As a veterinarian when I hear the words pet health advice on the internet I often cringe on what could come next. What is interesting is that many of my clients who admit to searching the internet for pet health advice understand it is not always the best place for it. This is made evident by an embarrassed expression on their face when they make their confession of using it. So why do pet owners search the internet for advice? Why can searching for pet health advice on the internet be a bad idea? Can one find good advice on the internet? What are tips to consider when looking for information on your pets health?
Pet health advice on the internet: why search the internet?
Many pet owners will seek the internet just to obtain basic knowledge or information about an illness that their pet is experiencing. This allows them to be better equipped to ask questions about treatment and diagnostics for their pet. Most veterinarians don’t have a problem with pet owners using the internet for this purpose. I personally consider it to be very proactive on a pet owner’s part. This is only an issue when upon receiving this information an owner feels that they are just as knowledgeable if not more than the veterinarian.
This is probably one of the most common causes for seeking pet health advice on the internet. It is Murphy’s law that when a pet is sick, it is usually at the most inconvenient time. Typically, it is at a time when there is financial duress. It is often at a time when there is little money available for a veterinarian. This can lead to a desperate search for answers for a quick and inexpensive treatment. Often there is a search for a home remedy to save money and fix everything. I discuss the financial impact of veterinary care in previous blog posts: “If you can’t afford a vet, you can’t afford a pet” and “I don’t have money for a vet, now what?”
Seeking a second opinion
As I mentioned in 10 years a veterinarian, treatment does always work the same in all animals. This can be frustrating for veterinarians and pet owners alike. Frustration can lead pet owners to seek information from another source. Often the source ends up being the internet. Sometime pet owners may also seek another alternative if there are concerns about potential side effects or expense of a specific treatment as well.
Pet Health Advice on the Internet: A bad idea?
The answer to this question depends on multiple factors
Consider the source
With the internet being an open source, anybody can give pet health advice on the internet, even people who have no health or veterinary experience at all. So considering the source is very important when trying to discern good advice from bad. Beware of websites I like to refer to as vendetta sites. These “vendetta” websites are those sites that are created by people who either had a bad experience with a veterinarian or a specific drug or both. As a result they may extrapolate their experience to all veterinary professionals. These websites often offer advice with the goal to discredit veterinarians vs to help pets.
Websites that sell treatments or so-called cures for specific deadly diseases are dangerous as well. These websites often feed on a pet owner’s desperation by offering a cure for a disease that is not sanctioned by a veterinarian. Buyer beware.
People who have limited to no experience with veterinary medicine at all can be guilty of giving bad advice. Don’t get me wrong there are pet owners who are able to share great pet health advice from experience gained from their previous pet’s illness. But there are pet owners who claim they are pet health experts because they own several pets regardless of their lack of veterinary experience. As a result there is often bad advice given.
Consider the knowledge of the pet owner doing the search
Yes you as a pet owner have to consider what knowledge or lack of when researching information online. While it is not expected that every pet owner will have the same amount of knowledge when it comes their pet’s health, they should understand their limits. Reason being is that it will affect how you comprehend the information that is being sought. Some information that is sought has to be considered in context. Unfortunately, it can be easy to misinterpret even the most reliable information.
Consider the pet and their symptoms
My biggest pet peeve when reading pet online advice is when people make the assumption that all pets are somehow the same. All pets are not the same! I will repeat all pets are not the same! Unfortunately, most bad advice is based on this premise. People will talk about a treatment that worked great for their pet and assume it will work great for every other pet. You also have the contrary where a pet will have a bad experience with one type of treatment or medication, therefore all pet owners beware. Why is this significant? If all dogs and cat were the same, it definitely would make my job as a veterinarian that much easier. I can tell you my clinical experience tells me the opposite. No two dogs are alike such is the same with cats. When addressing illnesses in pets, veterinarians have to consider many factors prior to getting to a treatment or even a diagnosis. Some of these factors include the age and breed of the pet. Other factors to consider are any previous history of illnesses, any current medications, or any risk of exposure to toxins. These factors are why all pets are not the same. With bad advice these factors are not considered at all.
Pet Health Advice on the Internet: Are there good options for pet health advice online?
Fortunately, there are great online resources to get pet health advice. Websites I personally recommend to my clients include petplace.com and petMD.com. Other websites I would recommend also include any of the veterinary school sites.
Online veterinary consultation is becoming more available now. This gives pet owners the opportunity to talk online with licensed veterinarians about their pet’s health issues. Websites such as Justanswer.com allow a pet owner access to a veterinarian 24 hours a day.
There are also now phone apps developed for Android and Apple that also allow pet owners access to a veterinarian. An example of such an app is called PetCoach.
Things to keep in mind when using Online Veterinary Consultations:
- It is not a replacement for an in person consultation with a live veterinarian who has performed a physical exam.
- It is only as reliable as the information you can provide. If you cannot describe symptoms accurately or omit symptoms, then your help will be limited.
- You shouldn’t rely on it to provide treatment or a diagnosis for your pet’s condition.
- It is not a guarantee that it will eliminate a need for a veterinary visit. It may in fact further confirm a need for one.
In conclusion when it comes to seeking advice about your pet’s health I recommend first seeking your veterinarian first. If your veterinarian is not available for whatever reason, it is suggested that you seek advice from another veterinarian which may include an emergency veterinarian if it is after hours. If you insist to turn to the internet for pet health advice, then maybe you should look at the online veterinary consultation options before turning to Doctor Google. You can also get good information from the other sites I mentioned as well.