Diagnosing and Treating Your Pet Alone: The Dangers of the Internet

The internet is an amazing resource, one that has completely transformed our lives. It answers an infinite amount of questions for us, at the press of a button, anywhere we are at anytime.

The problem is, maybe we have too many answers, and from some unreliable sources to boot. If you were to Google “sick pet symptoms”, you would have 1.36 million results at your fingertips in 0.67 seconds. So where do you even begin?

Some websites are credible sources for pet owners, especially when it comes to wellness, training, exercise, nutrition, and general pet health tips. The problem with diagnosing symptoms at home when your pet is ill is that it is rarely as simple as it may seem. Sometimes a home remedy for one pet would be 100% effective and safe, yet for another it could be incredibly dangerous. Without a veterinarian looking at all factors of the situation, you could be doing much more harm than good. In fact, it is not uncommon that pet owners unintentionally cause a fatality by following advice that they find on the internet.

When is it a pet emergency?

To help you identify when you should call your pet's doctor, we've compiled a list of some symptoms that constitute an emergency:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Restlessness
  • Bloat/distended abdomen
  • Seizures
  • Collapse
  • Profound weakness 
  • Major trauma
  • Dog fight
  • Repeated vomiting or diarrhea
  • Struggling to urinate
  • Not eating or drinking
  • Severe coughing
  • Loss of use of rear legs
  • Signs of severe pain: restlessness, hiding, vocalizing, panting, limping
  • Known exposure to toxins

Here are some common "at-home " remedies we DO NOT recommend:

1. Induced vomiting: Your dog ate an entire bottle of medication, a household cleaner, or your daughter’s Easter basket full of chocolate - oh boy.  It may seem like you need to get out whatever is in their system as quickly as possible. However some products may cause further damage if vomiting is induced. Therefore, do not act on your own, be sure to contact your veterinarian or emergency clinic first.

2. Tea Tree Oil for skin issues: Your dog has irritated, itchy or infected skin, however, before you douse your dog in tea tree oil, you may want to think twice. Any essential oil has the potential of being a skin irritant. A recent study, by the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, has found that tea tree oil is toxic to both dogs and cats. Symptoms generally reported were depression, lethargy, incoordination, and excessive drooling.

3. Administering non-prescribed pain medication: Dog and cat livers cannot process over the counter pain medications that are meant for human consumption. Drug companies have created canine and feline pain medications that are safer and more effective for your pet. It is important for your veterinarian to decide which pain medication should be used, and at what dosage.

4. Supposedly "natural” flea control remedies: The truth is, citrus, essential oils, etc. are not an effective way of preventing a parasite infestation. We understand your concern about keeping your pet healthy and toxin free, and we too are advocates for safe flea remedies, however, we encourage you to trust your veterinarian with flea control options. Flea medications are now safter than ever!

So remember, while online group forums and expert websites may be great for sharing similar experiences or providing general pet health information, the internet is not a reliable source for diagnosing and treating your pet. Only your veterinarian knows your pet’s unique medical needs and therefore should be consulted first.

This blog post originally appeared on The Drake Center, further edited for syndication

Blog Category: