Dr. Google vs the Vet: A Cat Debate
The other day I actually had a client tell me that their veterinarian was “Dr. Google” and they looked up all their cat’s healthcare online. Don’t get me wrong – I love Google! I use it every day to look up all sorts of things: news, places, stock prices, quotes, definitions…you name it, I Google it. As far as searching goes it’s a great tool, but as with all tools, it must be used wisely.
Have you ever noticed the numbers at the bottom of the Google results page?
They go 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and so on. These indicate pages of information, and depending on what you search, they are seemingly endless.
The confounding thing about all those pages is that the articles on them represent countless points of view from hundreds of sources all over the world. You have to choose which ones are correct or most helpful to you.
The Dangers of Doctor Google
Google has articles from respected and proven resources, but it also has bogus and even dangerous advice. Nothing is stopping some writer from telling you that applying a “cow patty” to a wound is the right thing to do, but don’t count on it actually working.
Be discerning in the sources of your answers. If the answer sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Blogs, chat rooms, and Facebook content can be based on opinion with very little fact or medical knowledge involved. If you find a solution that sounds fairly odd, do more research before trying it out. Be informed, but don’t be gullible.
I once had a mysterious radiating pain that Dr. Google convinced me was my gall bladder. I went to my doctor and explained the exact symptoms I was feeling. I didn’t mention the online diagnosis. He immediately examined my neck, ordered an MRI, and found that the problem was two bulging discs in my cervical spine (which, by the way, is nowhere near my gall bladder).
I’ve seen misinformation on the causes and treatment of many different cat problems online. I’ve actually seen sources on the Internet (at the hands of the owner) encourage clients to do things that can actually harm their cats or even kill them. I saw a cat die from a urinary obstruction because the owners were treating the cat at home with medication (human medication) that they found on the Internet and it wasn’t even the correct diagnosis. What is especially upsetting is that proper medical treatment by a veterinarian would likely have treated the cat effectively and saved its life.
Here is another example of how Dr. Google can do harm: a client read an article on how she could save money giving her own vaccines to their pet. The owner picked up vaccines at their local tractor and farm supply and proceeded to give shots. She didn’t store the vaccines properly; they sat in her car for a couple days before she administered them. Her pet had a very bad reaction that ended up being life-threatening. The owner didn’t have a vet to turn to and ended up calling an emergency clinic. Those ended up being very expensive shots.
Working in a clinic now, I know better than to give my own shots. Many veterinarians won’t even administer vaccinations to their own cats or dogs at home. As our clinic owner puts it, “I want everything I need if there is a reaction when I give a shot. I always bring the animals here.” It just goes to show that there is a ton of information on the internet but it isn’t always the best to act on for your cat.
How to Get Great Information for Your Cat’s Health
Your best source of qualified information in a health situation concerning your cat is your veterinarian. An article or two from Google is not going to substitute for all those years of study and research in veterinary school. Every physiological reaction in an animal is tied in some way to another system, and a computer just can’t make those determinations.
Several years ago, my veterinarian was examining one of my cats before administering routine vaccines. My cat was getting a little older and I thought he was slowing down a little. My vet found a very painful infected tooth and I had no idea. I had the tooth treated and my cat acted like a different cat. I thought my kitty was just getting old but he had been in pain and sick with infection. Cats are very good at hiding their pain and illness just by their nature of survival and this routine exam found a problem that really helped my cat.
When my cat was diagnosed with a urinary obstruction (feline urinary obstruction) Dr. Debra explained what was happening in his body: how the toxins build up when a cat cannot urinate; why his heart rate was so low; how the treatment works as well as a dozen other factors that she knows because of years of study and practice. She then gave me some printed information from PetPlace.com that I could read to understand more about the disease. Had I merely Googled symptoms about my cat, I could have seriously misunderstood and mistreated him, and would have lost him quickly. But because he got the correct diagnosis and treatment, he did very well!
When making a decision about your cat’s health, there is a balance to be struck between your vet’s exam, your opinion, and information you find online. For example, if your cat is drinking a TON of water and urinating much more than normal, a search on a recommended and qualified site such as PetPlace.com may lead to an article about polyuria and polydipsia. This article will tell you there are several reasons for these symptoms, but one is diabetes mellitus. It also tells you what tests your vet may do and what you as a cat owner can be prepared when you go to the vet (e.g., they will probably want to do some bloodwork and collect a urine sample).
It’s very important to use trustworthy sites for your information. Choose online sources like well-known universities (Cornell, Ohio State University, UC Davis, or others) that will provide valuable and accurate medical information. You may already know and trust a few such sites, like PetPlace.com. (Every article is approved by an experienced veterinarian or veterinary specialist from major universities across the country.)
How Google Can Help
There are times, however, when searching online can be helpful. For example, if your cat is diagnosed with diabetes mellitus, your vet may recommend a reliable site where you can find accurate information about diabetes in cats. It can tell you things like step-by-step instructions on giving an insulin injection, what insulin is, and how to monitor your diabetic cat.
Google can also be great for fun trivia and information. Some animal lovers are curious about questions such as “why do cats like high places?” and “why is my calico cat female” and can find the fascinating answers online.
Don’t forget to confirm your findings, though. For example, let’s say you search “Why does my cat eat grass and vomit?” You might find reasons why cats eat grass as well as reasons why cats vomit. Some information might be interesting but if your cat vomiting and sick a day or so later, Dr. Google has no hands, eyes, ears, stethoscope, or sensitive fingers to find whether your cat’s belly is painful, whether the bowel feels thickened, or whether the sounds from the digestive system, heart, and lungs are normal. What other physical reasons could cause nausea in your cat? Only your veterinarian can ask the right questions, suggest possible tests, and put all the puzzle pieces together to give a definitive answer. Not only that, but the clinic has appropriate medication that will help…your computer doesn’t.
The Conclusion About Doctor Google
Veterinarians and human doctors alike hear Dr. Google diagnoses from their clients. It doesn’t do much good to argue, but a little finesse sometimes gets the client and doctor into a communicative mode. The cat’s health and happiness is the ultimate goal and vets have useful information that can help you better understand what your cat’s problem could be and how the condition may be treated.
I like looking things up on Google, but I know much better than to diagnose with it. If you find a recommendation online, ask your vet if it is safe before moving forward with it. If you have financial concerns that encourage you to take matters into your own hands, please work with your vet clinic to treat your cat within your budget.
My veterinarians are the ones with the best answers, and that is where my trust is placed. Use your powers of observation and tell your vet clearly what changes and symptoms you are seeing; that will be much more valuable than leaning on Dr. Google’s suggestions. You can educate yourself a little with Google, but don’t bet your cat’s life on it. Instead, use it in combination with what your vet tells you to help educate yourself on your cat’s problem.