Veterinary Reasonable Expectations: The Ability to Discuss Your Internet Research With Your Vet

Does your veterinarian welcome or frown upon your internet research?

This is the sixth part of an ongoing series describing what you should expect regarding veterinary care for their dogs. You can find parts one through five at Take your time with this one. There is a great deal to say about this worthwhile topic!


When your dog becomes ill, chances are you’ll be inclined to do some Internet research. Should you be able to talk with your vet about what you’ve learned?

Having this discussion with your vet is a perfectly reasonable expectation as long as you are careful to avoid using valuable office visit time discussing “whackadoodle” notions gleaned from cyberspace.

Veterinary Reasonable Expectations: The Ability to Discuss Your Internet Research With Your Vet

Effective online research

Here are some pointers to help you find instructive, accurate, worthwhile Internet information while avoiding “online junk food.” This information also applies to your own health care.

So, let’s begin.

How can you determine whether or not a website is dishing out information that is worthy of your time? 

Internet research general guidelines

  1. Ask your veterinarian for her website recommendations.  She might wish to refer you to a specific site to supplement or reinforce the information she has provided.
  2. Veterinary college websites invariably provide reliable information.  Search for them by entering “veterinary college” or “veterinary school” after the name of the disease or symptom you are researching.
  3. Web addresses ending in “.org,” “.edu,” and “.gov” represent nonprofit organizations, educational institutions, and governmental agencies, respectively.  They will likely be sources of objective and accurate information.
  4. If your dog has a breed-specific disease, pay a visit to the site hosted by that specific breed’s national organization.
  5. Avoid business-sponsored websites that stand to make money when you believe and act on what they profess (especially if it involves purchasing something).
  6. Be ever so wary of anecdotal information.  It’s perfectly okay to indulge yourself with remarkable tales (how a single session miraculously cured max’s skin disease of aromatherapy), but view what you are reading as fiction rather than fact.
  7. I really love disease-specific online forums. Not only do many of them provide a wealth of educational information, but members can also be a wonderful source of emotional support- always a good thing for those of us who share our homes and hearts with an animal.

Online forums

If you are considering joining an online forum, I encourage you to look for a group that focuses on a specific disease (kidney failure, diabetes, etc.), has lots of members, and has been around for several years.

For example, an excellent Yahoo group AddisonsDogs has 3,391 members and has been up and running for eight years.  A large group such as this typically has multiple moderators who screen participants, screen comments to keep things on topic, present more than one point of view (always a good thing), and provide greater round-the-clock availability for advice and support.


Look for a presentation of cited references (clinical research that supports what is being recommended). Such groups should have a homepage that explains the group’s focus and provides the number of members and posts per month (the more, the better).  They may have public archives of previous posts that can provide a wealth of information.

I happen to enjoy hearing about what my clients are learning online.

I sometimes come away with valuable new information. I’m invariably amused by some of the extraordinary things they tell me- who knew that hip dysplasia is caused by global warming!

Not all veterinarians welcome it

Veterinary Reasonable Expectations: The Ability to Discuss Your Internet Research With Your Vet

Surf to your heart’s content, but be forewarned, not all veterinarians feel as I do.

Some have a hard time not “rolling their eyes” or quickly interrupting the moment the conversation turns to Internet research. What can you do to realize the expectation of discussing your online research in a way that is neither irritating to your vet nor intimidating for you?  Listed below are some secrets to success:

I may be preaching to the choir, but I cannot overemphasize the importance of working with a vet who is happy and willing to participate in two-way, collaborative dialogue with you. Your opinions, feelings, and questions are held in high regard, and enough time is allowed during the office visit to hear them.

Relationship-centered communication style

A veterinarian who practices this “relationship-centered” style of communication is far more likely to want to hear about your online research than the veterinarian who practices “paternalistic care” (far more interested in telling you what to do than hearing about your thoughts, questions, or concerns).  Remember, when it comes to veterinarian/client communication styles, you have a choice. It’s up to you to make the right choice!

How to go about it

Breaking the ice

Let your vet know that you appreciate her willingness to help you best to utilize what you’ve learned online.

The importance of timing

Wait for the appropriate time during the office visit to discuss what you’ve learned online.

Allow your veterinarian to ask you questions and examine your dog first. Don’t “tackle” her with discussion about your Internet research the moment she sets foot in the exam room.

Get on point

Be brief and “to the point” with your questions. Remember, most office visits are scheduled for 15 to 20 minutes, max.

Establish credibility

Let your veterinarian know that you’ve learned how to be a discriminating surfer! You know how to differentiate between valuable online resources and “cyber-fluff”.

You favor credible sites and forums hosted by well-educated moderators who provide cited research references that support their recommendations.

Be respectful

When you begin a conversation about your Internet research, choose your wording wisely. Communicate in a respectful fashion that invites conversation as opposed to “telling” your vet what you want to do.

In closing

On the Internet, we have an extraordinary tool at our fingertips. Be selective about which websites you take seriously and which ones you wish to visit for a chuckle.

Approach conversations with your vet about your Internet research thoughtfully and tactfully.  These strategies will facilitate constructive conversation and create a win-win-win situation- for you, your veterinarian, and your beloved best buddy!

Have you had a conversation with your vet about your Internet research?  If so, how did it go?

Now here’s wishing you and your four-legged family members abundant good health.

Related articles:
Communicating with Your Veterinarian: Emailing With Your Vet And The Miracle Of Web-based Medical Records

Further reading:
Study shows communication gaps between veterinarians and clients

Categories: Dog health advocacyWorking with Veterinarians

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Dr. Nancy Kay

Dr. Nancy Kay wanted to become a veterinarian for just about as long as she can remember. Her veterinary degree is from Cornell College of Veterinary Medicine, and she completed her residency training in small animal internal medicine at the University of California-Davis Veterinary School. Dr. Kay is a board-certified specialist in the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine and published in several professional journals and textbooks. She lectures professionally to regional and national audiences, and one of her favorite lecture topics is communication between veterinarians and their clients. Since the release of her book, Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life, Dr. Kay has lectured extensively and written numerous magazine articles on the topic of medical advocacy and veterinarian/client communication. She was a featured guest on the popular National Public Radio show, Fresh Air with Terry Gross. Dr. Kay's newest book is called, Your Dog's Best Health: A Dozen Reasonable Things to Expect From Your Vet. Her award-winning blog, "Spot Speaks" is posted weekly ( Dr. Kay was selected by the American Animal Hospital Association to receive the 2009 Hill�s Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award. This award is given annually to a veterinarian or nonveterinarian who has advanced animal welfare through extraordinary service or by furthering humane principles, education, and understanding. Dr. Kay was selected as the 2011 Leo K. Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year, an award presented every year by the American Veterinary Medical Association to a veterinarian whose work exemplifies and promotes the human-animal bond. Dr. Kay has received several awards from the Dog Writer�s Association of America. Dr. Kay's personal life revolves around her husband (also a veterinarian), her three children (none of whom aspire to be veterinarians) and their menagerie of four-legged family members. When she's not writing, she spends her spare moments in the garden or riding atop her favorite horse. Dr. Kay and her husband reside in Hendersonville, North Carolina.

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