British veterinarians vexed by clients putting their trust in 'Dr. Google'

Just as American veterinarians have struggled with clients who are quick to consult "Dr. Google" before their own veterinarians, their British counterparts are dealing with many clients who flock to readily available online advice.

The British Veterinary Association (BVA) surveyed 1,208 veterinarians - 689 of whom work with companion animals - to solicit their opinions about the impact of clients ranking Google higher than their veterinarians. A hefty 98 percent of survey respondents said they believe their clients change their behavior based on online research.

Some respondents said they think that clients who consult Dr. Google before visiting a veterinarian are more likely to self-diagnose and treat pets, and that animals pay the price because their owners unnecessarily delay seeking professional veterinary care. 

According to the BVA, one veterinarian related the story of a client who refused surgery for her dog "only to come back with the dog minutes later in a blind panic because the Internet had agreed with my advice." The same veterinarian lamented that some clients seem to think that a quick Google search is equal to a veterinary degree.

The survey results align with 2011 Banfield Veterinary Care Usage Study findings revealing that 39 percent of pet owners in the United States turn to the Internet before contacting their veterinarians.

Additional statistics uncovered by the BVA survey include:

  • 81 percent of respondents said they had clients who bring their pets in later than is advisable. Respondents pointed to financial issues, lack of understanding, and attempts to self-diagnose and treat pets as possible reasons.
  • 39 percent of veterinarians said clients' online research was unhelpful, 53 percent said it was equally helpful and unhelpful, and 6 percent found it more helpful than not.

"It worries me to hear that so many people are relying on guesswork or unverified Internet sources for health advice for their pets," said Robin Hargreaves, BVSc, MRCVS, president of the British Veterinary Association. "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."