Thursday, March 22, 2012

Dog Health: Should You Curb Your Internet Research Enthusiasm?

Is internet research a good thing, or is it a bad thing?

I research things on the internet all the time.

At the end of the day, internet research is what brought Jasmine to where she is today. And all things considered, it is a pretty darn good place. In fact, she might have not have been here today otherwise.

I believe internet research is a great thing, with some conditions.

There is definitely time and place for that. There are also times when turning to the internet is a bad idea—I've seen so many posts where people are searching the internet for help, while they should have been long gone to the emergency hospital.

Internet research is a bad plan for emergency situations.

It is so important to recognize emergency situations so you know when to drop everything and rush to the clinic. At times like that, time is wasting. Every minute you spend on the internet is another minute your dog is not getting the help they need. When in doubt, err on the side of caution.

Internet research, however, is a good plan when dealing with non-emergency, ongoing, chronic, unsolved problems, or when looking for or evaluating treatment options (such that don't have to be done immediately, of course. When your dog is suffering from bloat, for example, she needs treatment NOW, no time to fool around.)

The internet is a vast well of information, some is good, and some is not.

Be critical of the information you find. Evaluate, verify.

The internet can be an invaluable source of useful information. There are forums and support groups, there are even websites where you can seek veterinary advice online.

All these things a great. Please, do realize, though, that NOBODY can diagnose your dog without examining them. And since they cannot do it, you shouldn't try either. They can, however, offer their insights and ideas. They can offer a second opinion and come up with questions nobody thought of asking.

I look to the internet not as a source of answers, but as a source of questions.

It is the right questions that lead to the right answers. Self-diagnosing your dog based on what you found on the internet? Bad plan. Let's get real, how could you honestly do that? As an owner, the only diagnostics you should be doing is figuring out whether you need to take your dog to the vet, and how quickly. Learn to recognize, and understand the significance of symptoms.

I spend most of my free time researching the internet. I look at everything. I evaluate whether it makes sense to me. I see if there is more than one source agreeing with any given information. I look for case studies. I ask around. Then I discuss my findings with Jasmine's vet.

And yes, sometimes we disagree.

We discuss things until we come to an agreement. But I would never be brave enough to self-diagnose my dog. That's just nuts.

The internet is a tool. Understanding what it can and cannot do is important to getting the best outcome for your dog.

I will close with a story posted by Dr. V of Pawcurious.
The scene: A typical exam room, inhabited by a typical patient: a labrador with an ear infection.

Dr. V: Has Freddy had ear infections before?
Client: Off and on for most of his life, yes.

A typical examination, with me pulling out the otoscope and lifting Freddy’s ear. I am assaulted with a familiar, and yet unfamiliar, odor.

Dr. V: Well, his ear’s pretty red…and…oh my goodness…. (withdraws ear cone) Is this….pus?
Client: ……………….

Dr. V: This is just bizarre. Let me get a slide. What the…this smells like vanilla.
Client: I thought I washed all that out.

Dr. V: All what out? Is this yogurt in his ear?
Client: Well, yes. I read on the internet that yogurt is good for yeast...
There is a lot of information on the internet. The difference is in what you do with it. Research to your heart's content, but use your head!

Related articles:
When Is It An Emergency? 
Reasonable Expectations: The Ability to Discuss Your Internet Research With Your Vet
A Word On Second Opinions
Symptoms: Recognition, Acknowledgement, And Denial
Where There Is Smoke, There Is Fire


  1. I learned so much so fast when Buddy first got sick. If I was to be his advocate, I needed to be his authority. I have brought pages and pages of literature to my vets before. We don't always agree with what is good or not good strategies, but I am glad that I overcame my usual complete deference to professionals to engage as partners. Buddy was much the better for it and our current dogs are today as well.

    1. Yeah, it was the same way with me, and it is the same way with our vet. We certainly keep them on their toes, don't we? Our dogs are doing well. So it seems we made some good decisions! :-)

  2. Hi there

    Awesome blog. I enjoyed reading your articles. Just want to comment that, I love my dog my true family member.