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If you’re reading a dog blog, it’s probable that you’ve googled something about your dog’s health at least once. Should you or shouldn’t you be concerned about some particular lump or bump, is that red eye going to resolve itself or should you head into the vet, should you give your dog that particular vaccination, and on and on.

But should you be googling about dog health? Should you put down the keyboard and just go to the vets? Here are a few ideas about this issue in my advice regarding online searches and overreaction.

Important note: If you are ever facing a serious issue, or are not sure if what you’re dealing with warrants a visit after gathering reputable information, I advise that you speak with a veterinarian on the phone or schedule a visit. For any non-trivial condition, I strongly believe you should combine information you find from reputable sources online along with a conversation with a vet and use all of the information available to you to make an informed decision. Informed decisions include, but are not always limited to, a conversation with at least one professional.

The question

My shitzu lost a nail last night. I called the pet hospital and they told me what to do. He seems fine this morning. Last night I asked if we needed to come in or get antibiotics. He said no. But I got on line this AM and it recommended a visit and antibiotics. I plan to take him to his vet in the AM when the clinic opens. Am I over-reacting?

My advice about googling about dog health and overreacting

I don’t think you’re overreacting. I always play it cautious with my pets, as it is our responsibility to be their advocate. This includes learning what you can from whatever source in order to ask better, informed questions when speaking with the professionals like your vet. And going a bit with your gut, so you don”t have regrets down the road. And if you aren’t satisfied with a vet, I also don’t feel it’s unreasonable to obtain a second opinion from a different one or find one that best “gels” with the style of care you want to provide your dogs (just as we do with our own doctors, as needed). In the end, it’s our decision about how we care for our body, and this is the same with our pets. So take everything you learn from (qualified, quality sources on) the web and the professionals you visit in person, and make the best decision you can based on that information.

One example of why this is important (because many vets hate us “googling” and will encourage you not to do this). When I was a new dog owner, my first vet strongly recommended a particular vaccine and I went with this advice. I later learned how ineffective this vaccine generally is, while carrying a great risk of complication. Risk to benefit ratio completely out of whack. He had complications from it, and to this day I don”t know if it may have led to his death – vaccines can be a trigger for what he had – and I really regret going against my instincts, not being a good advocate, and not researching it before pulling the trigger. I learnt all of that information from various qualified sources online, focusing on scientific research more than anecdotal evidence. This isn”t meant to scare you – just how important being an educated advocate for our pets can be, and that sometimes a professional doesn’t have all the answers, or doesn’t match for how you want to care for your family. I listen to and respect veterinarians, but I also know it’s important to educate myself too, so I can ask the right questions and make decisions I too am comfortable with.

Mikey dog at Fort Funston. Our first adult dog. We only consulted our veterinarian, and did not do enough research online to make informed decisions about his care. He died from a disease that could very well have been triggered by the pesticides we used for flea/tick care and vaccines we gave him both recommended by our vet at the time.

Until you head in for your visit, watch for signs of infection or any other changes (amount of pain, for example) so you’re able to share this info with them and you can all figure out the best course of action – something that you feel comfortable with. And don’t worry too much before your visit, torn nails are very common and usually not an urgent situation. Good luck!

This question and answer originally appeared in a Yabbly AMA that I hosted.

About Author

Jen deHaan is graphic designer, small business owner, and dog person living in Bay Area, California. Jen enjoys learning about dog training and behavior, and has taken several courses and seminars since 2010. She also contributes articles to leading websites, such as Victoria Stilwell's Positively . It all started with a great dog called Mikey (aka "dude"), loved and lost but remembered forever. Jen also runs a freelance business focusing on graphic, web, and UI design at FoundPixel, and a small business creating hand crafted dog products at Stylish Canine.

  • I am guilty of googling. I also like to be well-informed, though, and seek out pros and cons of various aspects of dog care. But Google has caused me to work myself in to a tizzy more than once…

    • Definitely – I do this both for my dogs and myself! But then the good thing is it gives me lots of valuable information to discuss with the professional (vet or human doctor, depending on the scenario!) Knowing the pros and cons of certain things, and alternatives, is so valuable. At least in my opinion… such a personal thing.

  • There are situations when googling is a bad, bad idea
    – when it is an emergency (please, people learn to recognize emergency and when you’re facing one, get off the computer and to the vet)
    – when you KNOW your dog needs a vet and you’re trying to google your way out of it

    Otherwise there is nothing wrong with googling, as long as you know what to do with the information you find. I google a lot, I google just about everything. I read it, consider it – and here is the important point – discuss it with our vet.

    If you follow that procedure, google to your heart’s content.

    • Excellent addition. Yes, we do see a lot of that don’t we. On the original Yabbly thread this post was from (linked above) there was one case of that and my response was not much more than “get to a vet right away” while my jaw was dropped the question was being asked in the first place. Still shocked even knowing this stuff happens a lot.

      There is a lot of responsibility and educated decision making involved with such care, but when done appropriately (at appropriate times, appropriate resources, and alongside professional assistance) I believe it enhances overall pet care. At least it has helped me make much better decisions for my guys.

  • Sue

    Great post. I do google for information, but it is my vet I trust. Our rule is better safe than sorry and we don’t think twice about contacting our vet.

    • Never let go of a vet you trust and shares your values – definitely the best resource of all. I hope to find another myself one day.

      • (I should add, we go to vets all the time. I just mean I don’t have one yet in my area that completely shares my values… we actually use three different vets to sort of cover all the bases. I’d love to find a great east/west vet in my area that fully supports raw and non-chemical preventatives while also providing western practices when needed. Hence, why we have three! Anyway – just want to clarify that!)

  • As a librarian by training I always worry about people’s use of the internet for answering questions. I do it, but I’ve also been trained in checking sources, looking at dates, verifying references…most people aren’t and it’s not good. Taking an answer from a Yahoo Forum is just scary.

    • Couldn’t agree more. I should have probably bold faced “reputable”… truly a key word. Yahoo Answers is… well, I might throw a party if it’s discontinued lets say.