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.
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?
- The site was established in 1996. Longevity usually means they have something of value to offer.
- 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.
- 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)
- 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?