Why Some Vets Can't Stand the Internet

The 2008 article came to similar conclusions. The anesthesiologist authors found what they deemed to be an unreliable cache of misinformation about breed-based anesthetic sensitivity, concluding with the following words of warning: “Information available on the Internet regarding anesthesia in dogs is generally not complete and may be misleading with respect to risks to specific breeds. Consequently, veterinarians should appropriately educate clients regarding anesthetic risk to their particular dog.”

Still, I would venture that the situation may have improved since these studies, despite the burgeoning amount of information available on the Internet, because of the advent of more responsible information outlets.

Directing Owners to Better Sources

As a veterinarian who writes for online outlets with the veterinarian, veterinary staff and client in mind, I’m offended by the assertion that much Web-based veterinary information is inherently inaccurate. Yet as a veterinary clinician, I completely understand how easy it is for my clients to be led wholly astray by bad information online.

So what’s a responsible veterinarian-slash-Internet-writer to do?

Hmmm… Given that any client who arrives with reams of printouts in tow must be a curious, conscientious one, my approach is threefold:

1. Regardless of the quality of information, I’ll gratefully acknowledge my client’s desire to learn more: “What an excellent way to seek supplemental information and acquire tools to improve your ability to become a better steward of your pet’s care.”

2. Noting the pitfalls of Internet research is especially important if the information is not so good or the pet owner has already undertaken a not-so-recommendable course of treatment: “Of course, you understand that not all websites are created equal and that misinformation can do more harm than good.”

3. In conclusion, I always offer very specific recommendations for websites I consider more appropriate: “I’ve been doing a lot of veterinary website surfing over the past few years and I’ve put together a list of my favorite websites. Here’s a printout for you.”

Sifting Out the Good From the Bad

In fact, it’s my opinion that the Internet currently offers far better information than the kind many of our clients formerly gleaned from Dr. Trainer, Dr. Mother-in-Law or Dr. Breeder — if you know how to find it.

To help pinpoint legitimate veterinary advice on the Internet:

1. Cast a critical eye on any site that appears to be selling a particular product. There's a good chance you're not getting unbiased information.

2. Be suspicious of medical claims devoid of research studies to back them up.

3. For medical advice, articles authored by veterinarians should carry more weight than those penned by people without medical degrees. If the veterinarian is board-certified, the information may have even more credibility. And if the article is peer-reviewed, all the better. And, as I always tell myself whenever I’m faced with yet another stack of dubious online advice, there’s no better long-term solution to the problem of misinformation than to enjoin my laptop into service. As they say, if you can’t beat ’em… you have no excuse not to add your voice to the mix.


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