Surveys and research indicate that approximately 40 percent of pet owners go online for information before they take their pets to the veterinarian. What is more, the statistics are strikingly similar for people, who often surf the ‘Net before they visit their own doctors. In the pet community, this can be positive, leading to better conversations with veterinarians about the symptoms pets are exhibiting and also can promote a better understanding of not only the health issues, but also the best course of treatment for each pet.

One of the top risks of relying on the internet for medical treatment is the overload of information available. A recent Google search for the words ‘pet health’ brought up 1.9 billion results in less than three seconds. Much of this information is not ‘fact-checked’ or vetted, so you actually could cause serious harm to your pet if you treat them without expert veterinary guidance.

Product reviews that have no regulatory oversight for safety or effectiveness as well as anecdotal or home remedies also can be risky. For example, a pet owner may not be aware that Tylenol can kill a cat and harm a dog’s liver, while Advil can damage a pet’s kidneys. Still another risk is that a pet owner may decide to wait a day or two to see if the pet improves, which can lead to the condition worsening and ongoing—and unnecessarily—suffering as well as costly diagnostics, lengthy treatment, prolonged recovery or worse.

There is a well-known case in veterinary circles about a pet owner who gave her pet a penny because ‘Dr. Google’ reported that it would kill worms. This was a few days after the veterinarian had diagnosed and treated the dog for worms. When the pet later presented with a blood disorder, the veterinarian took an X-ray and found the penny. Fortunately, the pet survived after treatment and a very expensive surgery. Another example, on the lighter side, is the pet owner who brought a new female puppy to her vet. Then told it was a male, the owner said her breeder said the dog was female. When shown the puppy’s obvious male ‘appendage,’ the pet owner said she had Googled ‘female puppy with a lump on its belly,’ and ‘Dr. Google’ had diagnosed the puppy with an umbilical hernia.

The bottom line is this: Veterinarians have dedicated many years to their schooling and training and, as a result, have developed an expertise in veterinary medicine, while ‘Dr. Google’ does nothing more than send pet owners to various web pages that may or may not have accurate information. The veterinarian still needs to perform a thorough physical examination, but can then have an informed discussion of diagnostic and treatment options, leading to a better overall experience for everyone and, most importantly, a healthier outcome for your pet.