Pet Connection

Vetting Dr. Google

5 ways to evaluate information you find on the internet

Andrews McMeel Syndication

When you think something's wrong with your dog or cat, the first thing you do is Google the symptoms. Are we right? We bet we are. Studies show that 3 out of 4 people go to the internet before calling their veterinarians or taking their pets to the clinic.

We understand. If you're worried about your pet, you want to have an idea right away of what might be wrong. But "Dr. Google" isn't always the best source of information for what's going on with your pet or how to treat it. We're not just saying that because we think you should take your furry friend to the veterinarian if he's sick (although we do). The internet is an amazing source of all kinds of knowledge, but it's also full of unreliable, out-of-date and just plain wrong advice. The fact is, some information is more equal than other information.

More important, nothing on the internet beats an in-person exam by your veterinarian. Dr. Becker has seen at least five instances in the past couple of years of pets dying because well-meaning owners relied on information found on the web and brought them in for help when it was too late.

We don't want you to stop going to the internet for information; it can be a valuable resource. We do want to help you learn to find and evaluate the best information. Here's what to look for.

-- Authorship. Who wrote the article? What are his or her credentials? Knowing the writer's background or affiliation with a particular institution allows you to judge how knowledgeable he or she is on the subject. You should also look for evidence of bias. Is the author pushing a particular viewpoint? Does the page belong to a company selling a product?

-- Source. Is the information from an academic institution or university, a government agency or a professional organization? Those are generally reliable and authoritative sites. Other good sites have articles that are written or reviewed by veterinarians.

Some of our favorites are Cornell Feline Health Center, FearFreeHappyHomes.com, VeterinaryPartner.com and Winn Feline Foundation. A personal page may have good information, but it's important to look carefully at the writer's credentials and documentation of that information.

-- Evidence. What's the proof behind what you're reading? Does the author refer to other sources to back up the information? Who or what are the sources? If a study is mentioned, the writer should include where and when it was published. Then you can look up the summary and find out what kind of study it was.

For medical evidence, randomized controlled trials -- meaning that the study participants were randomly assigned to treatment or control groups -- provide the most reliable results. Does the study appear in a peer-reviewed journal -- meaning that impartial scientists who weren't part of the study evaluated it before publication? You can check the journal's website to see if studies are sent out for review before publication.

-- Reliability. Is the information similar to what you've read on the subject elsewhere, or is it way out in left field? That doesn't necessarily make it wrong, but it does mean that you should cast an extra-critical eye on the ideas presented. It's always a good idea to look at several sources so you can have a well-rounded understanding of the topic.

-- Currentness. How old is the information? What we know can change quickly in this field. Beware of undated information. Look for sites that are updated regularly.

Dr. Google makes it easy to find information, but if you want to be really knowledgeable, you still have to put in the hard work of making sure it's accurate. And remember that you have a primary source just an appointment away: your veterinarian.

Q&A

Poor grooming, gland

issues cause 'stud tail'

Q: My Persian cat's tail makes him look as if he has a bad case of acne. The base of the tail is all flaky, and it has bumps that look like blackheads. What's causing it, and is there anything I can do?

A: Overactive sebaceous glands are usually behind the development of acne in human teenagers, and they can cause similar problems in cats. It just happens to affect the tail instead of the face (although cats can get facial acne as well).

Nicknamed "stud tail" because it used to be thought that it was limited to unneutered male cats, this uncommon condition is now known to affect both male and female cats, including those who have been spayed or neutered. Cats like your Persian, with his long, beautiful coat, can be prone to it, as can Siamese and rex cats. We usually see it in cats who don't do a good job of grooming their tails.

Cats with stud tail need to worry about more than getting a date to the purr-rom. The gunk in those blackheads can plug hair follicles, leading to a bacterial infection (folliculitis). If it gets really bad, the cat can get the feline equivalent of pimples: painful and itchy boils or pustules.

If your cat isn't grooming his tail properly because he's overweight and is having trouble reaching his tail, you need to help him reach a healthy weight through diet and exercise. Talk to your veterinarian about developing a plan that will help him shrink his size.

Sometimes we don't know why stud tail develops. If this is the case, you can try to manage it with wipes, shampoos or topical products that will work to remove debris on the surface of the fur and prevent the hair follicles from becoming plugged. Your veterinarian can recommend some antiseborrheic products that will be safe for your cat. Cats with bacterial folliculitis may need a course of antibiotics to resolve the problem. Keep the tail area clean so the problem doesn't recur. -- Dr. Marty Becker

Do you have a pet question? Send it to askpetconnection@gmail.com or visit Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker.

THE BUZZ

Salmonella infections

linked to pig ears

-- The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are investigating a suspected link between pig ear treats and human cases of salmonellosis. According to the CDC, 45 cases of humans infected with salmonella have been reported in 13 states, with 12 people hospitalized. Of the people interviewed so far, 17 of 24 (71%) reported contact with pig ear dog treats or with dogs who were fed pig ear dog treats. Pet Supplies Plus is recalling bulk pig ears distributed to stores in 33 states. Prepackaged pig ears are not included in the recall. Consumers who purchased the pig ears should return them to the retailer for a refund. The CDC recommends using hot, soapy water to wash containers, shelves or other areas where recalled pig ears were stored.

-- Earthquakes, tornadoes, floods -- whatever natural disaster is common in your area, be sure pets are as well prepared as other family members. Pack a go-bag for them that includes a week’s supply of food, fresh water, medication, vaccination records and pet health insurance policies. Include a recent photo of each pet in case you become separated from them, and update your contact info with microchip or tattoo registration organizations.

-- Researchers in Finland surveyed owners of 5,726 cats from 40 breeds and found differences in social interactions, activity level, shyness toward strangers and novel objects, and other behaviors. Behavior traits studied were moderately or highly heritable, and personality factors such as extraversion, fearfulness and aggression were often correlated to the cat’s phenotype (appearance) and genetics. Some behaviors are selected for by cat breeders. Others may hitch a ride with a gene for fur or eye color. The largest differences in behavior were observed in activity level and the smallest in stereotypical behaviors, such as wool sucking. -- Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker

ABOUT PET CONNECTION

Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet care experts headed by “The Dr. Oz Show” veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker, founder of the Fear Free organization and author of many best-selling pet care books, and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. Joining them is behavior consultant and lead animal trainer for Fear Free Pets Mikkel Becker. Dr. Becker can be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at Facebook.com/KimCampbellThornton and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at Facebook.com/MikkelBecker and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.

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