British Vets Forced to Compete With ‘Dr. Google’

Nearly all British veterinarians say their clients’ behavior was swayed by what the pet owners found online.

Skin conditions, gastrointestinal disorders and musculoskeletal problems bring British pets to a veterinarian most often.


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British practitioners are fed up with the world’s most popular veterinarian, who they accuse of encouraging clients to self-diagnose and treat their pets at home, sometimes to the detriment of the animal.

The veterinarian, known only as “Dr. Google,” has influenced the vast majority of pet owners, according to the British Veterinary Association.

The veterinary organization reported Sunday that 98 percent of practitioners surveyed stated that their clients’ behavior was swayed by what the pet owners found online. Furthermore, nearly 40 percent of veterinarians said the owners’ online research was unhelpful.

“It worries me to hear that so many people are relying on guesswork or unverified Internet sources for health advice for their pets,” said BVA President Robin Hargreaves, MRCVS. “While there is some useful information about pet behavior and health available online, particularly from the established animal charities, the best source of information for animal health concerns will always be your vet, who knows your pet.”

Across the Atlantic, Dr. Google has been blamed for lackluster interest in regular veterinary checkups. A 2014 survey conducted by the coalition Partners for Healthy Pets found that 48 percent of U.S. pet owners first turned to the Internet when their cat or dog was injured or sick, up from 39 percent in 2010.

“We’re fighting Dr. Google,” said campaign chairman Ron DeHaven, DVM, MBA.

Internet diagnoses, financial issues and a lack of understanding mean sick or injured pets often show up later than they should at a British veterinary hospital. The BVA survey found that more than 80 percent of British veterinarians have such clients.

“Dr. Google often results in owners misdiagnosing conditions, followed by the client being led to believe that there is a cheap and effective ‘treatment’ obtainable online or from a pet shop,” one survey respondent stated. “And thus animals suffer far longer than need be.”

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Dr. Google also works alongside a veterinarian in the exam room.

One practitioner told the BVA about a client who checked Google during a consultation and how another pet owner refused an operation on her dog “only to come back with the dog minutes later in a blind panic because the Internet had agreed with my advice.”

“It is frustrating that some people appear to genuinely believe that a veterinary degree and a quick search on Google are the same thing,” the veterinarian stated.

The 689 companion animal practitioners surveyed offered additional insight into why clients schedule a hospital visit. Seventy percent of the veterinarians said a skin condition was one of the top three reasons a pet was presented, followed by gastrointestinal disorders such as vomiting and diarrhea and by musculoskeletal problems.

“Given the number of animals with skin problems I see in my own practice I’m not surprised to hear how common they are,” Dr. Hargreaves said. “I’d strongly encourage owners to visit a vet early if their pet is scratching or licking themselves a lot or showing other signs of skin discomfort.”

For all of Dr. Google’s professed authority, the Internet veterinarian can’t always be counted on.

Among the veterinarians surveyed by BVA, 39 percent said the online information that clients uncovered was “more unhelpful than helpful,” 53 percent said it was “helpful and unhelpful in equal measure” and 6 percent said it was “more helpful than unhelpful.”

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