Beware of using Dr. Google

Pet Tales

by Barry B. Burtis D.V.M.

Now days, if you need an answer to a question, what do you do? Do you phone an expert, ask a family member, a friend or workmate? Do you visit the library and try to find the answer in a book? Not likely. Chances are you will just “google it”. Instantly, you are likely to get an answer, along with a host of supporting evidence and information to prove the answer correct.

Well, suppose you have a question about your pet’s health. Should the same rules apply in seeking an answer? Google “pet care” and you get 78,700,000 answers in 0.20 seconds. That certainly should supply your need for an answer, shouldn’t it? Well, I’m going to argue that it’s not the best way to get your answer. Rather, I’m going to try to convince you it would be much better to choose the time proven method of asking your veterinarian for help with the health of your pet.

Admittedly, in those millions of answers, there is likely to be information that will help with your query. However, the first problem is that you are certainly going to have to narrow your search, because a fair commitment in time and energy is going to be required to go through that many answers. To narrow the search with key words and phrases will help, but in the early stages of search there is some risk you will be excluding important parts of the answer. Judgements you make at this stage about the disease, health condition or nature of the problem will critically affect the internet answers.

However, let’s assume you have overcome this Herculean task of sorting through those millions of answers. You believe you have found pertinent information that can help you solve the question you have about caring for your pet. Now comes the real test. Apply that answer to your pet. Remember, your pet is a very unique individual. For example, let’s say you are the proud owner of a nine year old, spayed, female West Highland White Terrier. You bought her from a pet store when she was 3 months old. She had her last physical examination and some vaccines - you forget exactly which ones - about a year ago. She has not had any fecal examinations since she was a pup. She has been quite healthy except for the urine problem she had a few years ago, occasional ear problems and her skin irritations that happen in the summer. She is probably a bit overweight. She had her teeth cleaned about 3 years ago. She travelled to Florida with you on your 2 week vacation last winter. You feed her a dry dog food you buy at the grocery store and you try to avoid giving her too many snacks. She goes to a groomer about every 3 months to have her hair trimmed and a bath. She exercises in your back yard with occasional walks in the park and along the Bruce Trail. You also have a cat, a bird and two hamsters, as pets in your home.

To know the true and safe answer to the question you have asked about your pet, you must factor in all these variables. Try to come up with a computer answer that will allow you do that. Also, there is another important thing you must remember, as you are searching for the pet care answer. Time is passing. Perhaps that passage of time is just delaying your response to something you wanted to correct or alter in your pet’s care. Something not terribly time sensitive. However, it’s also possible your pet is getting more and more sick, as they wait. Oh, also, if that’s the case, how much success has your computer had in treating a pet’s problem for you, recently?

I would suggest it is a much better plan to avoid asking Dr. Google about health care issues for your pet. Ask your veterinarian instead. It is very possible that as part of the answer you get from them, you will be advised to visit an internet site that has correct, reliable information to learn more. Used correctly, the internet can be a wonderful resource for pet owners. However, rely on your veterinary care team as the primary care givers. You and your pet deserve the best. Barry Burtis is a local companion animal veterinarian. Past Pet Tales can be found at