On giving veterinary advice online
I know it’s tempting when you have a veterinary question “Hey! I know a vet online! I can just ask them,” because it’s so easy to type out a question, especially anonymously, and media like Tumblr makes everything feel casual. Phoning a clinic might seem scary, especially talking to staff or vets there that you’re not familiar with, and messaging a blog seems like a lower stress alternative.
But I often cannot and should not help you.
If you message me because your dog is lethargic, I have no way of knowing whether it’s merely tired, or whether it has a bleeding abdominal tumour and will be dead by the morning. I’d only be guessing, even with years of training and experience. And if I guess wrong…
There are regional differences in diseases. I’m not even going to be thinking about tick borne infections for a sick dog, because that’s not what I see. My diagnostic ability is very geography specific.
It’s not legal for me to dispense specific veterinary advice outside my state of registration. If I don’t know where you are my advice more likely to be bad. I can’t write you a prescription either.
I’m very reluctant to contradict a vet who has actually seen the patient. Aside from being poor form and potentially bringing my profession into disrepute, hearing second hand information is highly likely to be inaccurate. No offense intended, but pet owners commonly relay information about what their previous vet did or said wrongly, and I can’t reliably draw a conclusion from that.
And I do not want to encourage people to think that sending me a question is a viable alternative to asking their own vet. Whether this is about food, treatments or, especially, emergency and time sensitive advice. The treating vet is already a wealth of knowledge, you should be asking their clinic about ongoing care and follow up questions after surgery, not somebody who is, let’s be frank, a complete stranger on the internet.
There is huge potential for online veterinary advice to do harm, which is why professions like mine are regulated.
I don’t want to close my ask box. I also don’t want to just be ‘mean’ and delete questions that are not appropriate, but also don’t want to clog the blog with 'call your vet’. Sometimes I do provide a short, curt answer encouraging people to call their vet. Sometimes well meaning people will add commentary to that post, which defeats the purpose of encouraging that person to call their local clinic. I know it feels good to answer questions, but there are legal liability issues that I just don’t want to deal with. I have to watch my back, and budding vetlings out there will need to do the same.
It is often safer for both myself and the patient for me to say call your vet.
I’m not doing it to be mean. I’m going it to be safe.
If you take wrong advice from the internet over advice from a consulting vet, there is a huge potential for harm. I cannot, and should not, shoulder that moral responsibility, and you don’t get to absolve your responsibility by shrugging your shoulders and saying “Well, I asked Dr Ferox.”