Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Second Opinion: Dr. Google

You've just been given a diagnosis that you don't know much about, so who do you call? Dr. Google!

Actually, there's nothing wrong with using the internet to educate yourself about things you're unsure about, a new diagnosis or term, or even some symptoms to find out the possibility of what you may be looking at.

However, it's best to use the internet to get a second opinion, not the first one. I get a few phone calls a week from people who have diagnosed their pet's symptoms and want advice-all for free of course, and without seeing their pet, which is against federal law. The info on the internet is for educational and not diagnostic purposes, but it seems most people don't read the disclaimers.

Not long ago we had a case of a young beautiful dog with neurological problems. It was horrible to watch. Not only could this dog not walk a straight line, he had lost control of his bowels and bladder. Turned out the owner wanted to save some money on heartworm testing and medication by giving ivermectin horse paste to his dog. He read about it on the internet. Too bad he didn't read further, he would have found out that his breed of dog carries a genetic mutation that allows ivermectin to pass through the blood brain barrier. This is toxic and can be fatal. For want of saving a few dollars he's spent thousands and his dog has a very guarded prognosis. Not to mention the heartbreak of watching a beautiful young animal go through hell.

Not all internet advice is bad. Here's a few pointers:

Check pages that are written by veterinary professionals. Their credentials will be listed on the page. Same with research done by schools.
Check the publication dates of the page. There are still tons pages with outdated studies/advice that search engines will hit. Look for more recent information.
Take with a grain of salt the manufacturer's page. They're trying to sell a product, and it may not be the right one for your pet.
Likewise, approach with caution the "all natural healing remedies" stuff. They aren't under any kind of regulation, and probably aren't tested.
Message boards/groups need to be approached with caution as well. It's worth reading them because they can be a source of valuable information and links, but it's one of those "don't try this at home" cautions.
It's okay to take the internet information with you to your vet visit and ask your vet's opinion of what you've learned. Making informed choices is a good thing.
If you're not willing to subject yourself or your human kid as an internet advice guinea pig, apply the same rules to your pet. They don't have a choice in the matter.