When we’re worried about our animal friend’s health, it’s easy to go down a rabbit hole in search of answers. It doesn’t matter if the search term is a symptom, diagnosis, or treatment. Most of us have done it and wound up even more confused or misinformed, which helps no one.
Knowing where to look and where to be wary can yield better outcomes and fewer headaches. Based on many years as a journalist, animal wellness practitioner, and pet mom, here are my suggestions for accurate, credible animal health information sources:
Your veterinarian and vet clinic should be your primary source for your pet’s health. They know you and your animals. If you don’t have a vet you trust, find one by asking fellow pet parents you trust. Online testimonials and reviews are helpful, but nothing beats a personal referral.
If you’re afraid of asking a stupid question or bothering the vet clinic staff, consider that some of the most pertinent questions are the seemingly stupid ones (i.e., “Where are my pants?”). Your vet and staff are your chief allies in your pet’s well-being. It’s OK to ask them, “Where can I learn more about this?” They’d rather steer you toward a trusted source than have you paralyzed with fear or try an unproven “miracle cure” that may do more harm than good.
Places like the Purdue University College of Veterinary Medicine (our Indiana example) educate and train tomorrow’s veterinary professionals. Vet school faculty and staff members are trained scientists whose job it is to figure stuff out — accurately and without bias. (More on bias in a moment.)
University-conducted studies can be wonderful sources of information and insight. Keep in mind that a single study is seldom, if ever, the final answer. What we know about our animals, our world, and ourselves is constantly evolving.
Also, these studies are generally written with a style and terminology that leave you wondering what on earth is wrong with plain English. They’re intended for a professional or academic audience. That’s cool, but you may want something more accessible.
Fortunately, the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine website’s Health Topics section is geared toward both veterinarians and pet owners. I especially like the information I’ve found on the Cornell Feline Health Center page.
Now to the question of bias. When you are reading a media report on a study that links X to Y, or which indicates A is beneficial in the treatment of B, click the link to the actual study. It may be a university study in a professional journal, or it could be a press release.
Either way, look at who paid for and conducted the study. Would they have a vested interest in the outcome? For example, if a study about the benefits of CBD oil was paid for or conducted by a company that makes CBD supplements, I wouldn’t give that study much weight. Its conclusions may prove correct in time, but show me some independent research. Also look at any conflicts of interest disclosed by the authors themselves.
Again, resist the impulse to draw conclusions from research that may not be conclusive.
The American Veterinary Medical Association’s website includes resources for pet owners — including, of course, how best to partner with your veterinarian for your animal friend’s best life. (There’s also a great article on getting pet health information online, which hits some points I do not here.)
The American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association’s Holistic Veterinary Therapies page is where I would start for information on complementary and alternative therapies such as chiropractic, acupuncture, and more.
Don’t overlook the library
I’ve been talking about online information here, but I’m old enough that, once upon a time, the stacks were my first stop. But my advice is similar. Look at the credentials of the author(s) and don’t get swept up in “breakthrough,” “miracle,” “revolutionary,” or similar claims.
Those are the sources to seek. Briefly, here are the sources to evaluate more carefully:
• Sites owned by businesses selling a product or service. This goes for mine, too. Do they link to reliable sources of health information? Do the claims seem too good to be true?
• Blogs (again, including mine), message boards, social media and anyplace else where people can post anything. What sources, if any, does the person reference? Is he or she angry? Grieving?
• Wikipedia. Being a free-for-all may be part of its charm. Fine. Just look in the text and footnotes for links to reliable sources.
Bottom line: When you’re evaluating a source of information on animal health, always consider the who and the why. Then — again — work with a veterinarian you trust.