Dr. Google

August 28, 2014

The internet now pervades all areas of life and can be a fantastic source of information on any number of topics. It allows us to sit in our armchairs with our tablet computer or smartphone and become an expert on any topic – well nearly!

I was reminded this week of the limitations that Google and the other search engines have when a lady appeared in my consultation room clutching a Yorkshire Terrier. The dog looked scared but the owner looked positively terrified and the red rims around her eyes betrayed the fact that she had been in floods of tears.

On questioning the owner, I learned that the Yorkshire Terrier had passed a loose motion that morning, and that there were traces of blood in the faeces. Dog and owner were inseparable soul mates since the lady had suffered a relationship breakdown 2 months earlier so she had rushed to the computer in search of a cause for the abnormal motion.

The lady thrust a handwritten note to me with the words “alimentary lymphoma” written down. This was the diagnosis that Dr Google had suggested. Alimentary Lymphoma is an aggressive, invasive cancer of the intestine which certainly can result in loose motions and blood in the faeces but would not be at the top of my list of initial concerns.

On physical examination, I could feel no evidence of a mass in the abdomen but I suggested that we perform an ultrasound scan to be certain. I was able to perform the scan while the lady waited and there was no evidence of a mass on scan but lots of gas that was likely to suggest a tummy bug. I was able to reassure the anxious owner and suggested a course of probiotics to aid the recovery.

In this case, the internet diagnosis alarmed the owner unnecessarily by being far more serious than the reality however I have seen a number of cases recently where owners have misdiagnosed a problem based on on-line information and where the pet has suffered while the owner tries to self-medicate with remedies purchased on line.

While the internet can be a useful source of information and can be a real aid to a well-informed pet owner, it is no substitute for a Veterinary degree. While there is some useful information about pet behaviour and health available online, particularly from the established animal charities, the best source of information for animal health concerns will always be your vet who knows your pet.

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