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Paging Dr. Google? Not So Fast…

When your pet is not feeling well, your first move might be checking your symptoms with a search engine. Many people will look up a set of symptoms and be convinced that their pets are suffering from a specific disease or condition. They are usually wrong. The problem is that reliable information is not guaranteed if the search is undirected. Simply listing a list of symptoms can bring up a whole slew of issues, ranging in seriousness. This is because there are often similar symptoms shared between different diseases or conditions, that can’t be narrowed down without diagnostic tests. Furthermore, symptoms alone don’t take into account the pet’s medical history, genetic predispositions, or other factors (environment or situation) that might influence what’s going on with your pet. In short, it won’t give you the whole story.

Reliability can also be an issue when navigating websites. Depending on which website you choose, the information you get can be good, bad, or downright ridiculous. Beware of sites that look like they are giving unbiased, general information, but are actually selling something or have a personal grievance to voice. It’s important to always analyze what you’re reading, to determine its reliability and validity.

As for websites where you can “buy” veterinary advice on the web – remember, an Internet consultation cannot replace the physical exam, and usually wastes your money. Nothing online can compare to the information that can be collected through a complete hands-on physical examination. With a physical examination, your pet is checked from the tip of the nose to the tip of the tail. Your veterinarian will inspect your pet’s abdomen by feeling each of the organs and evaluating the shape, size, and position. They will listen through a stethoscope for any abnormal gut, respiratory or heart sounds. They may also recommend additional diagnostic tests to investigate an issue further. Typing symptoms in a box will usually not get you a reliable answer, unless that answer instructs you to seek veterinary help, in person.

Don’t get us wrong; the Internet is not all bad. It just has to be used properly. Get your diagnosis first, from a veterinarian you trust, and then do some browsing on the Internet to increase your knowledge. But always take what you read online with a grain of salt, and if you discover conflicting material, feel free to print it out and discuss it with your veterinarian. They are happy to clear up any myths or misconceptions.

Bottom line: an actual visit to your veterinarian is still way more accurate, and helpful, than any symptom checker or website out there.

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