replied 4 years ago.
We are very careful to avoid practicing medicine without a license on the website. All of us working here, after all, are licensed veterinarians and we want to keep our licenses. Many, if not most, like me are people who are still actively engaged in everyday practice. We know what you're talking about when it comes to educating the public about how "... You really need to take Fluffy in to be examined by the vet." Our receptionists handle those phone calls every day.
The disclaimers for all the licensed professional services represented on this website clearly state that all information provided is strictly for informational purposes only and does not constitute a valid client/patient relationship nor does it substitute for a hands-on examination by a licensed professional.
Additionally, many of the expert veterinarians who work here have language on their default signatures that expresses the same thing.
Yes. Some customers come to this website looking for a shortcut around going to the vet. When I get one like that, I use my best communication and customer service skills to steer them back on course. Sometimes it takes a lot of persistence, but they seem to eventually understand that if they want to know what is going on with their pet, they have to take it in. We also get customers who don't understand the value of diagnostic testing. We explain it time and time again.
People have loads of questions we can answer without diagnosing and prescribing, however. It's great to be helpful to them.
In a way, it's kind of ironic that the easiest questions for me to answer sometimes are the "My dog is doing x,y, or z. What should I do?" The answer is, "Take him to the vet,"
To increase your peace of mind, I'll offer the following copy/pasted text from the last question I answered:
CUSTOMER: I have an 8 year old Boston Terrier, who has dropped a lot of weight in the past 2 weeks and has recently started wheezing. He is also likes to lay in his cage now, rather than play with our other dogs, which is extremely unusual. He had awful diarrhea just before he started losing weight, but we haven't noticed any more until just recently. The main thing is he is skinny, wheezing, and larthargic. He has been given some general wormer, which does not seem to have an affect. Also, as far as we have noticed, he is not vomiting any more than usual.
Type of Dog: Boston Terrier
Dog's Gender: Male
Dog's Age: 8
Name of Dog: Zodie
What have you tried so far?: Just general wormer, and giving him more enticing food.
Dr. Jo : Hello, My name isXXXXX and I would be happy to help you with your question about Zodie. I'm so sorry he isn't doing well and I completely understand why you are worried about him.
Dr. Jo : As an 8-year-old Boston, there are several different things that could be causing these symptoms, and some of them are serious. I'm sorry to tell you this, but it's important to take action to get to the bottom of this.
JACUSTOMER-jc18ep2v- : I understand.
Dr. Jo : The possible causes range widely: respiratory disease, cardiac disease, metabolic diseases (like liver disease, kidney disease, pancreatitis), parasitic diseases are still possible even though he's been dewormed, this could be something infectious, or --- I'm sorry to say -- it's also possible this is related to something as serious as cancer.
Dr. Jo : If you were to arrive at my veterinary clinic with Zodie and tell me he was showing these symptoms, I would start with a thorough physical exam, some basic blood tests, a stool sample evaluation, and a urinalysis. That would show me where the problem is.
Dr. Jo : It may even take x-rays to uncover the problem.
Dr. Jo : Regardless, it's very important to understand that he wouldn't get this sick just because he doesn't like the food---- that's why trying to entice his with new food hasn't helped.
Dr. Jo : The general wormer was also a good start, but clearly that isn't enough either.
Dr. Jo : Does Zodie take a regular heartworm preventive every month?
JACUSTOMER-jc18ep2v- : No
Dr. Jo : What area of the country do you live in, please?
JACUSTOMER-jc18ep2v- : My dad is the one who asked me to look into it, he is wondering if it is heartworms.
JACUSTOMER-jc18ep2v- : I live in SC, and he is an outdoor mainly dog.
JACUSTOMER-jc18ep2v- : But from talking to my father, he hasn't coughed any, he just has a wheeze.
JACUSTOMER-jc18ep2v- : Also, I said he had diarrhea a couple of weeks ago, it was explosive. Like, really bad. But just for a night, then he just started losing weight.
Dr. Jo : Oh, yes... your dad is a smart guy. Considering where you live and the fact that Zodie hasn't been on heartworm prevention, heartworm disease is very likely. It doesn't have to cause a cough, by the way. The wheezing, weight loss and lethargy may be all that show. The good news is that if money is tight, you can take him to the vet just for a heartworm test quite inexpensively. Please keep in mind, however, that just a heartworm test won't tell you anything besides if he has heartworm or not. He still may have other problems.
Also, the conditions of our website specific you have to be over eighteen to use the website. I need to ask your age, please.
JACUSTOMER-jc18ep2v- : I am 18. I am at university, which is why I am not with Zodie.
Dr. Jo : Okay, good. Wow. It has to be frustrating for you to be away from Zodie and know he is sick. I'm sorry.
Dr. Jo : Please advise your father that it is still completely possible this IS heartworms, even though he isn't coughing.
Dr. Jo : And the only way to find out for sure is to have him tested.
JACUSTOMER-jc18ep2v- : His ribs are showing because he has lost weight, but from talking to them, his chest isn't bulging or anything.
Dr. Jo : His chest may not bulge. The only way to know is have him tested.
JACUSTOMER-jc18ep2v- : Are there any other types of parasites that would do the same/similar things?
JACUSTOMER-jc18ep2v- : Also, would it affect any of the other dogs?
Dr. Jo : Heartworm is the most likely, but yes. There are some other parasites that could do similar things.
Dr. Jo : Yes. It is possible this is something that could be transmissible to the other dogs.
Dr. Jo : It may be due to any of a number of things, some parasitic, some not. Some contagious, some not. Most treatable, some not.
JACUSTOMER-jc18ep2v- : How so? We have four other dogs that he is around a lot.
Dr. Jo : To thoroughly diagnose a dog as sick as Zodie takes a thorough physical examination, routine blood tests (including a heartworm test), urinalysis, and stool sample test.
Dr. Jo : This could be something like a protozoan, bacterial, viral, or parasitic infection that could be spread through the feces or airborne. Such things may or may not infect all dogs exposed. Unfortunately, you cannot rule in or out the possibility of an infectious disease simply by observing if the other dogs are sick or not. Some may be infected without showing symptoms.
Dr. Jo : The only way to know for certain is to have Zodie tested.
JACUSTOMER-jc18ep2v- : Is it normal for a dog with heartworms to suddenly show an onslaught of symptoms like this?
Dr. Jo : Yes. It is normal. Unfortunately, what is "normal" varies a lot. Some dogs with heartworm don't show any symptoms at all, especially in the early stages. Every case is different.
JACUSTOMER-jc18ep2v- : And I am going to try and get my dad to take Zodie to the vet to be tested, but it still might take a bit of convincing.
Dr. Jo : Good. I'm glad you're going to advocate for Zodie. He needs you to do it for him. There is no way to find out what is wrong otherwise.
Dr. Jo : And without knowing what exactly is wrong, you don't know what treatment he needs.
Dr. Jo : Keep in mind, too, there's no hard and fast rule that says Zodie only has one problem. It could be that he has heartworms, but it's early and he doesn't have enough of them to make him sick, and that the symptoms you are currently seeing are due to some other problem and the heartworms are coincidental. That's why a thorough workup is necessary.
Dr. Jo : Is there anything else I can help you with?
JACUSTOMER-jc18ep2v- : I guess not. Well, thank you, XXXXX XXXXX you just confirmed what I already suspected. I will see what I can do about getting him an appointment.
Dr. Jo : Please remember that if you think of other questions later, you can return to this page and post them. You can always post more to this thread, even after you've clicked ACCEPT and entered a rating. I'm happy to help, and I want to be sure you have the information you need to help Zodie.
Dr. Jo : Thank YOU for doing the best you can for Zodie. I'm so sorry he's sick.
JACUSTOMER-jc18ep2v- : Yes. Thank you!
That's just one example of someone who was essentially pushing for an online diagnosis, and how they get handled. Yes, it's possible the dog has heartworm disease, but the only way to know what's wrong with the dog is to take it in.
I hope you find this reassuring. We're actually doing our best to send even more people to the vet.
Let me know if you have other questions. I'm happy to help.
Dr. Jo and 2 other Pet Specialists are ready to help you