uncommon for us to get a phone call on how to help the constipated dog or cat, and it is one of my more popular blog posts in the past. 

That is where it can be dangerous, and harmful.

You see, if we give advice on how to help a constipated cat, and it has trouble peeing instead (the stance is similar), the cat could die.  Or if we give advice on a constipated dog, and it is due to a bladder stone, ditto - a dead or very sick animal.
The internet isn't a microscope, so won't see these struvite crystals in a cats urine (a common reason for straining to urinate, which often presents as "constipated cat".

The other problem is that anyone whose only claim to knowledge is that they breath and have had pets all of their lives can claim to be a pet expert. There is nothing stopping anyone declaring themselves an expert or a specialist online.

Many pet shops declare themselves to be pet specialists all the time. 

Except vets - vets cannot call themselves a "specialist in pet care".
Every vet is "Lab tested" for quality prior to graduation!  True!

Having a vet degree means that despite my years of study and experience, I cannot claim myself to be a specialist in pet care, but the owner of a pet shop or a dog trainer can. You see, the law treats us differently.

And sadly, many pet owners are choosing the advice of these people, over those who have gone on to further intensive study at university to actually study animals in depth.

So, next time your pet is sick, who are you going to consult?

For some of you, it won't be your vet because after all, they (the vet)  are going to (God forbid), charge you for access to their knowledge and expertise.
Dr Poodle Vs Dr Google - least Dr Poodle has her paw on the job!

For some of you, you will ask your vet because you have a great relationship with them already, and you value your pet so much that anything you do pay is worth it. You know your vet treats your pet like family, and you trust them to do that in any recommendations or treatments they do.

Sometimes my pet's do the "examination" Go Lillie!
I am Dr Liz, and as the mad vet of Bellambi.  I do go online for information myself, but usually through my membership of the online community of Veterinary Information Network  (or VIN. Through VIN, I am part of a community of thousands of veterinarians and specialists worldwide.

For existing animalclinic family members, we are happy to answer any of your questions via email any time of the day or night (we try to respond as soon as humanely possible, usually within 24 hours).