EPISODE 75 | RELEASED August 28, 2020
Checking Your Dog’s Symptoms on the Internet? Here’s What You Need to Know │ Dr. Alex Avery Deep Dive
When it comes to our dog’s health, you are not alone if you check for symptoms on the internet. A simple online search can provide a wealth of information. But is it good information?
If we think that our dog is sick, we may naturally jump online to check for symptoms. While internet research can be easy and helpful, there are risks that affect our pets if the source is incorrect. In this episode, Dr. Avery, veterinarian and founder of Our Pets Health, explains why there is a growing number of online pet health misinformation and shares tips on how to make better decisions based on your search.
Our guest, Dr. Alex Avery, veterinarian and founder of Our Pets Health, knows that it doesn’t take much time online to come across harmful pet health advice and recommendations.
Links Mentioned in Today’s Show:
Dr. Avery’s website, Our Pets Health: https://ourpetshealth.com/
Trustortrash.org: Tool to help you think critically about the quality of health information.
>>Dr. Alex Avery: it’s only natural that we jump online when we’ve got any problem. And it’s the same with our pet. And while there’s some fantastic information online there’s also no barrier to entry.
>> Misty: Welcome to Dog Cancer Answers, where we help you, help your dog with Cancer. Here’s your host James Jacobson.
>> James Jacobson: Hi there. Ever hear the phrase “Just Google it?” I’m sure you have. It’s no surprise that you can find answers to complex questions through a simple Google search. However, it goes without saying that you can’t trust everything you read on the internet. That certainly includes information related to our dogs’ health. While doing your research is always recommended, there are many things to be mindful of when seeking resources online and through social media. So today, we’ll talk with Dr. Alex Avery, Founder of a website called OurPetsHealth.com.
But first: A big thank you (or mahalo as we say here in Hawaii) To today’s sponsor: The best-selling animal health book, the Dog Cancer Survival Guide by Demian Dressler and Susan Ettinger. It is considered the bible of dog cancer–and you can get it wherever fine books or sold or online at DogCancerBook.com
Our guest today–Dr. Avery is the resource that many dog lovers find when seeking answers to their most dire questions. So he is more than equipped to discuss the best ways we can avoid information overload and also find a balance when seeking information, especially after your dog’s cancer diagnosis, when you may be feeling the most overwhelmed and vulnerable.
Dr. Alex, Avery, thanks for being with us today.
>> Dr. Alex Avery: Oh, thanks for the invitation. I’m really excited to be here about what we’re about to talk about.
>> James Jacobson: You obviously not only in a different time zone, you have a very interesting story. You can tell from that accent that Alex is from the UK, but that’s not where you live now.
>> Dr. Alex Avery: No. So, I’m originally from the UK and went to vet school there, but currently in New Zealand. So, the other side of the world, um, yeah, couldn’t be different from a time zone point of view, but that’s the wonder of tech that we can be chatting today. So I’ve been in New Zealand for 10 years on and off now. Yep.
>> James Jacobson: So, you’re in a small community there in New Zealand.
>> Dr. Alex Avery: Yeah, fairly rural. It’s a town of about 20,000 people- a very much farming community around us. So yeah, it’s very different from working in the cities and the big kind of urban areas that I was working in when I was in the UK, which brings different challenges as a veterinarian to try and provide the best care I can for my patients.
>>James Jacobson: You have a clientele who are all over the world thanks to social media. Talk a little bit about that.
>> Dr. Alex Avery: So, as I’ve practiced longer and longer, the rise of Dr. Google, if you like, has really grown. So it’s only natural that we jump online when we’ve got any problem. And it’s the same with our pet. And while there’s some fantastic information online, there’s some great information…I mean, you can learn absolutely anything about anything, there’s also no barrier to entry. So that’s an awful lot of personal opinion. People with very little experience passing themselves off as experts, and sometimes being very confident in the information that they’re delivering, which gives maybe a false sense of how much they actually know, and that can have some serious issues.
>> James Jacobson: Dive a little deeper into what we’ll call, I guess the Dr.Google problem here, which is people going online and doing that. What are some of the impacts this may have on our pets?
>> Dr. Alex Avery: So, the information that we get online, if we’re getting the wrong information that can have some significant impacts on our pet. Because as the owner, you may be put in a few different interventions that, you know, you’ve read about have had an amazing, fantastic miraculous cure for one particular individual and you’re not getting the full benefits. So, you’re potentially giving a wrong treatment that may be harmful, may actually be very harmful in itself. We often think of a lot of these interventions as especially kind of our natural supplements and things like that as being harmless and, and worth a go, if even if there’s no benefit.
But the other problem that can happen is that the disease can progress the unknown disease. Cause it may be that we’ve self-diagnosed by looking up a list of symptoms that your pet is showing and that can delay the diagnosis of the problem and that can actually get to a stage, and I’ve certainly seen this multiple times, where a pet’s condition becomes so serious, that the potential for that to be cured or successfully treated really drops.
Which obviously then it has a massive impact on the welfare and the life of the animal going forward. And also it can have a big impact on people as the pet owner as well, because they can actually, on the other side of the story, be really worried that their pet is suffering from something very, very serious, when in fact it might be something fairly trivial with the course of antibiotics, for example, might be all that’s needed to cure it. So, they’ve gone through an awful lot of anxiety unnecessarily.
>> James Jacobson: Why do you suppose there are people who are producing content that basically exacerbates the problem?
>>Dr. Alex Avery: Well there’s, there’s a wonderful thing called the Dunning Kruger Effect, which is where people have had experience and they have a little bit of knowledge. It’s a case of you don’t know what you don’t know, and so you feel that because that’s been my experience. I want to share that with the world and I want to help other people.
And we’ve all done this, you know, you take a few classes and something and you think, Oh yeah, I’m getting the hang of this. I’m, you know, I’m going to be an expert in no time at all. But then the more you learn, the more you realize the less, you know? Um, so I think that’s in most cases, that’s absolutely why it happens.
>> James Jacobson: The risk associated with diagnosing your pet based on a Google search seems pretty high. Why do you think people turn to the internet before seeking advice from their own veterinarian?
>> Dr. Alex Avery: Maybe different philosophies in, in how you feel your pet should be treated, maybe a distrust of the big pharma, big food companies. You know, that’s something that we get a lot as a kind of more conventional. Um, and, and so there’s a distrust there and maybe a breakdown of communication in the past as well with their vet or they’ve read some horror story online and that’s really clouded what their opinion is and how they go forward. And I think there’s also a desire to paint things very much in black and white. So there’s a right and a wrong, the reality is in our pets care are very much like our own care, there’s all different shades of gray. You know, certainly there are some things that are wrong to do and some things that are very much right to do, but in a lot of cases there’s a lot of things that may help may not help, may contribute to different areas of a pet’s life without directly influencing the illness per se, but will improve their quality of life.
>> James Jacobson: Well, what would you counsel people to do when they see the black and the white versus the gray? Clearly you’re advocating, you know, things are gray. Can you help reframe that in a way that is more palatable for people who have a dog with cancer?
>> Dr. Alex Avery: Yeah, there’s lots of different shades of gray, which can then make any content that may be expressed as those shades of gray come across as uncertain. And people are less drawn to that as well, because we like to know the answer we like, you know, like to be told what to do.
So I think it’s important to get information. I’m absolutely not suggesting that people don’t jump online and don’t jump on Google because that would be a complete waste of time. Cause I do it as well and that we know with anything else. Um, I think we need to be aware of our own biases. So if we’re searching for, “how does homeopathy cure cancer” for example, you’re going to get a whole load of information about that exact topic and you’re going to come up with certain answers, but you’re not going to get the other side of the story. So it’s trying to go into anything with an open mind, to find out different information from different sources. So from veterinarians, maybe from physiotherapists, if you’re talking about rehabilitation for post-surgery, for example, for a dog with cancer.
So just coming at it from a lot of different angles and being aware that a lot of the time there aren’t definitive answers. We’re maybe making our best guess. The problem is that with any studies that have been done, they’re also very low numbers, a lot of the time in veterinary medicine. With cancer treatment, you know,something that has grown and developed massively since I’ve been a vet in the last decade or so. But we still don’t know all the answers and it’s still very much a case of things are in development. So it’s being aware of that. If you think you find something that’s, that’s the truth and the best thing then maybe trying to look for something that disproves that or evidence against that, because that’s the way of finding that balance.
>> James Jacobson: Now I think that’s a potentially earth-shattering perspective. If you find something online that like is very black, you may want to take the time to look for the converse of that or the thing that’s really gray or white.
>> Dr. Alex Avery: Absolutely. And that’s going to depend a little bit on the source of that information as well. I mean, that’s a huge thing. If you’re reading it in a published paper, certified oncologist, these guys are specialists in their field. They study a ridiculous length of time to get to where they are. They really, you know, do know what’s going on as, as well as anybody can. Whereas if it’s, you know, Joe blogs on your Facebook post saying, I gave my dog the, who had a lump that I think was this, this supplement then, you know, that clearly carries a lot less weight then the other information. So having said that there’s also the danger of, of giving equal weight to different sides of the argument, which we need to avoid if we’re getting very different sources for that information.
>> James Jacobson: Any suggestions on how to hone one’s discernment so that, they just don’t get into an apoplectic state of like, “Oh my gosh, there’s so much information. I’ll just go with…”
Cause I think there’s real value to what we’re talking about here because there’s the inclination with, “I could just go exclusively with my vet, who I’ve been seeing since my dog was a puppy. And just follow that” or “No, there’s something broader than that. There are different perspectives. There’s different modalities. I just went to this vet ‘cause he was next to my dry cleaners.” And exploring, you know, through the miracle of the internet, all these different options, but any tips for discerning, when is enough or how to do it?
>>Dr. Alex Avery: So, well, I think, you hint at the, the vet client relationship, and that’s so important. You don’t want to be going, especially with a cancer diagnosis, you don’t want to be seeing your vet for the first time when that diagnosis is delivered, because your vet doesn’t have an understanding of what your philosophy is for your dog and you don’t understand what their philosophy is. That can cause problems or, or suboptimal care and communication and extra stress from the vet’s point of view as well as from the owner’s point of view. So, I guess it depends on how your philosophy is aligned to start with and how open your vet is to talking about different things that you may be interested in.
There’s a great website called trustortrash.com, which runs through a few different bits and pieces, about sources and the strength of studies and all that kind of thing. So that can be quite a good resource there. And it’s just, I guess, in a way, it’s, it’s a case of practicing as well.
You know, the more you do the, the, the more you become aware where of the different, different sources out there, but you’re absolutely right. We don’t want to get to a stage where we get decision paralysis, because there is so much information out there and it can get to a stage where you really just don’t know what to do and so you do nothing. So, you know, that’s where having your vets and my job as a vet is to help guide my clients is not to make decisions for them, but it’s to help guide them through the quagmire of, of pet care because it’s complicated and stuff. And an oncology and cancer care is very much up there in complexity.
>> James Jacobson: Absolutely. We’re going to take a break right now, but when we come back, I want to talk to you a little bit about the challenges of treating cancer in New Zealand versus in the UK. We’ll be right back after this.
>> James Jacobson: Today’s episode of Dog Cancer Answers is brought to you by the best-selling animal health book, The Dog Cancer Survival Guide: Full Spectrum Treatments to Optimize Your Dog’s Life Quality and Longevity by Dr. Demian Dressler and Dr. Susan Ettinger (an oncologist in New York). And in a minute, I will tell you how to get their book at a discount.
We hope that our discussion about treating and diagnosing your dog based on online research, is encouraging you to be open yet cautious when seeking information to help your beloved puppy.
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>>James Jacobson: And we’re back with Dr. Alex Avery. Alex, as we touched on earlier, you’re in a small town in New Zealand, but you were trained in the UK. How is dog cancer different in terms of its treatment in your community versus in England?
>> Dr. Alex Avery: We’re in a small community. Also New Zealand is split into two islands. I’m on the South Island, which is beautiful, but not many people live here, which is one of the appeals, but it does mean that we don’t actually have any medical specialists let alone oncologists on the Island. So that means that where referral is, is pretty much. Out of the question. There’s very few people who would jump on a plane or drive driving gets a ferry. I guess the majority of cancers that we see, will be kind of skin matters and things like that.
And so, we’re perfectly capable of removing those, which is, I guess, what a lot of people are happy to do. For our more insidious cancers, for our lymphomas, which is obviously a very common one, and various other systemic cancers, we are a little bit more limited. So we will provide chemotherapy ourselves.
>> James Jacobson: The chemo that you use is that oral chemo or is that injectable or both?
>> Dr. Alex Avery: More often it will be oral just from a cost and an ease point of view and what clients go for. But we will certainly do injectable chemotherapy. It’s not something that we do on a very frequent basis because most clients are either not wanting their pet to go through that, which is absolutely fine, or butt up against kind of financial limitations as well.
>>James Jacobson: Veterinary care can become very costly, especially after a diagnosis. Do many of your clients have insurance for their dogs? Or are there other financial constraints particular to New Zealand that you’ve noticed?
>> Dr. Alex Avery: We have a lack of insurance uptake in New Zealand, certainly compared to the UK where my clients, about 60% were insured. That’s not the case here. That’s slowly becoming more common and people are more open to the idea of insurance certainly than they were a decade ago. But it does mean that finances often become a limit because unfortunately chemotherapy or any advanced cancer treatment, advanced surgery, it does, it does start to add up very quickly and that can become a limit to what we’re able to provide for our patients.
The flip side is, is that I think there’s a lot of push for specialist care in a lot of different parts of veterinary medicine. So, from surgery to medicine, imaging and oncology, it means that the general practitioner, in some parts of the world, they’re actually almost losing skills because their clients are being referred. And that’s not a bad thing for the patient, but they’re being referred for conditions and for procedures that could very well be done in a primary care setting. So, from my point of view, I guess I’m lucky to have graduated in a time when we were doing that to start with and referrals weren’t quite so common. So, you know, we’re pretty comfortable as a team where we are to provide whatever care our patients need. If our clients are able to do that.
>> James Jacobson: Let’s take a turn here and talk a little bit about prevention. I imagine that you have a lot of people who’ve gone through dog cancer, who are curious, “Okay, how do I prevent this with my next dog?”
>> Dr. Alex Avery: So, I think preventative medicine is not a very sexy topic. It’s not something that we spend a lot of time doing continuous education about and it’s not the big headline topics that you might read. In a lot of cases, it’s actually very simple.
>> James Jacobson: What are some issues that could lead to cancer that are big topics in the vet-world, that we as dog lovers may want to pay attention to?
>> Dr. Alex Avery: So, you know, weight is a huge one, fat. I know you’ve had, Dr. Ernie Ward kind of waxing lyrical on the podcast a few episodes ago. Obesity is a huge problem. And it’s something that I’m very passionate about because it affects so many of our patients, but fat is proinflammatory. It releases all kinds of hormones. And, and the impact of that is, is huge from a cancer point of view, potentially, but also arthritis and diabetes and everything else.
Dental diseases is another one, again, that’s very common, um, it’s very pro-inflammatory it affects the rest of the body. It affects quality of life, hugely.
Th other one, the big one and we often don’t think about it when it comes to cancer as such, and especially at the moment, there’s a lot of a pushback against spay neuter, but certainly from a spaying point of view in dogs massively reduces the risk of mammary cancer, which is a hugely common tumor that can be very nasty, very aggressive in entire female dogs. But if we’re neutering, spaying at an early age and that age has maybe up for, up for discussion, certainly in a bigger dog, you want it to be, you want them to be a little bit older, certainly your rottweilers, maybe for osteosarcoma, if you’re actually spaying them before year of age, then you increase their risk from one in 10 to one in four.
So, you know, there’s nuances to these things. That’s I guess it goes back to what we were talking about before, about things being black and white, it used to be black and white. You’d spray your dog at six months of age. No questions asked. That’s what we did. The nuances that certainly in rottweilers, we want to be doing it later in other big breed dogs.
We may want to be doing it later as well for a number of different reasons. But I thinking we’re of cancer, if we’re doing it. Before their third season, which is actually when they’re quite old, there’s a huge reduction in that risk. And then and then just general other, you know, preventative health care.
So, you know, looking after your pet, making sure they’re as healthy as they can be vaccinations, controlling parasites, reducing their other disease just staying on top of other conditions as well. and then it’s not so much prevention, but optimizing your chance of a successful outcome, if that’s at all possible.
If cancer does strike, it’s jumping in early with the first signs of any problem and not sitting and worrying or not sitting and trying to self-diagnose and self-treat because that could have serious implications on future success.
>> James Jacobson: You say that some of this prevention is not very sexy, but clearly it’s important. Why do you think it is not taken more seriously?
>> Dr. Alex Avery: I think it’s thought of as maybe quite simple maybe, and we don’t really appreciate the full impact that such simple changes could have. You know, if it’s going to make a big difference, it’s got to be complicated. Right? You know, that’s what maybe we think, but actually it’s the simple, the small things that can really add up to make a massive impact. Also, it might be that you don’t don’t recognize them as having an impact because they come on slowly. They come on insidiously. It’s not easy to directly link kind of cause and effect. And so yeah, we don’t appreciate the full impact that these potentially simple lifestyle changes ultimately could have.
>> James Jacobson: When I look at your YouTube channel, which is very much aimed at dog lovers and pet lovers, and then I’d look at which is the most popular YouTube video. You have almost a 94,000 views on how to stop your cat spraying everywhere. Well, that I understand, but like number two is poop eating for dogs. Why do dogs eat their own poop? How do you explain the popularity of like, that?
>> Dr. Alex Avery: So people have a problem that they can put their finger on and they want a quick solution to that problem. And that’s one of the difficulties with creating content is that to get in front of people, to give them information that you think that will be beneficial to them, they need to know that they need to consume that information.
And that be really challenging cause no one wants to be told, well, it might be that your pet’s fat and here’s how to, here’s how to reduce their weight. From an obesity point of view, there’s a big lack of realization that an individual is, is actually overweight. We have our perception of normal skewed by the fact that so many are unfortunately. So yeah, it’s, it’s really challenging to get that message across because you have to kind of weave it in maybe with other, in other topics so that people will read it because I’ve certainly done lots of videos on different topics that really just haven’t picked up because people aren’t searching for them and so they don’t get seen. So it can be quite difficult to get that message across certainly in an online forum, but as a veterinarian in practice as well, it’s something that we preach in the consult room, our nursing team, are hugely influential on preventative health care as well. So, it’s something that we do talk a lot about, or I certainly try and talk a lot about in the flesh as well. And that’s really where the message, hopefully gets hammered home.
>> James Jacobson: Well it’s a great thing that so many veterinarians like yourself are creating content for the audiences. So, they can, when they do go to Dr. Google, they can get, uh, more learned and, uh, perhaps a advice with a bit of gray all around it. ‘Cause I think that’s important to understand.
>> Dr. Alex Avery: It is important to understand, and I’d be the first person on I’ve said it in various places as well that, you know, come to yeah. Come to my website, but, but go to other places as well, because I don’t, I certainly don’t have all the answers. And I think if any individual says they have all the answers, then yeah. Maybe they’re actually one to avoid because they’re not recognizing what they don’t know.
>> James Jacobson: That’s great advice. Dr. Alex, Avery. Thank you so much. We will put links to your various channels in the show notes for today’s episode. Thanks for being with us.
>> Dr. Alex Avery: Oh, thanks for having me. It’s been fun.
>> James Jacobson: Today’s show certainly reminded us that we all of us have unique factors that contribute to our health, and so do our dogs. Which means that treatment and care aren’t always one-size-fits-all. We all know that. Therefore, it is really at your own risk when we accept one source, let’s say, an online forum, as fact. Remember that you will come across gray areas, so keep an open mind and check in with your vet on things that you discover so you don’t overwhelm yourself in the process. Like so many things these days: use discernment. Ask probing questions–and check with your own veterinarian.
I also really appreciated Dr. Avery’s perspective and guidance on preventative care. Like brushing our teeth or maintaining a healthy diet, preventative care should be part of your dog’s lifestyles. While it is hard to see the benefits in real-time, preventative care pays dividends, it’s just that….It prevents, or slows down the bad stuff.
>> James Jacobson: Those touch tones remind me to remind you that our veterinarians are “on-call” at our Listener Line. If you have a question for a dog cancer vet, please call our listener line and record your question. We will pose it to one of our veterinary experts and your question and the answer will appear on a future episode of Dog Cancer Answers. The telephone number Is 808-868-3200 or visit our website at DogCancerAnswers.com.
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We would like to take a moment to thank our sponsor: The Dog Cancer Survival Guide BOOK by Dr. Demian Dressler and Dr. Sue Ettinger. The book is available wherever fine books are sold both online and in physical bookstores. And remember, if you would like to help support this podcast, get the book today– direct from the publisher, Maui Media. The website again: DogCancerBook.com. Use the promo code “podcast” for 10% off. That is www.DogCancerBook.com.
Finally, I’d would like to thank Dr. Alex Avery for being our guest today. You can reach him at his website, ourpetshealth.com.
Until next time, I am James Jacobson. From all of us here at Dog Cancer Answers, & Dog Podcast Network–I wish you and your dog a warm Aloha.
>> Misty: Thank you for listening to Dog Cancer Answers. If you’d like to connect, please visit our website at Dogcanceranswers.com or call our listener line at (808)868-3200. And here’s a friendly reminder that you probably already know: This podcast is provided for informational and educational purposes only. It’s not meant to take the place of the advice you receive from you dog’s veterinarian. Only veterinarians who examine your dog can give you veterinary advice or diagnose your dog’s medical condition. Your reliance on the information you hear on this podcast is solely at your own risk. If your dog has a specific health problem, contact your veterinarian. Also please keep in mind that veterinary information can change rapidly. Therefore, some information may be out of date. Dog Cancer Answers is a presentation of Maui Media in association with Dog Podcast Network.