Being primarily responsible for responding to comments here at Petful, I have the privilege of participating in incredible discussions. Topics from pet adoption to exotic pets arise, and it’s my good fortune that I walk away from every discussion feeling as though I learned something new.
However, there are some discussions that leave me in a cold sweat — namely those concerning medical pet emergencies. I’m not talking about the random “My dog vomited today” or “My cat refused to eat her breakfast” comments. I’m talking about real emergencies, where the animal is truly suffering or possibly even dying.
We tend to go straight for the internet when we have a question or need a problem solved. In some — even many — cases, we can find helpful information revolving around our pets’ problems. But not always.
When the Internet Is Helpful
First, let’s look at how the internet can help us:
- The internet is an incredible research tool. If your pet suffers from a medical condition, you can find out just about anything regarding diagnosis, treatment, cure (if applicable), medications and so on.
- You can find support groups with other people whose pets suffer from the same affliction.
- The internet has no business hours. You can log in at 1:00 a.m. and look for information.
- Advice on common behavioral or medical complaints is plentiful, which will give you a good foundation to start a plan for your pet.
The internet is a powerful tool. Google and other search engines stand by 24 hours a day to help answer your questions, and if you know where to look, you can find peer-reviewed and reliable sources for your information.
When the Internet Is Harmful
And here are some reasons you should take internet advice with a grain of salt:
- Who is replying to your comments? Is it a trained veterinarian or vet tech? Possibly, but it could also be Joe Schmo from down the hall who has no experience with animals.
- Timing is critical. If your pet is suffering from a fatal condition, they could die while you’re waiting for people to respond to your post. “Timing and context are hugely important when consulting the internet. Seeking an answer out of curiosity is fine, asking advice on an urgent medical condition is not,” warns Petful contributor Dr. Pippa Elliot, BVMS, MRCVS.
- You are capable of whipping yourself into a freaked-out frenzy when trying to narrow down symptoms over the internet. Some diseases or conditions are hard to diagnose simply because their symptoms mirror those of so many other diseases.
There is so much information out there that it can be overwhelming to sort through it and find reliable advice. “A major problem with ‘consulting’ the internet is not being able to separate opinion from fact,” says Dr. Elliot.
Why Use the Internet?
Sometimes we turn to the internet because we can’t afford to pay a vet bill. I get that. I had a dog, Gypsy, who had myasthenia gravis, megaesophagus and other issues. There were definitely times I looked to the internet for advice on dealing with these problems. But never when she was in immediate danger.
Because of her megaesophagus, Gypsy was prone to aspiration pneumonia, but never once did I seek help on the internet rather than getting her to the vet. In her condition, waiting for answer would have been fatal.
“I do understand how cost is a factor for so many people. But the fact is delay is even more expensive. A sick pet will get even sicker if you wait for an internet answer,” says Dr. Elliot. “A sick pet needs immediate attention and it’s never appropriate to wait on an answer left on an internet forum.”
What to Do
Our responsibility for our pets includes budgeting for medical care and emergencies, but sometimes financial circumstances change.
For emergencies, head to the vet immediately — the internet cannot save your dying pet. But for non-life-threatening issues, there are resources out there, including:
- Animal Humane Society’s Pet Hotline: Call 952-HELP-PET (952-435-7738). Note the hours of operation.
- Camuti Memorial Feline Consultation & Diagnostic Service: Call 1-800-548-8937. Note the hours of operation and that a fee is charged for feline medical advice.
There are area-specific resources, too. Massachusetts, for example, has the Pet Care Assistance program offered by MSPCA Angell that aids those whose pets need medical attention but for whom finances are tight. Search your area for something similar.
I will always be on hand at Petful to reply to questions. But should a post indicate that there is a possible medical issue, my answer will always be the same: Call your veterinarian.