10 Ways to Know Whether Dr. Google Got It Right
As a longtime blogger and active veterinarian, I’m seldom spared an unfiltered tongue-lashing from a vocal contingent of my colleagues on the subject of Dr. Google. In other words, some veterinarians really wish I wouldn’t write things that might keep pet owners from visiting their local veterinarians.
Though we offer fully vetted sources of information here on Vetstreet, they kind of have a point. Most of the information you’ll find online isn’t edited by a team of veterinarians like it is here. Nor are most pet owners quite as discerning as the average Vetstreet reader!
Which is probably why it’ll come as no shock that plenty of pet owners try to save a buck by using online information — aka Dr. Google — as a stand-in for the irreplaceable services of real live veterinarians. Hence, why Web-critical veterinarians might be forgiven for their occasional testiness on the subject.
Nonetheless, it’s undeniably true — if often inconvenient — that Pandora’s Web has unleashed a torrent of nasties along with a smattering of goodies nestled within. Which inevitably requires that we apply our powers of reason to filter the credibly good from the merely bad and the downright ugly.
Luckily, there are ways to tease out the quality goods from the fathomless font of irresponsible information you find online. And once you get the hang of it, it’ll improve your ability to manage your pets’ illnesses and help with preventive care, too, in concert with your veterinarian’s services — not as a replacement for them.
After all, smart pet owners know there’s no substitute for a great relationship with a real live veterinarian. Nonetheless, the Internet can still help you tremendously by offering lots of wellness information along with a solid background on your cat or dog’s health issues, reliable groups that you can tap for support, new research on your pet’s illnesses or even clinical trials that may be under way.
The key is to research the Web safely. Here’s how:
1. Consider sites sponsored by major veterinary organizations.
Veterinary school sites invariably provide reliable information. Include “veterinary school” after the search term you’re researching. Specialty hospitals, specialty organizations and veterinary groups (like AAHA and the AVMA) will not steer you wrong.
2. Stay away from sites selling drugs and products.
Though there are exceptions, as a rule of thumb, sites with something to sell are best approached with a jaundiced eye.
3. Look to larger sites with reputations to protect.
Vetstreet.com is a perfect example, of course!
4. Beware blogs.
That’s rich, coming from a committed blogger, right? But here’s the truth: Blogs and other smaller sites may offer a wealth of information, but it’s harder to tell if they’re offering the real deal. So, in general, it’s best to stick to well-established blogs — especially if they’re written by industry insiders who have reputations to protect.
5. Consider “.orgs,” “.edus” and “.govs.”
Web addresses ending in .org, .edu and .gov are nonprofit organizations, educational institutions and government agencies. They’re more likely to be objective sources of accurate information.
6. Know where to go for genetic or breed-specific concerns.
If your dog has a breed-specific or genetic disease, pay a visit to the site hosted by that specific breed’s national organization or the institutions that are pioneering the testing and/or treatment of these diseases.
7. If it sounds too good to be true . . .
You know the rest. Specifically, beware anecdotal information. For example: “I changed my dog to a totally vegan diet, and his hip dysplasia was cured forever.”
8. Respect peer-reviewed literature.
Not all studies are created equal. Studies that are published in peer-reviewed journals are the gold standard of scientific literature. Journals published by veterinary organizations and specialty groups are the go-to sources for these studies.
9. Online forums can be helpful, but . . .
I have a lot of respect for online forums that deal in specific diseases. While not all the information they offer is accurate or even relevant (anecdotal information abounds), the support these groups offer can be invaluable to pet owners trying to make the most of a confusing and often heart-wrenching experience. To make the most of these forums, just be sure to employ all the tactics offered above.
10. Ask your vet!
Never forget to ask your veterinarian which sites she recommends. If partnership is what you seek — and well you should — ensure your vet’s buy-in by employing her go-to sites for credible information.