Say It Ain’t So!

January 26, 2014

We love our clients. Newtown Square Veterinary Hospital has the most caring, committed, compassionate group of animal owners I’ve ever had the privilege to know. Our clients are willing and able to provide amazing care for Fluffy and Fido, and want to make the best possible decisions for their furry friends. Often, this includes researching medical questions and concerns and talking with friends, breeders and neighbors about their pets. Some sources of pet information are much more reliable than others. There are a few things veterinary staff members hear on a regular basis that make us concerned about the quality of information being transmitted to our fantastic clients.

1.) “My breeder said…”

There are a number of responsible breeders out there, who are devoted to one particular breed. They screen their animals for congenital diseases such as hip dysplasia, they eliminate animals with heritable illness from the breeding pool and overall, they aim to make their animals and their breed as healthy as possible. I wish more breeders fell into this category. Unfortunately, the majority of breeders these days are casual breeders or “backyard breeders” who know little to nothing about their breeds (see my previous post on puppy mills). The reality is that it takes no particular education or training to become a breeder…all you need is an intact male and intact female dog. That’s it. There is a large amount of misinformation propagated by dog breeders (for example, that Breed X has a particular sensitivity to the leptospirosis vaccine or a certain anesthetic drug, or that Breed Y should be fed a grain-free diet, or that Breed Z shouldn’t be spayed until after a few heat cycles) and there is absolutely no scientific data behind these claims.

In contrast, your veterinarian has attended four years of undergraduate education, and at least four years of veterinary school, devoted entirely to biology, genetics, anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, immunology, nutrition, medicine, surgery and anesthesia, just to name a few. We attend veterinary conferences regularly (a minimum of thirty hours of continuing education every two years to maintain our licenses); we read journals weekly; we belong to a fantastic online community of veterinarians and veterinary specialists where we can research complicated cases. We try to practice evidence-based medicine whenever possible; when we recommend something for Fido, it’s because we have scientific data to support our recommendation, or have years of experience and an entire community of veterinarians verifying our information.

2.) “I read on the internet…” or “Dr. Google told me…”

Let’s be honest…we all do it! Researching what that weird spot might be on your arm, whether that loud knocking sound from your car means it’s about to explode and where the cleanest hotels are in Miami is something we all do, myself included. I do, however, have a love/hate relationship with the internet. For the most part, I think the accessibility of information and formation of communities online have been life-changing in the best possible way. Yet, there is a staggering amount of information available to us all, and filtering through it can be difficult and overwhelming. The majority of information online is sound, but a lot of it isn’t (see my previous post on trusting your internet source). The most important thing when Googling information about your pet’s health is to evaluate the source. Is it the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine or the Centers for Disease Control? Then these are clearly trusted, accurate sources. Is it, or These are not trustworthy sources of verifiable medical information.

I tell clients all the time: if you are looking for scary, bad information about a certain drug, vaccine, disease or pet food…you will find it online, especially if you dig deep enough. That’s where verifying your source is essential. Drug companies are required by the FDA to report every “adverse event” that may be associated with a certain drug. What does this mean? If you are reading the list of specific side effects for a drug, you will find a huge laundry list of things. This can sometimes include horrible problems such as “fatal events”, “lymphoma”, “your right arm falling off” and “sleep crime”. Are these side effects common? Of course not! But someone, somewhere in the United States reported them, and thus the drug manufacturer has to publish that information. Have a concern about particular side effects from a medication Fido was prescribed? Ask your veterinarian! We know what the most common side effects are for the medications we prescribe, and can research it (through appropriate veterinary sources) if we don’t!

I never mind if a client has researched something online and comes to me with specific questions; that tells me my client cares and is invested in making the best decisions for Fluffy. Bring your internet questions and concerns to us, and we can help divest fiction from fact!

3.) “Well, Fido’s really old, so that’s why he’s…”

On the first day of veterinary school we learn a few essential truths. One, that cats are not small dogs. And two, that age is not a disease! Simply being geriatric does not automatically cause cats to stop using the litterbox or dogs to bark randomly at night. Your senior cat has probably stopped using the litterbox because she has arthritis and it hurts to climb down the basement stairs to the litter pan! Or she has renal failure, which is causing her to produce excess urine. Fido isn’t barking loudly at night because he’s old and senile; he’s barking because he has cataracts, can’t see in the dark and would benefit from a night light. Advanced age in and of itself is not a diagnosis, and not a reason to explain away subtle changes in Fluffy or Fido’s behavior. With a thorough physical exam, and simple diagnostics such as bloodwork or radiographs, we may diagnose the root of the problem. It may be something that is easily treated (think about that night light)!

4.) “The pet store clerk told me…”

Pet store clerks are typically well-meaning pet lovers who know a good bit about animal husbandry. What they lack, however, is any specific training in canine and feline nutrition. Pet stores often promote specific brands of food, based on incentives and rewards offered by pet food companies- not based on what is nutritionally appropriate for your individual pet. I heard it said once: “Would you go to the grocery store and ask the employee in the produce aisle for food recommendations for your child?” The answer to that question is a resounding no! The same logic should be applied when seeking out pet store employees for nutritional or medical advice. Your veterinarian has taken specific courses in animal nutrition, and knows a vast amount about the nutritional needs of your pet. Just ask us for recommendation on brands and types of food.