This month we focus upon the power of the Internet — and if it can be reliably used when your pet requires health attention.

Clearly, if you’re searching for pet products such as collars, tracking devices and even pet food, using the Internet will serve you well. But will it help you when your cat or dog is not feeling well? We offer a few guidelines below to help you balance the information you obtain regarding your pet’s health.

Consider the Source — Literally
Not all information on the Internet is equal. Just because it’s posted on a website doesn’t mean it is accurate or complete. When searching for pet-related information, we suggest first visiting association sites such as American Veterinary Medical Association ( or ASPCA ( . Then consider visiting sites of pet product manufacturers such as or or As for people, we strongly encourage you to avoid social media for pet-related health advice.

There is clearly no shortage of pet-related websites, including retailers. But you want to ensure you’re obtaining the best possible information. We encourage you to use this information to learn and ask questions — not to diagnose or treat your pet.

Choose Wisely
Many Symptoms Appear Similar, but have Different Causes
When your pet is ill or not feeling well, you can generally identify some of the behaviors that indicate their discomfort. It might be a raised paw, head tilt, or missing fur. Sometimes, the signs are much more subtle — like general lethargy, weight loss, or a lack of strength. Clearly, it’s difficult for a well-intentioned pet owner to identify all of the critical symptoms that a veterinarian will immediately see or uncover — even if following a detailed online checklist. Importantly, many ailments have similar symptoms, but the underlying health condition and treatment regimen may be completely different.

Therefore, rushing to the internet with a set of symptoms, viewing images, and attempting to diagnose your pet’s health issue is exceptionally risky — and should be resisted at all costs. This is where four years of veterinary school, several years of residency, and years of hands-on experience pay off. Our extensive training enable us, like a detective, to walk through a dark maze collecting information along the journey. At every juncture, we’ll touch, view and watch responses from your pet that will help us to determine if we should turn left or turn right — ultimately exiting the maze and arriving at a proper diagnosis.

This is no crazier than trying to diagnose your pet yourself
Google Pet Information
The Need for Diagnostic Tests
To help us identify the root cause of your pet’s condition, we’ll often require diagnostic tests — such as bloodwork or tissue analysis. These tools and their results, not available to pet owners, are essential to including or excluding potential causes. Often the Internet contains “proxies” or “shortcuts” for such important tests — but we urge you to disregard them. There is no substitute for a properly collected and stored sample, properly administered test, and properly interpreted result. Just because you can learn how to identify a faulty automobile fuse from YouTube doesn’t mean that you should use any online videos, articles, or tools to diagnose your pet’s ailments.

Physical Exams are Essential
Just as a mechanic cannot diagnose a problem with your vehicle without being present to hear the engine sputter, veterinarians need to be able to see your pet, feel their body and watch for specific reactions as their condition is explored. An online article, no matter how accurate, well written and laden with detailed images, is no substitute for a physical exam of your pet. And online guides are no match for a skilled veterinarian with years of actual experience.

Physical Exam
Physical exams are the cornerstone of pet wellness — and returning your pet to good health when they fall ill. Even with modern high-definition video, remote vital sign monitoring and the latest technology, veterinarians will always prefer to spend time with your pet in-person.

Don’t Wait
When your pet is not feeling well, time is of the essence. Before you begin searching the Internet for articles or potential causes of your pet’s discomfort, please first make an appointment with us. Then as time permits, feel free to research so you can feel more prepared to ask as many questions as you like.

Do No Harm
Every pet owner turning to the Internet is well intentioned. But the internet is no substitute for a call to our office — or better yet a visit with your pet. Administering the wrong solution based upon information obtained online can do much more harm than good — and it’s unnecessary as we’re always here to help.

Contact Us
If you have any questions about the health or wellbeing of your pet, please contact us. We encourage the use of the Internet to help educate owners about their pets. However, we do not encourage owners to use any such information to diagnose or treat their pets. If you seek any information online, please first visit our website including the extensive library of newsletters addressing topics from grooming to parasites to vaccinations.

Kirkwood Veterinarians