How to find great veterinary information online (and a list of pet health surfing do's and dont's)

Patty Khuly, DVM
February 06, 2009
Share this:

Your cat’s been diagnosed with diabetes...or your dog with Addison’s disease. As much as your veterinarian explains the situation, issues handouts and takes your wigged out phone calls, there’s only so much you can glean from any one mind. You need more. 

That’s when you take to the surf, cavorting about the waves of websites chock full of information. But how do you know the information you’ve just splashed headlong into is the kind you should consider authoritative and responsible? 

In the best of cases, you’ve happened across incredibly useful and complete information that provides a sound and well-reasoned platform from which to ask your vet more questions and help your pet live more comfortably. In the worst, you’ve just entered a maze of circular logic that dishes salacious details and erroneous advice that only serves to question your veterinarian’s sanity and helps your pet not at all. 

Both extremes exist. After all, the Web does not discriminate between good and bad. It’s the ultimate democracy, one where human fallibility is showcased daily in websites that expound on the glories of homemade shock collars and the newest veterinary snake oil concoction. 

From most veterinarians’ point of view, even the best information is suspect once you’ve downloaded it from the Web. They’re likely to question Dr. Google even more than they would Dr. Breeder or Dr. Mother-in-Law. We’ve seen it all. And most of it is not to our liking.

But the reality is that there’s a lot of great info out there. You just need to know where to find it. And whether it’s truly the right stuff once you do. To that end, here’s my list of Web do’s and don’ts:

Do...ask your veterinarian to recommend some websites. We’ll know at least a handful of responsible places to research any given disease.

Don’t...assume that a website written by a veterinarian is perfectly authoritative. 

Do...look for websites sponsored by veterinary colleges, specialty boards, major veterinary organizations. They may not be exciting but they won’t steer you wrong. Research their links, too. They’re almost always ratified by the sponsor, too. 

Don’t...take everything you read as gospel. If you’re interested in something you’ve read, research it some more. If you can’t find anything else about it except on some random message boards, consider it highly suspect. 

Do...look for sites whose information is encyclopedic on a large variety of veterinary issues. These sites usually have a reputation to protect and tend to have multiple veterinary editors. Sure, even Wikipedia gets it all wrong sometimes, but it’s often a great starting point and may provide interesting links.

Don’t...fall prey to sites that sell unregulated products. Much of the information contained in many of these sites is heavily biased against the veterinary establishment and is often erroneous and irresponsible. Google the product or company for a more complete representation of what they’re offering.

Do...look up smaller websites on a service like Technorati’s. The “authority level” lets you know whether these sites have been in operation for a long time (a good sign) and clues you in to how many other sites find their information reliable enough to link to. 

Don’t...get stuck in small sites where the individual(s) writing the material are not easily identifiable. If the “About Us” section doesn’t exist, you might not want to stick around. After all, accountability and authority is crucial to any responsible brick-and-mortar enterprise. Why not for websites?

I know you’ve got more do’s and dont’s. Give ‘em up...