Diagnosing and Treating Your Pet Alone: The Dangers of the Internet

The internet is an amazing resource - one that has completely transformed our lives. It answers a nearly infinite amount of questions for us, at the press of a button, anywhere at anytime.

The problem is, maybe we have too many answers, and they may come from some unreliable sources to boot. If you were to Google “sick pet symptoms,” you would have 8.94 million results at your fingertips in 0.67 seconds. So where do you even begin?

Some websites are credible sources for pet owners, especially when it comes to wellness, training, exercise, nutrition, and general pet health tips. The problem with diagnosing symptoms at home when your pet is ill - or you suspect your pet might be ill - is that it is rarely as simple as it may seem. Sometimes a home remedy for one pet would be 100% effective and safe, yet for another it could be incredibly dangerous (or it might not work at all). Without a veterinarian looking at all factors of the situation, you could be doing much more harm than good. In fact, it is not uncommon that pet owners unintentionally cause a an emergency situation or even a fatality by following advice that they find on the internet.

When is it a pet emergency?

To help you identify when you should call your pet's doctor, we've compiled a list of some symptoms that constitute an emergency:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Uncharacteristic restlessness
  • Bloat
  • Seizures
  • Collapse
  • Profound weakness 
  • Major trauma
  • Dog fight
  • Repeated vomiting or diarrhea
  • Struggling to urinate or defecate
  • Not eating or drinking
  • Coughing
  • Loss of use of rear legs
  • Signs of severe pain: restlessness, hiding, vocalizing, panting, limping
  • Known exposure to toxins (toxins, part 2; toxins, part 3)

Here are some common "at-home" remedies we DO NOT recommend:

  1. Induced vomiting: Your dog ate an entire bottle of medication or your daughter’s Easter basket full of chocolate - oh boy.  It may seem like you need to get out whatever is in their system as quickly as possible; however, you may cause further damage, and/or create a life-threatening situation. Therefore, do not act on your own. Be sure to contact your veterinarian or emergency clinic first.
  2. Tea Tree Oil for skin issues: Your dog has irritated, itchy or infected skin; however, before you douse your dog in tea tree (or any essential) oil, you should think twice. Essential oils have the potential of being skin irritants. A recent study, by the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, has found that tea tree oil is toxic to both dogs and cats. Symptoms generally reported were depression, lethargy, incoordination, and excessive drooling.
  3. Administering non-prescribed pain medication: Dog and cat livers cannot process over the counter pain medications that are meant for human consumption. Therefore, drug companies have created canine and feline pain medications that are safer and more effective for your pet. It is important for your veterinarian to decide which pain medication should be used, and at what dosage. It's also important to remember that medications for your dog are not, necessarily, going to be safe for your cat and vice versa. Just like you should never give another person medication that wasn't prescribed to them, you should never give your pet something that wasn't prescribed for him/her.
  4. Supposedly "natural” flea control remedies: The truth is, citrus, essential oils, etc. are not an effective way of preventing a parasite infestation (and, as we said above, some essential oils can be toxic to your pet). We understand your concern about keeping your pet healthy and toxin free; however, we encourage you to trust your veterinarian with any parasite remedies you administer.


So remember, while online group forums and expert websites may be great for sharing similar experiences or providing general pet health information, the internet is not a reliable source for diagnosing and treating your pet. Only your veterinarian knows your pet’s unique medical needs and therefore should be consulted first. To make an appointment, fill out our online form or give us a call! Don't forget - we're here 24/7 for emergencies.

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