September 7, 2016 – At a recent Australian Veterinary Association (AVA) New South Wales Division Conference, vet Laurie Milne spoke about the inaccuracy of pet information on the internet and cautioned pet owners against diagnosing their pets’ illnesses or conditions via the web. Pet News Today founder and editor-in-chief Polly Stewart said while Dr Milne made excellent points, she feels some websites can help owners make better decisions about the care of their animals and even help to save their lives.

Animals should not be owner-diagnosed if they feel there is something wrong with their pet via websites – veterinary surgeon Dr Laurie Milne
Pet owners now have access to information through websites, social media and blogs on every topic imaginable related to owning an animal. But, how much of it is reliable?

Although there is a huge quantity of data on the internet, it’s probably fair to say that much of it is either trivial or inaccurate.

There are some specific topics that give rise to confusion including nutrition, vaccinations, the need for routine health checks, behaviour of dogs and cats, restraint methods, training methods, complementary medicine and the terminology used in veterinary science. There’s a lot of contradictory information on these topics, which often leaves pet owners more confused than before they started.”

Laurie advised pet owners seeking information via the internet to consider evaluating the credibility of web based information using a range of factors, including: the author and objectivity of the site, the date the information was provided, spelling and grammar. Although well-presented information isn’t necessarily accurate, it does at least indicate the author has gone to some trouble.
the site layout and whether the information provided is original or comes from secondary sources, links to other sites and the quality of those sites, whether the site makes a point of attacking other groups or individuals, hard copy sources such as textbooks and journals are still the most reliable sources of information.

“They [the information] have usually undertaken some form of validation before being published. Be careful when viewing these online however, as sometimes they can be altered without the author’s knowledge.

“As a general rule all blogs should, by their very nature, be treated with extreme caution. The brilliance of the internet is that it has made a huge amount of information available very easily. Conversely, one of the main weaknesses of the internet is that it has made a huge amount of information available very easily,” Laurie said, adding pet owners seeking any type of information or advice about their animal should consult their veterinarian.

Yes – reputable websites and forums can help owners make informed decisions and save pet lives – journalist and editor Polly Stewart

“I agree with Dr Milne – there is a plethora of information available to all of us on pet health and care on the internet and much of it should be treated with caution. But there is a clear distinction between blogs compared to news media sites, veterinary organisation, credible animal association and peer-reviewed journal/article websites. With the latter group, research, scrutiny, critique and review is undertaken to different degrees, audience-dependent.

“Blogs should be treated with caution, as should industry sector or company-sponsored websites. These have a clear agenda – making money for their shareholders by subjectively promoting their products and services over competitors, and some of them are very well disguised. Usually any vet endorsement comes from the in-house, no-longer-in-practice vet, or someone with a title that sounds super-expert and academic, who some digging will show has no veterinary, neuroscience, clinical psychology or ethology degree.

“I also agree with Dr Milne that there is contradictory information on important topics on different websites, but you can get contradictory information from vets in practice. And best vet practice can differ in different countries, as can innovations in treatment.

“Credible pet health and welfare websites can help owners make the best decisions for their animals. A few years ago I was encouraged to allow a primary care vet to perform a liver biopsy on one of my dogs. I researched online, and saw that a needle biopsy might be better and safer. The vet discouraged me from this option but when I insisted on further investigation she admitted she hadn’t offered it because her practice could not perform needle biopsies.

“I sought a second opinion from a vet at another primary care practice who disagreed with the first vet and agreed a needle biopsy at a specialist referral centre was a better option for my unstable diabetic dog. No big deal?  The first vet had advised me she would likely need to ‘put the dog to sleep’ during the surgical biopsy.  Had I not researched online and seen there were other choices, I believe my dog would have been euthanised, completely unnecessarily, two years earlier than she eventually died.”

Main photo: Courtesy of Dr Laurie Milne with the gorgeous Gemma, an English Springer Spaniel

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