Getting pet health information online

Keeping your pet healthy and happy is very important to you, and understanding your pet's health is a critical part of that effort. There are so many sources of information available to you: books and magazines; friends and family; articles and columns in newspapers; and an endless supply of online resources.

There's no question that the internet can be a great source of information, but it's also a major source of MISinformation. It can sometimes be very hard to separate the good information from the bad. These days, anyone can post something on the internet and promote themselves as experts.

So, where do you find reliable information about your pet's health? Your veterinarian should be your number one resource for several reasons: 1) your veterinarian is familiar with you, your pet and your pet's unique health needs, and can answer your questions and concerns based on this knowledge and tailored to you and your pet; and 2) you know that your veterinarian has the training and knowledge to provide you with accurate information.

If you're still interested in finding good pet health information online, you've got a few good options. First, ask your veterinarian for any recommendations. Another option is the WebMD Pet Health Community, which offers interaction with AVMA-member veterinarians.

Consider the source of the information online. Is it coming from a veterinarian who graduated from a veterinary school, or is it coming from someone who claims to be a "Doctor" of something other than veterinary medicine? There are many titles that can be awarded regarding animal health, but that doesn't always mean the person with that title has the qualifications to provide animal owners with good advice regarding their pet's health and wellbeing. If in doubt, do a little research on that person to determine if you think they're a trustworthy source.

Regardless of where you go online to find information, there are some "red flags" that should warn you that a site may not be trustworthy:

  1. The site tells you that you don't need a prescription for medications like heartworm preventives, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (such as Rimadyl®, Deramaxx®, Previcox® or others)**, or other drugs for which your veterinarian tells you that you need a prescription. These sites may be selling illegal, unapproved or counterfeit medications that could seriously harm your pet. In addition, FDA rules say prescription drugs are only to be used by or on the order of a veterinarian. Also, many states specifically require a valid prescription for sales of prescription drugs.
  2. The site (or someone on the site) diagnoses, prescribes medications, or tells you how to treat your pet's condition or problem based on information you provide online, through email or over the phone. This is wrong for several reasons: it is unethical because it does not constitute a valid veterinarian-client-patient relationship; it may be illegal in your state; and the person/site is basing their entire process on the information you provide, which may not be enough information to provide an accurate assessment of your pet's problem. The results could be very harmful for your pet.

    Note: there are limited exceptions to this rule. For example, the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center can provide you with recommendations for emergency treatment for animal poisonings, but they may also instruct you to take your pet to your veterinarian for additional evaluation and/or treatment.
  3. The site is promoting a "homemade" remedy for a pet health problem (such as parvo, heartworm, etc.) and makes statements that the product is more effective than veterinary care. Unless the products have been tested and approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), it is illegal for those making the products to make certain claims. In addition, these products can be risky because they may not be produced to meet quality standards for efficacy and safety.

For your pet's benefit, be sure to ask your veterinarian questions so you understand your pet's health problem.

** Rimadyl® is a registered trademark of Pfizer Animal Health; Deramaxx® is a registered trademark of Novartis Animal Health U.S., Inc. and Previcox® is a registered trademark of Merial Limited.