I’ve been asked on several occasions to lend my veterinary skills to the cause of pet wellness in an online Q&A format. I’ve also seen numerous announcements looking for vets to fill this function on several “ask the expert” websites.

In these cases I invariably ask myself, “Why would anyone like me do this?”

So you know, it doesn’t pay dividends in bucks-per-words. The biggest return is in new clientele, I’d imagine. Yet even then, how could most professionals ever hope to enhance a local clientele through online Q&As? I don’t get it.

Some of you might think me two-faced for bringing this up. Isn’t Dolittler a Q&A at times? After all, the Virtual Vet Hospital (look to the right of this post), while designed as a mode of support, encouragement and learning, has kind of manifested as a friendly advice area, instead. (Not that I’m complaining—though I’m redesigning it to thwart strict advice-seekers, I still think it’s fun.)

Online advice is a tricky thing. I’ve written about it before as being potentially illegal, often unethically administered and usually kinda cheesy.

Yet it’s clear that sometimes it can be beneficial, as when someone Googles “veterinary pathology wait times” and sees themselves in the words of a post. Or when their sick dog receives a vaccine (as in tomorrow’s post and a recent Virtual Vet Hospital entry) and they question the safety of its administration.

Individualized advice is even trickier, what with the moral, legal and ethical demands of something we call the VCPR (Veterinary Client Patient Relationship). Cultivating a valid VCPR is the cornerstone of companion animal medicine and the Internet is no medium through which to perform a physical exam (a basic requirement of the VCPR).

The arena for middle-ground advice is vast, though. And yes, I think advice of a sort can be properly administered. Problem is, there are no professional standards for meeting the needs of those who might easily be duped by less-than-scrupulous online advice providers.

To whom do you turn when the advice you received resulted in the death of your pet?

And that brings me back to the question I asked myself earlier: Why would anyone join in these reindeer games when they have a safe, legal means of practicing their craft in the physical world?

And what does this mean for those who seek responsible advice as an adjunct to their real world care?