From the minute you bring a new pet home, as well as the companionship, fun and general entertainment there will always be a lot of questions and there will always be plenty of people more than happy to give you their advice and opinions. From your mother (always!) to the lady down the road that’s owned dogs for years, to the man in the pet shop, to your vet (listen to them!) and, of course, the internet. However, sometimes views vary wildly and it can be difficult to know who to trust.
With any health related issue a vet should always be your first port of call; either by booking an appointment or ringing for advice. A good clinic will always be happy to chat on the phone but in many cases will want to see your pet before giving you a definitive answer. This can sometimes put people off but if you are concerned enough to ring, very often your suspicions are correct and there is a problem. However, there are many simple queries that can be handled over the phone, so do pick it up! Even at night and weekends, with a single call you should be able to speak to a vet or nurse, as in the UK all practices are required by law to provide a 24 hour service.
Sometimes though, you might have questions that are more mundane or trivial or want the answer right now and that is when you will fire up Google! However, this is when things can get tricky. There are loads of brilliant sites out there giving excellent quality advice but there is also an awful lot of old wives tails, self-important pontificators and downright bonkers information as well! How do you decide which is which and what to believe?
The best places to start are probably the big, established websites. My favourites are; icatcare.org, this site has an enormous library, covering topics from general care, to behavioural and health issues; cats.org.uk, this is the website for the Cats Protection charity and contains lots of articles including many relating to common queries and general care; dogstrust.org.uk, is particularly strong on articles related to behavioural problems, training and responsible dog ownership and; pdsa.org.uk, covers all species of pet animals with a huge range of health, husbandry and behavioural topics. Of course, vethelpdirect.com, is unique in that it allows you to in-put your pet’s symptoms or your concerns and receive specific advice tailored to the problem. Finally, do pay a visit to my own site, catthevet.com, it’s great!
If you are after more specific information, for example a particular disease or health issue, again there is lots of great quality advice out there. A nurse I work with recently had to have her dog’s leg amputated and she found great comfort from the website and forum tripawds.com. Forums like this exist for most pet health issues, and for specific breeds or interests like agility or working dogs, and they can be a fabulous way of speaking with people in similar situations. Most give excellent advice and support but don’t embark on any changes to your pet’s medications, routine or training without consulting your vet first.
There are also many sites run to accompany particular medications and diseases. My favourites are; itchfreepet.co.uk, about allergies, canine-cushings.co.uk, detailing Cushings disease in dogs, pet-diabetes.co.uk, covering diabetes management in cats and dogs and vetmedin.co.uk, a commonly used medication to treat heart disease in dogs. Ask your vet if your pet has a chronic condition, there is most likely a website out there for them!
Back in the real world, there are no shortage of people to give you advice or offer their services. However, the area of pet ‘para-professionals’ (and here I’m thinking behaviourists, nutritionists, alternative therapists, even masseuses (!)) is highly unregulated and although governing bodies exist, it is not compulsory to join them. So, if you want to contact someone like this, do speak to your vet first. We are always open to our patients having extra help and we are likely to know the best, and properly qualified, people in our local area.
I am a big fan of the internet & the information it gives. I often direct my clients to sites I know will be helpful and find if someone has done their research before seeing me, it usually makes my job easier. Equally, if an owner wants to explore alternative or complimentary therapies for their pets I am happy to support them (provided conventional treatment is kept up) and we keep a list of registered practitioners in the practice.
However, when on-line use the same common sense as in the real world and if it seems crazy, unlikely or too good to be true, then it probably is!
Cat Henstridge BVSc MRCVS