FIVE WAYS TO EVALUATE INFORMATION YOU FIND ON THE INTERNET
When you think something's wrong with your dog or cat, the first thing you do is Google the symptoms. Am I right? I bet I am. Studies show that three out of four people go to the Internet before calling their veterinarians or taking their pets to the clinic.
I 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. I'm not just saying that because I think you should take your furry friend to the veterinarian if he's sick (although I 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 The Internet is an amazing source of all kinds of knowledge, but it's also full of unreliable, out-of-date and just plain wrong advice.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. I say that after seeing 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.
I don't want you to stop going to the Internet for information. I think it can be a valuable resource. I 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 my favorites are Vetstreet.com (where I write), PetHealthNetwork.com, WebMD Healthy Pets, PetPlace.com, VeterinaryPartners.com and PetMD. A personal or commercial 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.
Poor grooming, overactive
glands lead to '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? -- via email
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
High-tech vests could aid
-- Search-and-rescue dogs equipped with high-tech vests could relay data about environmental hazards as well as the dog's behavior and physiological status, reports Matt Shipman on North Carolina State University's blog The Abstract. Researchers Alper Bozkurt and David Roberts at N.C. State helped to develop the harnesses, which make use of microphones, cameras and environmental sensors to transmit data in real time as the dogs search for victims. With the help of the sensors, handlers can track the well-being of a dog working remotely and determine if he has found a scent, object or area of interest. Bozkurt and Roberts hope that the vests, currently being tested, could help to improve the efficiency and capabilities of search-and-rescue teams.
-- The California State Senate is considering a bill that would designate the California red-legged frog as the state's official amphibian. The bill, AB 2364, passed the Assembly on a 52-8 vote on April 26. The red-legged frog, the largest native frog in the western United States, was made famous by Mark Twain in his short story "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County."
-- Is your dog Ivy League material? If you live in the New Haven, Connecticut, area, you can enroll your canine Einstein in Yale's Canine Cognition Center, where he can participate in studies that call for him to play simple problem-solving games. Dogs of any age, size or breed can volunteer as long as they are vaccinated, healthy, spayed or neutered, and non-aggressive. Study sessions are brief and are scheduled at times that are convenient for owners and dog volunteers. How many dogs do you know who have a diploma from Yale? For more information, go to yaledoglab.sona-systems.com. -- Kim Campbell Thornton
ABOUT PET CONNECTION
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "The Dr. Oz Show" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. They are affiliated with Vetstreet.com and are the authors of many best-selling pet-care books. Joining them is dog trainer and behavior consultant 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.