The internet and your pet: watch out for this danger

Don't rely solely on the internet for your pet health info

Stories that I get exposed to throughout the day either have a positive effect on my mood and sense of well-being or a negative one. While the facts from any particular story do contribute to the feelings that the reader gets, other intangibles also have an effect. Many times I have read stories that describe something terrible but then go on to put a positive or a “miraculous” spin to the event making the story more dramatic or touching. Although I appreciate this kind of effort, it doesn’t always work for me. A story that describes the increase in visitors to a particular park because there has been an above-average number of colorful butterflies is most likely going to put my mind in a good restful place. A story that describes an avalanche that levels an entire town and injures hundreds of people will not generally make me feel good even though the author points out the one “miracle” house that survived almost completely undamaged. The way my mind works it that it sometimes gets stuck in the negative parts of the story.

Recently, a big social media story described a 12-year-old Pekingese dog, Bonzo, who fell 120 feet from the balcony of a condo and survived. While this story did have a happy outcome, the rest of the afternoon I kept thinking about this poor dog and worrying about my girlfriend’s cats. Abby lives on the 18th floor of a high-rise building, and her particular unit has two balconies. She also has two mischievous cats. Does she always lock the sliding glass doors? I wondered. I immediately called her to discuss my concerns and get some reassurance. Luckily for my peace of mind, Abby was quick to tell me that she is well aware of the danger to pets that live in tall buildings, and once even wrote an article about High Rise Syndrome and cats. She takes precautions every single time she goes outside on the balcony and she goes through several specific precautionary steps every time a visitor comes over.

Stories like these about pets who experience illnesses or injuries have the potential to cause a different kind of trouble for pet owners. Reading a description about a dog whose increased urination, weakness, and weight loss turned out to be an indication of advanced diabetes does not automatically mean that every dog with these symptoms also has diabetes. These days, medications designed to prevent, ward off, or treat certain conditions are more available than ever for the pet owner. Symptoms are easy to look up online for every condition that we’re interested in learning about. This availability of information is wonderful if used judiciously, very judiciously.

No matter how much evidence there is that a pet has a particular disease and how similar our own pet seems to be to the “pet in the story,” the best way to verify if our fears are real is by going to the veterinarian for the proper exams. Since FEAR can be described as False Evidence Appearing Real, self-medicating our pets for conditions based on this fear could have terrible consequences. Medications have side effects, and the only reason someone should be medicating their pets for conditions such as diabetes, hyperthyroidism, infections, urinary tract disease, or other illness is if the veterinarian made the suggestion after performing a physical exam.

How about vitamins and other supplements? Many over-the-counter products such as those containing chondroitin or those containing beneficial ingredients such as fish oil do have a role and provide positive benefits to the health of our pets. A high enough dose of anything, however, could and generally does cause harm. Again, there is so much unfiltered information out there that it is possible even to overdo vitamins and food supplements. As a pharmacist, the thing that I look first is to see if there is some type of evidence that a particular product works, and if the dose that is being recommended is within the generally accepted dose.

The roles of veterinarians and pharmacists in the decision-making process cannot be overstated in this day of information overload. If ever in doubt about a particular over-the-counter product, it is usually best to call one of your 1800PetMeds pharmacists for more information about the products and the dosing. Also, as always, if your pet is behaving differently or you suspect something is wrong, the best course of action is to take the pet for a veterinary exam. Such an exam could save you and your pet much pain and aggravation later on.

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