The internet is deeply engrained in the fabric of global life. Whether it is social media, shopping, getting directions, getting our news, or simply entertainment, the internet has become the first place we often look. But veterinary advice online? Does that really exist? If so, is it a good idea to get veterinary advice online?
It has actually been going on for much longer than people realize. Veterinary advice sites have existed since the late 1990s when the internet was first steaming ahead in its popularity. I created my first veterinary advise website called AskDVM.com in 2003 ( the domain still exists, but hyperlinks to my most recent and ambitious creation, Web-DVM.net…more on this, below). My first site was a lot like the other few others that existed back then, with a simple prompt that enabled the user to submit a question to the veterinarian – me – for a one on one consultation for a fee. In order to make the site more user friendly and multidimensional, I added a “Pet Tip of the Day” to the site where people could log on to the home page and get a new piece of free general advice with regard to nutrition, training, therapy, etc. Later I added a “Pet of the Week” and by doing this, I was amazed how often people returned to the site, not really to ask me a question, but just to get a glimpse of my daily advice or enter their pet to win pet of the week.
Eventually, seeing how successful the new sites were in offering up their news and links for free in exchange for the users having to tolerate ads placed as unobtrusively as possible throughout the site, it dawned on me that the same would likely apply to veterinary information. Internet surfers seemed perfectly willing to accept a few ads for the trade-off of getting quality information and content in other areas of the information superhighway, so why should veterinary information be any different? And so, the Web-DVM (http://web-dvm.net) was born.
The site officially opened in 2007 after taking one year to personally write all of the disease/medical articles myself, as well as personally design, edit, and regularly update the site. Over time, I added canine and feline breed profiles, nutrition and training information and links, discount pet medication affiliates, this blog, and most recently, an online symptom checker where a pet owner can go through a series of medical history questions to get a list of possible disease that may ail one’s pet (along with a comprehensive article that details each disease in terms of description, diagnosis, and treatment).
Through all of this, however, while the site has grown exponentially with mostly free resources, it has never lost its original purpose, that is, if after sifting through all of these free resources, if one still wishes to consult one on one with a veterinarian, one may do so. However, it is not only just with me, but a whole team of veterinarians who log in 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to answer questions. In fact, I only log in to answer questions occasionally these days, generally focusing more on providing quality and informative content for the site. When submitting a consultation for a veterinarian to answer, the user pays only if satisfied with the veterinarian’s answer, so satisfaction is 100% guaranteed.
A recent study indicated that 38% of pet owners have turned to the internet when a pet is sick or injured, before calling their vet. The question is, is this the right thing to do? Is my Web-DVM.net and other sites like it unethically capitalizing a growing market of internet addicts?
While I cannot speak for other sites, with regard to Web-DVM.net, no answer is no. I will start by telling you why this is so, but also give you tips to properly use the internet for ancillary information to help care to your pets.
The company I joined forces with in an affiliate relationship to provide me the large pool of licensed vets necessary to offer 24/7 advice, Pearl.com, have the same philosophy with regard to offering internet information:
1.) It is not meant to replace the pet and pet owner’s relationship with the hands on veterinarian, but be used for times when a pet owner may wish to get a second opinion or fresh perspective on a case or lab data associate with a given case. As such, while our veterinarians may suggest possible causes for a given problem, perhaps some additional testing that may add more useful information on a case, or simply recommend some husbandry and/or nutritional changes, they are prohibited from diagnosing or directly recommending medical treatment for a given condition.
2.) If the pet is in a life threatening situation or condition, the pet owner is strongly advised to not use our service and get the pet to a hands on veterinarian immediately. In rural or remote areas where 24 hour emergency veterinary care may not be available, we will offer the best advice we can without breeching the prohibitive diagnostic and medical treatment tenant.
3.) Not only are we not directly diagnosing or making medical treatment recommendations, we likewise are also are not selling products for the purpose of self treating your pet.
With regard to how you should utilize Web-DVM.net and other veterinary advice and information websites, you should generally follow the same rules in reverse:
1.) Do not seek to replace your veterinarian with an online veterinary who cannot see or hear your pet. What you observe and convey by typing online may be very different from what a trained veterinarian may observe that is actually seeing the pet. For example, dogs with back pain will often yelp when picked up, which is commonly mistaken by owners for abdominal pain. Likewise, pets often arch their backs when they have abdominal pain, making pet owners commonly mistake abdominal pain for back pain. Making it more confusing, pets will often vomit from back pain as readily as they will vomit from the various things that may cause abdominal pain.
2.) If your pet is in a life threatening condition, labored breathing, listless, unable to walk, etc., stay off your computer and find a vet ASAP.
3.) Avoid sites that offer herbal or magical cures for sale that your vet somehow does not know about. Most of these sites are not unlike the travelling charlatans of times past that offered people magical elixirs of life and vitality that were not only useless, but all too often toxic.
Lastly, make certain that whatever online ask a vet service you choose to use actually uses verified, licensed veterinarians. Web-DVM.net‘s online veterinarian affiliate Pearl.com, for example, puts the veterinarian through an extensive verification process, starting with verifying credentials such as state veterinary license, followed by giving the veterinarian random test questions to not only test their knowledge, but be certain that the veterinarian is answering in a manner that is consistent with the aforementioned ethical boundaries.
As with most other aspects of life, there are a lot of valuable pet care and veterinary resources to be found on the internet. However, also as in most other aspects of life, there is a lot of misinformation out there, as well as quacks happy to take your money without a care of what happens to your pet. Enjoy the benefits of the internet where you can, but always be careful to verify the source and integrity of information and recognize and avoid those who are out to cheat you out of your money.
Dr. Roger Welton is the President of Maybeck Animal Hospital and CEO/Chief Editor of the veterinary information and blog online community, Web-DVM.