Did you ever think to write a question to one of those online advice kind of vets? Ever throw your credit card down via ether expecting to get an intelligent response? I’d like to know.

Why? Because we’re a growing phenomenon, we e-vets. Of course I don’t take credit cards, nor expect any of your hard-earned money to leap magically into my checking account—your eyeballs are enough for this blog and maybe someday there will be enough of you to entice some smart-minded pharma marketeer to pay my mortgage—but that’s a long way off, methinks.

Anyway, back to the e-vet thing. There are some vets who make most of their money via Internet. Most of these are way legitimate. Hence the proliferation of radiologists, clinical pathologists, cardiologists and other imaging-intensive docs who have simply followed the human medical paradigm to its holy grail conclusion: work at home with a baby on your knee and still bring in the bucks employing that hard-won degree hanging over your monitor—without losing the respect of your colleagues. After all, these vets are generally board-certified specialists who help other vets make difficult clinical decisions every day.

These lucky vets can sit at their computers and view images and interpret data all day without leaving the confines of their kitchens or the comfort of their bunny-wabbit slippers. Exchanging the obligatory white lab coat for the plush coziness of their bathrobes, they can practice their passion, exercise their brains, and type on their laptops to the tune of their own timetable.

Would that I could join their ranks just by writing a blog…or a book…or my miscellaneous articles. I love the ultimate flex-time concept and have the discipline to follow it through (I think). What’s more, many of these vets rake in more money than I would in three years of slogging through the anal-gland fraught trenches of small animal medicine. Contemplation of the possibilities is almost enough to make me apply for a clin-path residency and give birth to another baby (just kidding!).

Then there are the other e-vets…those who straddle the line between A) offering medical advice and B) interpreting vet advice when specific issues arise with their correspondents.

The B group is an excellent model for what the Internet might someday achieve in vet medicine for the average pet owner. These e-vets would essentially act as clinical coordinators to help you arrive at a personal decision about your pet’s care through education—they’re not clinicians. But the rewards for such a “practice” (theoretically) equal those any hospital might provide…sans the fur on your clothing and the sweet smells only a vet office can emit.

The A group, however, engages in a big veterinary no-no. Vets cannot legally render medical advice without a physical veterinary-client-patient relationship—at least not in the US. That means they have to palpably encounter Fluffy before offering a specific medical opinion. And that won’t be achievable without Mission Impossible technology. (By the way, there are plenty of human doc hucksters engaging in this illegal activity—beware!)

Got a dog with a splenic tumor and don’t know what’s the standard of care, average fee, insurance payout or average prognosis? Write the e-vet and you should get a credible response for this general condition. Want a specific answer on the details your pet’s splenic tumor? If anyone purports to be able to offer you one—don’t trust it. General info is all you should legally be allowed on the Web, individually tailored to your pet’s specific problem though it may be.

Although this information can be valuable, its usefulness all depends on the individual virtual vet—and, like you, I have reservations about the credibility of the average Internet hawker—in any field. Too bad the Web is so hit or miss, regardless of the HTML “testimonials” and the slickness of the site.

Still, e-vets are gaining ground, for better or for worse. Overall, I’d say the explosion of online information is a great thing. But it’s buyer beware all the way—and always will be, regardless of the Web’s maturity. After all, there are great vets and sloppy vets in every town. Why should the Internet be any different?

Now, don’t hold back if you’ve been had by a huckster Web-vet. Or tell us if you’ve been wowed by an online wonder-vet. We want to know. Your turn…