Can I Use the Internet to Diagnose My Cat's Runny Nose?

Browsing the Internet
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Q. My cat is sneezing and has a runny nose. I searched the web for her symptoms, and I'm pretty sure I know what's going on. Should I take her to the veterinarian, or can I treat her sniffles at home?

A. While upper respiratory infections are not uncommon in cats — and it is likely but not certain that's what your cat has — you need an accurate diagnosis to be sure of the cause of the symptoms. Without the right diagnosis, you won’t get the right course of treatment. And left untreated, even a "routine" viral infection could get deadly serious, with complications such as pneumonia.

The Internet Can't Replace Your Vet

Your question brings up a very important point: Not all illnesses can be treated at home. While the Internet is a useful source of information and can help you assess your cat's symptoms in a very general way, it does not and cannot replace the hands-on expertise of a veterinarian when it comes to caring for your pet. There are a couple of reasons for this:

  • Pet owners may not be noticing some symptoms that are essential to an accurate diagnosis, or may be misreading others.
  • General guidelines for care are just that: general. Your pet’s veterinarian is able to tailor a treatment plan to exactly what your pet has and how best to treat your pet as an individual.

That’s not a bash on pet owners, by the way: Veterinarians go through years of intensive training to know what to look for, how to diagnose accurately and how to treat disease. I also cannot stress enough the importance of that hands-on care. As a veterinarian, I need to get my hands on your pet, literally, and engage all my senses and all my training to develop an accurate diagnosis. I simply cannot do that from my computer, without knowing anything more about your cat than what you’ve told me.

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