Behold the power of the internet

I’ve spent a lot of time rubbing my temples in frustration at the things people pull off the internet and read as gospel- everything from “How To Assemble a Home Bloat Kit at Home Depot” to “Drug Dosing for your Cat” including, of all things, deadly Tylenol. The DIY instructions out there run the gamut from the harmless-but-useless to the downright killer.

On the flip side, the internet can also be an absolute godsend. I say this not only as a medical professional, but as a patient and a caregiver. Our healthcare professionals are pressured to see more and more patients in smaller increments of time, meaning that time we used to have to really talk with our doctors is shrinking away. It’s less pronounced in the veterinary profession than in the medical profession, at least so far, but the trend is still going in that direction.

Computer Cat

Professor Pawsy doing a little internet research

Let’s take the example of feline diabetes. You bring your cat in because he’s been drinking a lot, and you think it’s probably just the heat, but hey, he’s getting on in years so you just want to be sure. Several hours and a few hundred dollars later you’re back at home with insulin syringes, prescription food and your head spinning from the turn your life just took. It’s 10 at night and you’re still trying to digest all the information.

So do you wait until the next morning to call the vet and try to get your questions answered, or do you look online? I know what I’d do.

And the beauty and the glory of it is that there are so many great sites out there these days. Message boards devoted to dogs with osteosarcoma and cats with stomatitis and ferrets with adrenal tumors, masses of people who have been to vets and specialists all over the world who are tossing their ideas into the pot.

The trick, of course, is sorting the wheat from the chaff. Let’s look at the first link you get when you google “Feline Diabetes.” As it happens, Feline Diabetes.com is a site that many veterinarians like and send their clients to for support. So what are the signs it might be a site with decent information?

  1. The site was established in 1996. Longevity usually means they have something of value to offer.
  2. The owner of the site is an MD. Laypersons also run some fantastic websites, so it doesn’t need to be a medical professional running the show, but that is a good indicator of legitimacy.
  3. There are lots of members. It’s not just one person going on about how crystals cured her dog’s cancer. (Always a red flag)
  4. It’s not selling anything. If you take anything home from this post, remember that.

All of this is assuming you are using the web to supplement your vet’s care, not replace it, so if you’re getting rotten advice, your vet will probably let you know pretty quick, and hopefully help you find a better source of info.

I had a client once who came in with a diabetic cat. He could barely afford the blood glucose test, and he needed to borrow money to get the cat insulin. I was very worried about the cat’s outcome, but the owner said he really wanted to do right by his cat. I asked him if he had the internet, and he said no, but he’d try to get online somehow. I gave him the information I had, and a message board url.

A week later he came back with the cat, the glucose, and a pile of paper. He spent the prior week in the library on the site I recommended, looking up the best over the counter foods and learning how to do an at-home glucose curve since he couldn’t afford to have it done in the clinic. He even looked up the best glucometer to buy. I was floored. He was on his game.

The internet can be a beautiful thing. Sometimes.

Do you use the net to supplement your knowledge? Or have you used support forums for other things, like pet loss? Got any faves?

Filed: Daily Life, Health Tagged:
  • Sedna

    Did…did you just rickroll us?

    Bravo, you magnificent bastard. Bravo indeed.

  • Leigh

    http://www.petplace.com
    Written and edited by veterinarians. It has in-depth explanations of diagnoses and treatments. Also, most of the behavior articles are written by Dr. Dodman, the best behaviorist in the universe!
    I give this site to clients almost every day.

  • http://www.petdocsoncall.com Tomcat

    I agree with Leigh…look for material that is written and edited by veterinarians. Another good site is http://www.petdocsoncall.com, where users can post questions for veterinarians.

    We have also started the American Society of Veterinary Journalists, whose stated goal is to help bring a level of certification to anyone using any type of media (traditional or new) to discuss animal health issues. Look for the ASVJ seal of approval or visit http://asvj.org.

  • Julie

    I have definitely used the internet to try and find dog health info. My dog has Clostridium perfringens enterotoxicosis and I was trying to find alternatives to the prescription diet my vet recommended. I found several forums with information on what worked for others (only one I can remember now is Dogster). I ended up sticking with the prescription diet (wasn’t crazy about the ingredients – corn being first on the ingredient list!), but when it was recalled, I was stuck and had to change his diet. Posters on various forums gave me the idea to use canned pumpkin to control his diarrhea and it has worked like magic. I do also keep a copy of the “Dog Owner’s Veterinary Handbook” at home for reference for when I need more first aid type info and don’t feel like sorting through thousands of sites.

  • http://lab-mom.blogspot.com/ Elizabeth & The Lab Crew

    There are actually lots of excellent forums online that can help. Yahoo has some great groups for pet owners, many are health related and deal with canine and feline diabetes, canine ortho issues, and my personal favorite Canine Addison’s.
    They same rules apply, look for groups that have been around for a long time, lots of members, has moderator’s, and has a files sections with “Veterinary Articles that are Peer reviewed”. Any of these groups should be encouraging the members to have a dialogue with their Vets on any new info or treatment modalities they find. If they aren’t doing that find another group..

  • http://www.askavetquestion.com Marie

    Dr. V…this is exactly why I started blogging and writing articles online…so that my clients could find GOOD stuff online. We both know that there are good pet articles online and then there are absolutely outrageously inaccurate ones as well.

    I don’t mind at all if my clients bring me in things that they printed off the internet…but when it is drivel that some well meaning person wrote in a forum that contradicts with my advice, this can be a little frustrating!

  • Megan

    Good post… even though you DID Rickroll us. I giggled at that :D

  • http://www.k9diabetes.com Natalie

    I credit the internet for 99% of what I learned about canine diabetes (with help from sites for human diabetics too). Without it, our dog Chris would never have been well regulated. When he was diagnosed and having trouble, the advice from the local veterinary teaching hospital was that he was regulated as soon as he stopped drinking extra water and urinating in the house. Well, he really didn’t drink all that much water and he never urinated in the house, but his blood sugar was bouncing between 100 and 400+ every 12 hours. That was state-of-the-art advice at the time.

    Among the things a forum does an excellent job of providing is a broad -hundreds-of-dogs view of a condition. For example, there aren’t many official studies of the effectiveness of NPH insulin in dogs and until Vetsulin was pulled from the market, many vets had never used it. It’s become a very important question since the loss of Vetsulin. After seven years on forums for diabetic dogs, I have seen how literally hundreds of dogs have done on NPH and I think it’s a wonderful choice for dogs. LIke all insulins, some do great on it, some average, and some lousy. But the vast majority of dogs do well with it.

    Home blood glucose testing is similar. There are a few studies suggesting that it’s useful and that dogs tolerate it well. Forums on canine and feline diabetes are ground zero experiments in how dogs and cats tolerate testing and the value it provides to their regulation and to their caretakers’ sense of security.