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The dangers of self-diagnosing your pet's symptoms

The dangers of self-diagnosing your pet's symptoms

It's easy to miss important signs of serious illness in your pets. Vet Dr Matt Spiegle explains what symptoms you shouldn't ignore, and when to seek treatment

We have all been guilty of self-diagnosing our health concerns with Dr Google. But what do we do when it is our pets who need their health concerns checked?

For some issues, like tummy troubles or itchy skin, it may seem that they will pass with a little TLC, and many of us also turn to the internet for solutions as we would do for ourselves. 

Dr Matt Spiegle, medical director at Vetster—an online pet care platform offering 24/7 online vet appointments, has warned pet owners against “pet-diagnosing” at home.

“We know that the biggest concern for pet owners is for their animal’s health," he says. "As humans, we often turn to self-diagnosing our symptoms. With the rise of AI (artificial intelligence) and the breadth of information available online, pet owners may be tempted to treat their pets the same way and try to tackle issues at home.

“Animals cannot communicate how they are feeling to their pet parents and this can often result in confusion, missed signs, and owners misinterpreting what their pets are trying to tell them.

"Not addressing your animal’s needs or misdiagnosing the issue can potentially lead to worsening their discomfort and more serious issues. For example, many human medications are toxic to our pets, must be given in different doses or are used in different circumstances, so self-prescribing at home can also very dangerous.”

"When your pet is showing signs of discomfort, it is imperative that you contact a vet as soon as possible"

Dr Matt adds: “When your pet is showing signs of discomfort, it is imperative that you contact a vet as soon as possible to start a treatment plan or rule out any serious conditions.

"There is a common misconception that contacting a vet will result in a difficult trip to a clinic or expensive bills, meaning that owners usually only visit their veterinarian for big incidents.

"However, with online platforms like Vetster, you can speak with a vet from the comfort of your own home to run through your pet’s symptoms and ascertain suitable next steps, preventing a problem from becoming more serious.”

Below, Dr Matt breaks down the most common “pet-diagnosed” symptoms, and why you should be more cautious of doing so:

Gastrointestinal upset

Dog refusing bowl of food due to digestive problemsA decreased appetite or stomach upset could indicate underlying health problems like parasites

Pet owners may attribute vomiting, diarrhoea and lack of or decreased appetite to a simple stomach upset.

However, there can sometimes be underlying causes that need addressing by your vet, such as parasites, dietary concerns, infections or more serious health conditions.

Skin irritations

Owners might try to diagnose and treat skin issues like itching, redness or rashes as allergies, fleas or dry skin.

These symptoms can sometimes be due to more serious infections or illnesses like autoimmune disorders that require a proper treatment plan.

Many cases of allergies are due to a variety of factors and require specialised medications, shampoos, diets and ongoing vet care. Skin treatments used on adults are often unsuitable for pets.

Respiratory problems

Coughing, sneezing or difficulty breathing can commonly be misdiagnosed at home as simple allergies, but these could be signs of more serious conditions like pneumonia, heart disease or asthma, which need long-term treatment plans.

Joint and mobility issues

Cat nursing painful pawLimping might be a sign of a neurological condition or joint problems

Owners may attribute their pet's limping or reluctance to move to simple muscle strains or arthritis.

While this is often the case, there is always the chance that your pet is experiencing a more serious issue like a ligament tear or neurological disorder, which are important to be ruled out by a vet.

"If your pet is limping, it means that they are in pain—limping is not normal"

It is also important to note that if your pet is limping, it means that they are in pain—limping is not normal. 

Many human pain medications are toxic to pets, so always speak to your veterinarian before giving any medications to your pet.

Urinary problems

Pets exhibiting frequent urination, accidents or blood in their urine may lead owners to suspect the animal has a simple urinary tract infection that will go away on its own. However, these infections could become more serious if left untreated.

These symptoms could also indicate other conditions such as bladder stones, kidney disease, or metabolic conditions like diabetes and Cushing’s disease.

It is especially important to be vigilant with male cats who are struggling to urinate, as this can be a medical emergency since they could have a blockage in their urethra.

"It is especially important to be vigilant with male cats who are struggling to urinate, as this can be a medical emergency"

As soon as your pet shows any signs of illness or discomfort or any changes in their normal routine or behaviour, including changes in energy, appetite, social behaviours or bathroom habits, speak to a vet.

Your vet will quickly be able to advise you on whether or not your animal’s condition is potentially serious and help advise you on the next steps.

For peace of mind and to avoid making the situation worse, always consult a vet before treating the issue yourself.

Vetster is an online pet care platform that connects veterinary professionals with pet owners virtually over video, text or audio chat. Founded in 2020 by Mark Bordo and Regan Johnson, the marketplace has been operating in North America for two years and already has thousands of vets providing services to pet owners every day.

From the comfort of their home, pet owners can access quality care in a matter of minutes, and veterinary professionals can set their own rates and schedule themselves according to personal preferences.

Create a free account today at

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