AUGUST 23, 2018

The Internet: Friend or Foe for Pets?

By Dr. Jack Walkenhorst

The internet has become the go-to resource for information. People search online for everything from how to change a tire to the latest news. Some of the most popular websites offer medical advice for people and for pets. Although the internet does provide good information and advice on many topics, using it exclusively for decisions regarding your pet’s healthcare is ill-advised.

Nothing can take the place of a nose-to-tail examination by a veterinarian - especially one who knows your pet’s medical history. It’s well worth the cost of an office visit to be certain your pet gets the proper treatment for any health issue. But there’s also no harm in using online information if that information comes from reliable sources. Many pet owners want basic knowledge about symptoms or issues their pet is experiencing so that they’re better prepared to ask questions of their veterinarian during a visit. Serious consequences can arise, however, when the internet is used to diagnose pets and seek home remedies in order to avoid the cost of an office visit. Some home remedies can be fatal - and the visit to the vet following a misdiagnosis will definitely end up costing more.

The internet may also be used to confirm a diagnosis or recommended treatment. But an online second opinion is only as good as its sources are accurate and reliable. Some online information about pet health is just plain wrong. Some sites even offer online chats with a “live veterinarian” who is available 24/7, a practice called telemedicine. This is a dangerous form of care, in my opinion. There is no way to know if the person you’re communicating with is actually a licensed veterinarian - or even what country they’re in. That person has never examined your pet and has no knowledge of its medical history. Just because it’s on the internet doesn’t mean it’s true or reliable!

So how do you know if online information is credible? If it’s good information, its source should be cited on the website. There are also well-respected websites that can be trusted. The American Veterinary Medical Association has an excellent, up-to-date public access website., which concentrates on the care of companion animals, features content provided by licensed veterinarians and other medical professionals. Any website associated with a veterinary teaching college is also a safe bet, because the school will be accredited by the state where the college is located. Avoid any websites affiliated with a for-profit company, are sponsored by a commercial pet product, or are very general in their scope.

For the purchase of prescription pet medications and food, the internet has become a popular resource. Price-checking makes sense because so many websites now offer name-brand products at prices which are considerably less than standard retail pricing offered by most veterinarians.  But it never hurts to ask: some veterinary practices will match internet pricing. And if they won’t, they’ll give you a prescription so that you can get the medication from the provider of your choice.

Bottom line: the internet is here to stay and, when used carefully, can be a useful and reassuring tool. Just remember that nothing can replace a licensed veterinarian when it comes to the ongoing health and well-being of your dog or cat!  At Pets In Need, we’re committed to giving those who are struggling financially access to quality veterinary care for their pets.