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The dangers of diagnosing your pet’s problems online
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The dangers of diagnosing your pet’s problems online

Once upon a time, the only way to find out what that rash, itch or lump could be was by arranging an appointment to see your GP. However, today in the internet age, many people choose to look up their symptoms online. Sometimes, this results in a self-diagnosis that’s not even close to being accurate.

This worrying trend is also being applied to our pets. New research reported in the  Pet Gazette reveals that 75% of people are using search engines to check their pets’ symptoms, with 22% of owners always choosing this method to identify what is making their furry friend unwell. Most disturbingly, 20% only ‘sometimes’ seek veterinary advice after searching the internet.

There are several issues to be very concerned about here:

  • Pets can’t tell us what’s wrong and sometimes it takes even a very experienced vet a series of examinations, tests and procedures to establish what the problem is.
  • Symptoms can be a sign of a whole host of different diseases, which require specific treatments.
  • Treating a condition with the wrong medication could have serious implications for the health and wellbeing of your pet.

The influence of the internet

Research by the British Veterinary Association (BVA) has uncovered similar findings. The association’s bi-annual Voice of the Veterinary Profession survey, which questioned more than 700 vets, revealed 80% said they had clients who took their pets to see them later than they should, while 98% believed their clients were influenced by what they had read on the internet.

The BVA is taking a strong stance, warning that attempting to self-diagnose pets and buying medication online could lead to a potentially fatal delays in treatment. One vet, who completed the survey anonymously, said: “'Dr Google’ often results in owners misdiagnosing conditions, followed by the client being led to believe that there is a cheap and effective 'treatment’ obtainable online or from a pet shop, and thus animals suffer far longer than need be.”

Nothing to worry about or something more serious?

In the Telegraph, Robin Hargreaves, former president of the BVA, said: “Often the symptoms people recognise are fairly generic. If you put these into a search engine you could get all sorts of things, some of which are nothing to worry about and some which can be very serious. If you put in the animal is drinking more, you may get an answer that it is down to a change in diet, and not worry and then it turns out to be diabetes then that delay can be very serious.”

So, while you could argue it’s good that more pet owners are being proactive about their pet’s health and wellbeing and are using the internet to be better informed, taking it to the point of making a diagnosis is a step too far. The only way to ensure your pet receives a correct diagnosis and suitable treatment is by consulting your vet.

Pets need vets

The latest PDSA Animal Wellbeing (PAW) Report reveals that 15% of UK pet owners haven’t registered their pet with a vet – that’s an estimated 3.1 million dogs, cats and rabbits. To address this, the BVA, along with the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) recently launched a ‘Pets Need Vets’ campaign. The benefits highlighted of registering your pet with a vet include easier access to treatment during emergencies, regular health checks to ensure your pet’s wellbeing, and tailored nutritional advice.

If you know any pet owner who hasn’t yet registered with a vet, the campaign features a great link that you can pass on. Just visit findavet.org.uk and choose from various options such as your area, type of pet, RCVS-recognised Advanced Practitioners and Specialists who work in a particular field of veterinary practice.

Sources: petgazette.biz, bva.co.uk, telegraph.co.uk

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