On August 17th, 2014, the British Veterinary Association (BVA) released the results of a nationwide survey completed by 1,208 veterinarians. The purpose was to find out if information sought online by pet owners (often referred to as Dr. Google) was actually beneficial for the animals they were seeing.
In my experience, cats who are ill tend to become less social and retreat without complaining (unlike ill family members of the human species). That, coupled with the fact we cannot ask our pets what's wrong, makes it even more crucial that information online isn't more relied upon more than a trip to the vet.
The alarming statistic was that a mere 6% of small animal veterinarians found Dr. Google genuinely helpful for ill pets. Furthermore, more than 80% of pets were brought to the vet later than they should have been - early treatment can be vital in many cases.
Over 4 years ago, I wrote Google as Doctor as it pertained to macular degeneration in humans and what ophthalmologists discovered. Sadly, only 52% of the information found online was accurate and much of the pertinent data was missing.
Have You Seen This Look?
At the vet for a checkup, Simcoe is not pleased
Dr. Robin Hargreaves, BVA president and former president of the Lancashire Veterinary Association commented:
"It worries me to hear that so many people are relying on guesswork or unverified internet sources for health advice for their pets. While there is some useful information about pet behaviour and health available online, particularly from the established animal charities, the best source of information for animal health concerns will always be your vet who knows your pet."
brownpau on flickr / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic
When veterinarians were asked what they thought were the main reasons that pet owners bring their animals in to be seen later than they should, these were the results:
- 94% felt it was because of financial reasons
- 81% said it was a lack of understanding
- 57% reported that pet owners attempted to treat or medicate their animals themselves
A whopping 98% of respondents to the survey felt that pet owners were influenced by information found on the internet.
Not All Information Online Is Wrong
Tony Alter on flickr / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 GenericThere are a number of great resources for information about pets and pet care online. But it's important to distinguish helpful advice from unsubstantiated claims or when advice is beyond the scope of the person offering it.
Even for veterinarians who provide phone consultations, it proves extremely challenging (if not impossible) to diagnose without examining a pet. Some people (and I know a few) tend to either exaggerate or diminish the severity of their pet's symptoms. Plus, pets don't complain the way people do when they are ill - they tend to just "tough it out."
A participant in the survey also noted:
"Dr. Google [visits] often result in owners misdiagnosing conditions, followed by the client being led to believe that there is a cheap and effective treatment obtainable online or from a pet shop. And thus, animals suffer far longer than need be."
More Survey Information
angela n. on flickr / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 GenericWhen veterinarians for companion animals were asked what the three most common health reasons were that pets were brought in to be examined, the following results were found:
70% mentioned skin problems/diseases
54% said gastrointestinal disorders
45% musculoskeletal problems
31% obesity/obesity-related disease
24% dental problems/disease
18% ear infections/disease
I was surprised that skin conditions were the number one reason. And given all the potentially harmful products that are touted online or available over-the-counter (such as flea and tick products), I can only imagine how tricky it becomes for a veterinarian to try to sort out, swab or test a pet's affected area after such products have been applied at home.
Dr. Hargreaves also cautioned:
"Given the number of animals with skin problems I see in my own practice I’m not surprised to hear how common they are. I’d strongly encourage owners to visit a vet early if their pet is scratching or licking themselves a lot or showing other signs of skin discomfort."
And the reason he gave was:
"Issues such as parasites, fungal infections and allergies are often easily treated but are difficult for owners to diagnose accurately at home. The outcomes are often good if they’re brought in early but can develop into more unpleasant conditions if left untreated."