Finding reliable pet health information

Image by Martine Auvray from Pixabay 

When we’re worried about our animal friend’s health, it’s easy to go down a rabbit hole in search of answers. It doesn’t matter if the search term is a symptom, diagnosis, or treatment. Most of us have done it and wound up even more confused or misinformed, which helps no one.

Knowing where to look and where to be wary can yield better outcomes and fewer headaches. Based on many years as a journalist, animal wellness practitioner, and pet mom, here are my suggestions for accurate, credible animal health information sources:

Your veterinarian

Your veterinarian and vet clinic should be your primary source for your pet’s health. They know you and your animals. If you don’t have a vet you trust, find one by asking fellow pet parents you trust. Online testimonials and reviews are helpful, but nothing beats a personal referral.

If you’re afraid of asking a stupid question or bothering the vet clinic staff, consider that some of the most pertinent questions are the seemingly stupid ones (i.e., “Where are my pants?”). Your vet and staff are your chief allies in your pet’s well-being. It’s OK to ask them, “Where can I learn more about this?” They’d rather steer you toward a trusted source than have you paralyzed with fear or try an unproven “miracle cure” that may do more harm than good.

Veterinary schools

Places like the Purdue University College of Veterinary Medicine (our Indiana example) educate and train tomorrow’s veterinary professionals. Vet school faculty and staff members are trained scientists whose job it is to figure stuff out — accurately and without bias. (More on bias in a moment.)

University-conducted studies can be wonderful sources of information and insight. Keep in mind that a single study is seldom, if ever, the final answer. What we know about our animals, our world, and ourselves is constantly evolving.

Also, these studies are generally written with a style and terminology that leave you wondering what on earth is wrong with plain English. They’re intended for a professional or academic audience. That’s cool, but you may want something more accessible.

Fortunately, the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine website’s Health Topics section is geared toward both veterinarians and pet owners. I especially like the information I’ve found on the Cornell Feline Health Center page.

Now to the question of bias. When you are reading a media report on a study that links X to Y, or which indicates A is beneficial in the treatment of B, click the link to the actual study. It may be a university study in a professional journal, or it could be a press release.

Either way, look at who paid for and conducted the study. Would they have a vested interest in the outcome? For example, if a study about the benefits of CBD oil was paid for or conducted by a company that makes CBD supplements, I wouldn’t give that study much weight. Its conclusions may prove correct in time, but show me some independent research. Also look at any conflicts of interest disclosed by the authors themselves.

Again, resist the impulse to draw conclusions from research that may not be conclusive.

Professional associations

The American Veterinary Medical Association’s website includes resources for pet owners — including, of course, how best to partner with your veterinarian for your animal friend’s best life. (There’s also a great article on getting pet health information online, which hits some points I do not here.)

The American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association’s Holistic Veterinary Therapies page is where I would start for information on complementary and alternative therapies such as chiropractic, acupuncture, and more.

Don’t overlook the library

I’ve been talking about online information here, but I’m old enough that, once upon a time, the stacks were my first stop. But my advice is similar. Look at the credentials of the author(s) and don’t get swept up in “breakthrough,” “miracle,” “revolutionary,” or similar claims.

Those are the sources to seek. Briefly, here are the sources to evaluate more carefully:

• Sites owned by businesses selling a product or service. This goes for mine, too. Do they link to reliable sources of health information? Do the claims seem too good to be true?

• Blogs (again, including mine), message boards, social media and anyplace else where people can post anything. What sources, if any, does the person reference? Is he or she angry? Grieving?

• Wikipedia. Being a free-for-all may be part of its charm. Fine. Just look in the text and footnotes for links to reliable sources.

Bottom line: When you’re evaluating a source of information on animal health, always consider the who and the why. Then — again — work with a veterinarian you trust.

Pet ingestion question? There’s an app

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Image by David Mark from Pixabay

Wondering if it’s OK to give a particular food or medication to your cat? Maybe your dog got hold of a human medication, and your vet’s office is closed. A Google search yields contradictory answers.

Dr. Mari Delaney, a veterinarian of 25 years in Elmira, New York, has developed the Vet Protect app. It gives you a quick, expert answer on foods, medications, and things like borax ant traps. It also gives you a vet bill estimate on the toxic items. Users are invited to request items that are not on the list.

Dr. Delaney developed the app after treating a 10-year-old Rottweiler whose person mistakenly gave her Aleve. With aggressive treatment, the dog recovered, but it easily could have gone the other way.

I learned about the app while hearing Dr. Delaney interviewed on Dr. Bernadine Cruz’  The Pet Doctor podcast, and downloaded it myself. You just never know when you might need help in a hurry, and I liked Dr. Delaney’s approach and energy.

As a gardener, I wish the app included more plants … but that might be something to suggest. Vet Protect is available on iTunes and Google Play.

CBD for pets? Five things to consider

A number of pet owners tout the benefits of CBD (cannabidiol) oil for joint pain, anxiety, and even epilepsy. Some say it’s the only thing that helped after other treatments failed. 

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While there is little data to support the use of CBD for humans, and even less for animals, you can find it everywhere from gas stations and boutiques to specialty CBD stores, online retailers, and individual sales representatives. Some formulations are made specifically for animals.

As an animal Reiki practitioner and animal communicator, I often work with people who are trying to figure out how to help their sick, hurting, or inconsolably anxious animal companions. I’ve been there myself. As a journalist, finding accurate and unbiased information is also important. So if you’re thinking about trying CBD for your pet, I want to point you in a direction that will help you make an informed decision.

After doing my own research, asking around, paying attention to conversations on the topic, and talking with a trusted veterinarian, I suggest considering the following:

1. It’s legal, but veterinarians face restrictions.

As of March 2018, the cannabis-derived product is legal here in Indiana as long as it meets certain labeling requirements and contains less than 0.3 percent delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC. (That’s the substance that produces the “high”). Cannabis laws vary by state.

On the federal level, the Drug Enforcement Administration still categorizes CBD as a Schedule 1 controlled substance. Veterinarians are not allowed to prescribe or recommend CBD. They can’t even discuss it unless the client brings it up. Check out this article in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association.

2. Quality may vary, and interactions are unknown.

Do you know, or does the seller or manufacturer know, what’s really in your CBD oil? Is it less than 0.3 percent (the legal limit) THC? Where and how were the ingredients sourced?

There may well be some excellent animal CBD products out there with organic or responsibly sourced ingredients and airtight supply chains. Business owners and pet parents I deeply respect may be selling and using these products with due diligence and success.

With CBD relatively recently legalized and so many products hitting the market, there are probably a number of inferior, fake, or even toxic ones out there as well. The popularity and marketing of CBD products are outpacing research and regulation, Dr. Jerry Klein, chief veterinary officer for the American Kennel Club, told NBC News.

This brings up another unknown, and a question your vet cannot legally answer: How will even the purest CBD product interact with the medications or supplements your animal is already taking?

3. There may be better, safer alternatives.

CBD isn’t the only oil out there. Essential oils for animals are not without controversy, but you can at least discuss, say, peppermint oil with your veterinarian without legal restriction. The same goes for other supplements with more research behind their ingredients.

If you’re worried about the effects of traditional medications for pain or anxiety, talk to your vet about trying a lower dose, at least to start. With my own animal companions, I’ve found less can be more.

Reiki, a stress-relief modality which is part of my practice, can also help with issues such as pain and anxiety. I admit the research supporting this is not extensive, either. However, a 2017 Australian study, which looked at previous (human) clinical studies on whether Reiki provided more than a placebo effect, is encouraging. Reiki is non-invasive and substance-free, so even if you don’t see how it could possibly help, it will do no harm.

4. Trust is key.

Whether you’re giving your pet a prescribed antibiotic or considering a supplement such as CBD, you have to be able to trust 1) the person prescribing or selling it and 2) the maker of the product (whom the prescriber or seller presumably trusts).

Most important: Our trust in these folks needs to be worthy of our animal friends’ trust in us.

5. The research is ongoing.

Research on CBD for animals is in progress, so more conclusive information is likely to emerge. As it does, pay attention to what each study concludes (or doesn’t), who conducted it, who funded it, and whether any conflicts of interest were disclosed.

Also, see this story from Consumer Reports, which I consider a good source for unbiased consumer information, on the question of using CBD for animals. It includes guidance on what to look for should you decide to explore further.

What we know is expanding. In the meantime, I think caution is warranted.

Image by OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay