The internet has been an amazing invention for humankind. I am as guilty as anyone at becoming enamoured by and even addicted to it. That said, it has created some clear problems. In particular, there is very little oversight as to the reliability, accuracy, morality, or veracity of anything that is posted online. We are all familiar with so-called “fake news” by now – but there are things that are even more sinister. Such as relying on a web browser or social media site for medical advice. It routinely happens when people or their family members get sick – even their furry family members. And it is dangerous.
I can respect people wanting to learn and understand about healthcare. Having a “black box” approach – where you simply accept and don’t question – is not good either. However, people must be aware that not all sources of information are equal. Veterinary professionals – like human healthcare professionals – have years of post-secondary education, degrees and diplomas, continuing education, and experience in the field. They are the experts you should consult first and trust most. When something you find online is contradicted by a veterinary professional – you should go with the veterinary professional every time. Even if the online source seems credible – like a breeder, boutique pet store employee, blogger, or celebrity. It is an especially bad idea to post a veterinary medical question on social media and take the advice of well-intentioned online friends. I have seen this end badly and result in animals being harmed more times than I can count.
Many internet pages are written by people with no special educational training or experience. Some of it is maliciously fraudulent. Some of it is well-intentioned but inaccurate. Other things simply become rumors and trends that spread like wildfire. This happens in the human health field as well. Fad diets, miracle supplements, “all-natural” cures, and home remedies are everywhere. Fear-based propaganda advising people to avoid evidence-based medicine like vaccines or pharmaceuticals is rampant. This extends to the veterinary field and to pet care as well.
Most recently it has been discovered that “grain-free diets” have caused an increase in heart disease (cardiomyopathy) in dogs. These diets are incredibly popular and people buy them believing that they help with allergies (they RARELY do), improve health (they don’t), encourage weight loss (they don’t), or are “more natural” because dogs are carnivores (they are, in fact, omnivores that require grains and vegetables in their diet. The pet food industry is rife with misinformation as people are told (incorrectly) to feed: “all life stages” diets, to feed “all-natural”, to avoid “by-products”, to feed “raw food”, and to avoid pet food sold by reputable science-based companies like Royal Canin, Hills, or Purina in favour of small boutique brands. Pet owners are also faced with stories about the dangers of veterinary-approved drugs – which have an intense safety and efficacy screening process similar to human drugs – in favour of unregulated pesticides, supplements, tinctures, potions, and “all-natural” cures. I’ve seen so many cats seizure from flea and tick products sold at pet stores, it makes me sick inside.
At the Byron Animal Clinic, we encourage our pet owners to ask us first. There are literally no stupid questions and we are never bothered by a question about animal care. All the staff at our clinic are animal lovers and pet owners first and foremost – but we are also highly educated and trained animal health professionals. We would much rather spend time educating (sometimes re-educating) pet owners – if it can prevent tragic accidents, illness, suffering, and death. If you have a question about veterinary healthcare or animal care, please don’t hesitate to contact us at (519) 472-3770 or [email protected].