Browsing the Internet

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.

Proper Care Requires Experience and Observation

The best use of the Internet is as a complement and supplement to the care of a good veterinarian. Websites like this one offer fantastic educational resources that provide pet owners with accurate information on diseases, injuries and symptoms. But the Internet should never take the place of a trained medical professional. That’s as true for your pet’s health care as it is for your own.

Once your veterinarian has provided an accurate diagnosis, she will be able to work with you on supportive care at home to make your cat more comfortable during the course of recovery. Your veterinarian will also work with you to ensure that you’ll be able to administer any necessary medications. Cats can be difficult to "pill", after all, and there are other options your veterinarian can offer. But none of those options is available through your computer — only in your vet's office. Call today and get your cat in for an appointment.