Consult Your Veterinarian, Not Your Facebook Friends
by Lynn Stacy-Smith
Jackson has not been feeling well this week and I have been a worried dog parent. After two trips to the vet and several medications later, he seems to be getting back to his normal self. I was elated to see happy tail wagging and some interest in playtime with Tinkerbell, particularly after a rough day yesterday.
It all started with some very loose stools, but I was not too alarmed because he was on a different food than our normal Canine Caviar because I had been tardy in placing our online order. When he vomited a few times over a five-day period, I grew more concerned but decided to wait and see if it would pass on his own. He had been eating grass and I wondered if that too was a result of being on a different food. But when Jackson turned up his nose at breakfast on Monday, I called the vet immediately. He is a dog who loves to eat, and he has only turned down food once in his entire life. After a thorough exam, blood work, and my vet’s analysis of his fecal sample under her microscope, we had a diagnosis: colitis.
On Tuesday I could see significant improvement and was excited that the vomiting stopped, his voracious appetite was back, his poop slightly more firm, and he was acting more like his normal self. On Wednesday, though, he was listless and only wanted to curl up on the sofa in the smallest ball that a 75 pound Labrador Retriever can morph into. I noticed as I petted him and checked on him that he would not fully open one of his eyes. You could see it in his face and body language that he felt awful. Once again, we headed to the vet and this time he was diagnosed with uveitis, an inflammation of the eye.
Today is Thursday and his eye is already open again after just two doses of prescription steroidal eye drops. His spunk and energy is returning and he engaged Tinkerbell in some playtime this afternoon. Of course as his energy returns, my own stress level recedes. I am relieved and thankful that we went to the vet for both issues and that we have medicine that worked so quickly to help him feel better.
As a dog owner it can often be confusing about when to run to the vet and when to wait to see if an issue will resolve itself. Some dog owners are afraid of being the type of human to run their dogs to the doctor for every sneeze or loose stool, but the fact that our dogs cannot speak to us with words makes it tricky to try to figure out how they feel. For other dog owners it is the cost involved, particularly if an issue turns out to be something that could just pass naturally on its own.
As their caretakers, we have to rely on our knowledge of how they usually act to determine if they are not feeling good. For many dogs, taking a moment to decide if they want to eat or not when given their food is quite normal behavior. My late Babe was a grazer, even as a Labrador, and did not always eat at first. For Jackson, it was a huge red flag that it was time to consult my veterinarian to see what was wrong.
Personally, I will always “err” on the side of caution with my dogs and go to the vet. I don’t consider it an error at all, in fact I would rather go on a false alarm than not know what is happening. I will try to fix some things on my own, like treating loose stools with a probiotic or a serving of Perfect Form by The Honest Kitchen for a few days before taking them into the veterinary clinic. If I see or smell the start of an ear infection, I will treat it with Panalog for a day or two that I have on hand from past ear issues. I have some holistic essential oil mixtures for things like hot spots or minor skin irritations. Anything more than those situations, though, and I want an expert opinion.
As a dog lover and dog blogger, I am in quite a few dog related groups on various social media platforms, and I always cringe when I see photographs of various issues and the question of, “What do you think this is?” It is interesting and sometimes alarming to see the types of questions that people will ask their peers in Facebook groups expecting an educated answer.
Around 80% of the replies to these medical advice inquiries consist of other owners telling stories of how their own dog had a rash or lump or whatever is being asked about and how they dealt with it. The other 20% of the replies are fellow dog owners whose comment is the same as what I am thinking in my own head, “Stop asking on here and just take your dog to the vet!”
Don’t get me wrong, I have made some amazing friends on Facebook and many of those have vast knowledge of dogs, dog behavior, and dog health. But none of them are veterinarians except for my actual veterinarian, and I try my hardest not to abuse our friendship by asking her medical questions outside of the office.
As someone who has lived the last four decades with dogs, I have seen and dealt with a lot of medical issues. I have tended to my dogs’ medical needs for everything from a bloody tail worn raw by wagging across a cement floor in the boarding kennel to providing physical therapy three times a day for four months to our Basset Hound following spinal surgery. I have applied every type of ointment, eye drop, ear drop, slurry, or pill you can imagine. Through all of that, I am not a veterinarian and I never will be.
Neither I nor the hundreds of thousands of fellow dog owners on Facebook can correctly diagnose a growth, rash, pulled muscle, virus, or other illness through a photograph of a dog who is miles away. In fact, by asking, all you are doing is freaking yourself out and wasting valuable time when you could be setting up an appointment with the one person in your life who can tell you what’s wrong. Trust me, I know about the freaking yourself out part!
I used to be the type of person to immediately Google any symptom that the dogs or I were having. My husband was only half-joking when he used to tell me that he was going to figure out how to block sites like WebMD because I would find a whole array of things that “could” be the issue and I would worry myself into a frenzy before ever getting to the human doctor or veterinarian. Over time he has rubbed off on me and I have mostly figured out to stay calm and not panic until all of the information is available and we have seen an actual medical professional who has done an exam, any necessary tests, and given a diagnosis and possible treatments.
Sharing a photo to social media for all of the armchair veterinarians to analyze can have the same result: driving you crazy and causing major stress until you can see the actual vet. Since dogs can sense our stress levels and will react to them, by stressing yourself out worrying, you could be causing your dog to be tense at a time when you want them to be as relaxed as possible in order to promote healing. As a reformed Google-er and worrier, I can tell you that you will be happy that you did and the money you spent getting an actual answer (instead of amateur speculation) is well worth the mental peace that goes hand in paw as you get her or him back to feeling their happy, healthy self.