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Dr. Google: Helpful or Dangerous?

Searching the internet when your dog is sick might be a bad idea.

In today's world, people often search the internet dozens or more times a day for information on anything and everything that comes up. Need an idea for dinner but don't have a lot of time to prepare it? Punch in "chicken dinner easy recipe." Looking for information on New Zealand? Try "New Zealand history." Dog limping suddenly? Just punch in "dog limping."

But wait. Extreme care should be taken with that last one. After all, Dr. Google doesn't actually have a veterinary degree.

Dangers of Consulting with Dr. Google

Dr. Google is the term that many veterinarians (and physicians) use to describe when a person does an internet search of symptoms instead of consulting a professional. There are some inherent dangers to this practice including:

  • An internet search can only produce information related to what you tell it. So if you're wrong about the signs your dog is showing, you will get wrong results. While this may sound like something that wouldn't happen often, it's actually quite common. For instance, if you see from your window that your dog is in the backyard apparently straining to defecate, you might look up "dog constipation." However, your dog may really have diarrhea, which looks quite similar from a distance. Dogs often strain with only small amounts of diarrhea coming out, which you may not see.
  • An internet search can produce wrong results from incomplete information. For instance, you may search "dog coughing" and decide from the results that your dog has kennel cough, which often resolves on its own. What you might not be aware of is that your dog's gums are also a bit pale and he has a heart murmur. His congestive heart failure is much more serious than kennel cough, but Dr. Google has misdiagnosed him.
  • Anyone can post information on the internet. It can be challenging to evaluate the source of the information you find on an internet search. There are great sources, written by veterinarians, like, but there are also blogs and articles written by individuals. These may be based more on experience with a small number of dogs than on proper scientific studies.
  • Some information on the internet is just plain wrong. From home remedies to human medications, the internet is full of recommendations for treating canine problems without going to the veterinarian. The problem is that some of it is wrong and downright dangerous. It also doesn't take into account your dog's individual medical profile, which may make remedies that are OK for some dogs completely unsafe for yours.

So I Shouldn't Use the Internet for My Dog at All?

Actually, the internet is a great source of information that can really help you keep your dog safe and healthy. Having good websites that you've determined to be accurate and reliable that you frequently visit to learn about diseases and other canine conditions can help you be a better caretaker for your dog.

Also, good websites can be great sources for researching a particular canine condition after your dog has been diagnosed with it. You can learn more about it and, thus, be a better partner in your dog's treatment.

However, when your dog is showing a sign of illness or injury, the best thing to do is call your veterinarian. He or she will use education, experience, and a complete physical examination as well as any required tests to accurately diagnose your dog's problem.

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