Rachel Mulheron, Director, helpucover

A recent survey revealed that in today’s age of ‘Doctor Google’, it is estimated 40 percent of pet owners search the internet for advice before taking their pet to the vet. This might seem to eliminate the need for ‘inconvenient’ journeys to the vet for minor ailments, and allow pet owners to make short-term, financial savings, but there can be real dangers to trying to diagnose your pet’s illness or injury over the Internet.

Prolonging emergency care

Illnesses that start with simple symptoms can quickly develop into something more serious. What begins as something seemingly minor, such as mild nausea and vomiting could be because your pet has eaten something disagreeable or too much food, too fast. However, these symptoms can also indicate something more serious. Your pet may have swallowed a toxic substance, or be suffering from a condition that requires immediate medical attention such as a gastrointestinal disorder.

The time spent diagnosing these symptoms on the Internet could be completely redundant if from an unreliable source and if it does turn out to be an emergency situation, you could have wasted valuable time, which would have been put to better use at the vet’s.

Would you really want to be held responsible for minimising your pet’s chances of survival, because you’d taken a chance and chosen to follow unreliable online advice instead?

Finding the correct cause

A range of abnormal behaviours, often have multiple, possible diagnoses, unless you’re a trained vet, you’ll soon find yourself lost in all the possibilities of your pet’s condition.

  • For example, a cat drinking too much water could be put down to:
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • Diabetes mellitus
  • Hyperthyroidism
  • Urinary tract disease

These are all serious conditions, but in reality, increased water consumption may be down to crunchier than normal food, or even wanting a reason to be in the same room as their owner!

A quick urine test by a vet would be able to show if there was glucose present in the urine, and diagnose what was wrong with the cat – something the internet certainly could not do.

You can consult directly with a vet online, via a video link. Perhaps with improved virtual reality developments in the future, this may become more helpful, but it’s an area of technology in its infancy and in reality, it’s still impossible to make a full diagnosis without carrying out a physical examination of an animal.

Buying from online pet pharmacies

It can often be more cost effective for owners to buy their pet’s regular medication from reputable online sites and this can also keep insurance claims for medicine down. However,, as with any potentially lucrative business, there are always a few unscrupulous companies and individuals out there who will try their hardest to cash in on the concerns of anxious pet owners.

If you are thinking of buying medicine online, it is essential to follow these guidelines to minimise the possibility of having your credit card details stolen, your money taken with no intention to supply, or fake or dangerous products administered to your pet:

  • Watch for red flags, such as if the online pharmacy doesn’t require a prescription.
  • Check the site for accreditation, such as inclusion on Veterinary Medicines Directorate
  • Report suspicious pharmacies if you see any red flags.

When is it acceptable for owners to ‘take charge’?

Sometimes a vet will not be available. In these cases, a well-informed owner can rapidly ease the discomfort and distress of a pet, and potentially save a pet’s life. Some of the situations where this could be necessary include airway obstruction, bleeding, poisoning, heat stroke and difficulty whelping, where it’s a matter of life and death.

First aid courses for pet owners are now widely available across the country, and if you’re a dedicated pet owner, they’re well worth considering.

There are also small tasks owners can do at home, if they feel confident in their own ability and know their pet will behave better for them than it would for their vet. Such tasks can include:

  • Nail trimming
  • Hairball management
  • Therapeutic bathing
  • Ear cleaning

The age of free, instant, information has changed the way pet owners interact with veterinary science. You still can’t become a qualified vet, without the necessary years of study, but with care and professional guidance, you can easily become a highly skilled and knowledgeable pet owner.


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