By Katie McHenry

With the amount of information on the Web, finding credible online sources for pet health and behavior information can be tricky. Well-meaning individuals launch their own websites offering unfounded medical or behavioral advice for pets, and search results direct users to sites such as Yahoo! Answers, where anyone can ask a question…and anyone with Internet access can answer.

Thankfully, the SPCA has an online list of resources under Health & Behavior, divided into two sections: one for cats and the other for dogs. We’ve included links to such tried and true resources as the ASPCA Poison Control Center, Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine and, operated by Dr. Race Foster and Dr. Marty Smith. Our links also include names and contact information for local animal behaviorists who can work one-on-one with your cat or dog in the privacy of your own home to treat common issues like play aggression and separation anxiety.

We recommend using online resources to supplement information you get from a trusted veterinarian (or two—getting second opinions for challenging issues is always a good idea) along with what you know from experience. For instance, if your cat suddenly has soft stools, don’t assume it’s a bacterial infection or ulcer, even though the soft stools could theoretically be a symptom of either. (If you’ve used to check your own symptoms, you know that listing “cough” as your primary symptom results in “tuberculosis” as a potential diagnosis, even if you likely have a mild cold!)

A few years ago, I used several online resources as reference tools to help me understand the cause of my cat’s IBD (inflammatory bowel disease) as well as treatment options and overall prognosis. The online visual aids and use of laymen’s terms broadened my understanding and directed me to case studies on the subject, which I found helpful.

Above all, however, if your cat or dog experiences worrisome and/or persistent symptoms, the best approach is to:

  • Talk with your vet (and, where appropriate, get a second opinion);
  • Search for online resources from reputable organizations or institutions, and use more than one source to gauge differences of opinion;
  • Talk to experienced friends or coworkers; and
  • Listen to yourself based on what you know about your own cat/dog—when your cat/dog is exhibiting unusual behavior you often know that something is wrong; but it can be challenging sometimes to figure out what is wrong and what the appropriate treatment is.