Ever surf the Web looking for credible information on your pets? If you’re reading this I know you’re working on it. What say you, then, to the research that intends to warn you off blogs like this, lest they be chock-full of “unconstructive” information?

Two recent papers, one of which appeared in this month’s JAVMA (Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association) effectively urge vets to steer their clients clear of the Internet. Too many of their clients (you), it would seem, are taking to the Web to have your information needs met—and finding “unconstructive” advice instead of the good stuff your vet should be dosing you with regularly. 

This latest bit of research revolves around the concept of anesthetic information available online. Authored principally by two boarded veterinary anesthesiologists, it hypothesizes that the Web is an obvious source for poor quality advice on breed-specific anesthesia warnings—as in,

“To the author’s knowledge, there is no scientific basis for any claim that a particular breed of dog is more sensitive to anesthesia than any other, with the exception of sighthound breeds; nevertheless, such claims are prevalent on the World Wide Web.”

Armed with a certain degree of indignation given the fact that their anesthetic knowledge base is being hijacked by breeders (and others) who insist that “the veterinarian is not to be trusted on breed-specific anesthesia risks,” these anesthesiologists used this basic bit of common veterinary knowledge to discredit the Web’s generally erroneous consensus on the issue.

Of the 73 websites this study investigated, one is almost certainly Dolittler, considering that the methodology employed involved an extensive Google search on “anesthesia,” “warning” and “dog.” Nonetheless, it found that even among veterinarian-authored sites, the information on anesthetic risks was more likely to be “unconstructive” than “constructive.”

“Web sites in which information was written by veterinarians were no more accurate or complete than those in which information was written by nonveterinarians.”

Ouch!

In large part I don’t disagree that the preponderance of information on certain pet health subjects is fraught with fallacies, mythology and abundant anecdotism. But it still smarts to be identified as a potential purveyor of “unconstructive” goods. This charge hurts more so considering my outspoken remarks against breed-specific anesthetic fears (I think they’re way overblown and always anecdotal).

You might think I might feel threatened or insulted by my colleagues’ condemnation of Web-based information. Truth be told, I do…but not just for personal reasons. After all, I well understand the frustration of attempting to dissuade a client that their Tibetan spaniel is no more at risk of suffering an adverse anesthetic event due to my inferior knowledge of this breed’s unique and challenging physiology.

But my take is a little different than the study’s authors'. In my view the Web is not the enemy…nor are sites like Dolittler. Rather, the most typical adversary is the dearth of responsible information administered first-hand from those veterinarians among us who need to be more proactive in acquiring our clients’ confidence. We should be more diligently addressing client concerns with the intelligent, science-based knowledge that is our purview. The Web-based findings are a mere symptom of my profession’s failure to properly educate our very own clients.

Admittedly, the enemy is also the lack of responsible sites. Sure, the Web is filled with errors—from Wikipedia’s often-biased “encyclopedic” knowledge to the tiniest blog on Basenji-appropriate anesthetic protocols. We all know it. But does research that harps on the Web do anyone a service beyond scaring the average veterinarians into a fear of everything Internet-related?

Don’t think so. We have seen the enemy—and it is us…not the Internet.