Why Diagnosing Your Pet’s Health Problems Online is Dangerous

Picture of a dog and cat in bed

Almost everyone has access to the Internet nowadays. While this is great, it also means that our behavior has changed. It used to be that if you found a rash, a lump, or a bump or you had an itch, you would go to your doctor to find out what’s wrong.

But these days, people self-diagnose online all the time. The problem is that they tend to do the same with their pets.

While you can suspect what might be wrong with yourself, it can be extremely difficult to interpret the symptoms of a disease in an animal. Many medical problems have confusing clinical signs, and the worst thing is that your dog or your cat can’t tell you what’s wrong with them.

Your pet can’t tell you if they feel pain, have a fever, or even a lesion in a body area that you haven’t checked. Even if you try to perform a clinical examination of your pet, you might not be able to do so. Pets tend to behave differently with their guardians compared to how they behave when brought to the vet.

In this article, we’ll look at some of the dangers of diagnosing your pet’s health issues using the Internet.

Not All Pet Websites Are Good

We’re sure that pet site owners have all the best intentions, but sometimes, the ones writing the articles aren’t vets, veterinary assistants, or vet techs. They might not have any experience in the veterinary field whatsoever, and that is perfectly fine if the topic of the article deals with something harmless like breeds, general advice, grooming tips, and a variety of other things.

But with medical topics, it’s always a good idea to stick to sites whose authors are veterinarians. You can use the Pet Friendly House for this, of course, but you can also go to credible sites such as the AAHA or AVMA sites.

MSD Vet Manual is pretty good, as well, but it’s mostly addressed to actual vets, not pet parents. But if you can ignore the scientific terms that might make it difficult for you to understand the disease you’re suspecting, you can at least get a broad picture of what your pet might be experiencing.

You Sometimes Can’t Tell If It’s Serious or Not

How can you tell whether your friend’s experiencing a health emergency or not? Sometimes, even the refusal to eat or drink water can be a worrying symptom, especially if it’s associated with other clinical signs.

Superacute medical problems can have a shocking evolution, where the pet gets sick and ends up dying in a matter of several hours. This can happen in bloat cases, for example, in case your pet’s experienced trauma, in anaphylactic shock, and a variety of other such situations.

Intoxication is another situation where you might not be able to do anything for your companion unless you take them to the vet as soon as possible.

Recognizing a Pet Health Emergency

To make it a little easier for you to tell when you should take your pet to the vet as soon as possible, we put together a list of concerning symptoms.

  • Refusal to drink water or eat
  • Seizures
  • Unconsciousness
  • Signs that your pet is in pain or distress
  • Difficulty breathing, choking or gagging
  • Heat stroke or hyperthermia
  • Bleeding from the nose, mouth, ears or anus
  • Trauma (accident, animal attack, or anything else)
  • Fractured bones (especially open fractures)
  • Severe diarrhea
  • Severe vomiting

At-home Remedies That Vets Recommend Against

  • Some ‘natural’ flea control remedies

While there are a variety of natural remedies against fleas, they are mostly repellents, meaning that they can keep fleas away but they aren’t going to kill the ones that already exist on your pet’s coat.

Some homemade flea control remedies are dangerous, such as essential oils. Tea tree oil and an array of others can cause skin irritations and serious cutaneous damage. Talk with your vet about homeopathic flea remedies before deciding to use one that you might have read about on the Internet.

  • Inducing vomiting

If your dog or cat has eaten something dangerous like chocolate or a whole bottle of medication, trying to induce vomiting might cross your mind. But this can be dangerous for both your pet and yourself. Keep in mind that you can easily get bitten in such situations.

Besides, depending on the instrument that you will try to use for the task, you might cause severe damage to your dog’s mouth or the first portion of his pharynx. As for cats, it’s quite likely that you aren’t going to achieve anything other than scaring your feline friend away, in which case you aren’t even going to be able to take them to the vet.

  • Giving your pet non-prescribed pain medication without asking your vet first

A pet’s liver can’t process human medication as easily, safely, and effectively as a person’s liver can. While I do have to agree that there are some types of human-grade drugs that can be used on pets (such as Benadryl), you really have to learn which are the safe ones that you can administer to your friend.

Drug companies make pet-safe medications for a reason – because they are safe to use on pets. But your veterinarian is the right person that can recommend you pain medication.

The reason we are so specific about pain medication is that some drugs can contain corticosteroids, which have loads of side effects and are very dangerous when given to pets who have diabetes, for example.

Final thoughts

While diagnosing your pets online does come with a lot of risks, that doesn’t mean that you should never give your pet any medication on your own. When you take your dog or cat in for a checkup, talk to the veterinarian about creating an emergency kit that you could use in case something goes wrong.

Such a kit would ideally contain things like disinfectant for wounds, bandages, antibiotic ointment, and a variety of things that you could use in an emergency. If your dog tends to have loose stools, the kit might contain antispastic medication, too. If your pet has diabetes, you should always have insulin at hand. These are just a couple of examples, but many pet-safe medications can be prescribed by your veterinarian or bought over the counter so long as they are recommended by a vet first.

In the end, try to learn how to make the difference between a pet health emergency and a medical issue that can wait for a day before you take your friend to the vet. Last, but not least, register your pet and get pet insurance so that you don’t get into debt in case he or she is involved in an accident and needs surgery.



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