Internet pet care advice—what could possibly go wrong?

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Pet owners now have access— via websites, social media platforms and blogs—to information on every topic imaginable related to owning an animal. But how much of it is reliable?

At last weekend’s Australian Veterinary Association (AVA) NSW Division Regional Conference in Coffs Harbour, RSPCA training manager Dr Laurie Milner examined this very issue of misinformation on the internet and how to assess its credibility.

“Although there is a huge quantity of data on the internet, it’s probably fair to say that much of it is either trivial or inaccurate,” he said.

“There are some specific topics that give rise to confusion including nutrition, vaccinations, the need for routine health checks, behaviour of dogs and cats, restraint methods, training methods, complementary medicine and the terminology used in veterinary science. There’s a lot of contradictory information on these topics, which often leaves pet owners more confused than before they started.”

Dr Milner’s advice to pet owners seeking information online is to evaluate its credibility by ascertaining the following:

  • The author and objectivity of the site;
  • The date the information was provided;
  • Spelling and grammar. Although well-presented information isn’t necessarily accurate, it does at least indicate the author has gone to some trouble.
  • The site layout and whether the information provided is original or comes from secondary sources;
  • Links to other sites and the quality of those sites;
  • Whether the site makes a point of attacking other groups or individuals.

“Hard copy sources such as textbooks and journals are still the most reliable sources of information,” said Dr Milner.

“They have usually undertaken some form of validation before being published. Be careful when viewing these online, however, as sometimes they can be altered without the author’s knowledge.

“As a general rule, all blogs should by their very nature be treated with extreme caution,” he said.

“The brilliance of the internet is that it has made a huge amount of information available very easily. Conversely, one of the main weaknesses of the internet is that it has made a huge amount of information available very easily.”

1 COMMENT

  1. I think the worst sources of information are Facebook groups where people ask for advice about sick goats. I was in 1 group for about 60 seconds when I saw a post by someone with a goat with listeriosis and who quoted the price the vet had given to treat it and then asked (successfully) for someone else to give her antibiotics to treat it herself. I quickly left the group that I had been asked to join and told the administrator why. and then received criticism via my Facebook page for doing so . I often see posts about using pour-on treatments for worms in goats (something known to cause drench resistance) and get into arguments about why these goat owners should not use them – many just state that people should use them because they work for them. Some also suggest very dangerous treatments eg copper sulphate orally. I have reported some of the worst Facebook posts I come across to state and federal authorities but never got any action.

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