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Vet surgeons and vet practice nurses have a new “enemy” when dealing with upset owners and poorly pets – the internet.
UK vets have been treating increasing numbers of animals whose ailments have been left undiagnosed and untreated for too long. This is because, thanks to improved connectivity and the proliferation of internet-enabled smart devices, pet owners are relying on online research and self-diagnosis more often.
The BVA’s Voice of the Veterinary Profession survey found that 98% of vets believe their clients’ behaviour is influenced by what they find online – with 39% of those respondents saying such internet-sourced advice "is more unhelpful than helpful”.
Putting pets in peril
One of the risks is pets won't get the help they need quickly enough and will only be brought to the vet in desperation.
This is a challenge for many VNs and vets. How do they explain to owners that online research has its uses – but also serious limits?
No animal is the same as the next, and relying on generic descriptions of illness and injuries often doesn’t allow for variations in the pet’s size, age, temperament and previous health, for example.
Medications and other products bought online can also be “hit and miss” in treating much-loved pets. Vets have to be ready to explain, in some cases, these web-sourced “cures” do more harm than good. Plus, ill-informed research online can incite unnecessary panic and distress.
Many of the ways a pet shows symptoms can have multiple diagnoses. Some problems are easily rectifiable and without medical intervention.
For example, an overly thirsty cat may cause the owner to misdiagnose this as chronic kidney disease or diabetes. However, the explanation might be a change in food, which means the feline companion needs more water to help digest it. An accurate diagnosis comes from testing the cat’s urine and getting a medical history.
Getting information right
Managing the expectations and concerns of DIY vets is something all practice staff need to address. This may include acknowledging good information sources available online and guiding owners to them.
Having instantly accessible first aid and background information – 24/7 at no cost – could potentially save an animal’s life. Owners could also be encouraged to book a follow-up vet appointment afterwards.
What is vital, though, is practices give pet owners some clear internet guidelines on the risks involved with being a DIY vet. This needs to red flag the sort of online resources that put pets at risk, such as websites that sell animal medicines without a prescription.