Quack Or On Track? How To Deal With Dr. Google

By Amy Shojai, CABC, Fear Free Certified

Many years ago when I worked as a veterinary technician, I spent much of my time “translating” the doctor’s medical-speak into language that pet parents more easily understood. Clients felt inhibited about asking the veterinarian for clarification, embarrassed they didn’t understand, and reluctant to “waste the doctor’s time.”

How times change. Today, many pet parents arrive at the clinic with the leash in one hand and a printout in the other, courtesy of “Dr. Google.” We applaud their advocacy and determination to educate themselves and provide the best care for their animal companions.

But pet professionals become frustrated when this information is at best inapplicable and, at worst, downright dangerous. Here are some ways to manage Dr. Google without hissing off your clients.

Responding To Quack References

Dismissing a pet parent’s research may put you and your staff on the enemies list. After all, when Uncle Ted’s pet benefited, or the latest famous Internet Guru says it’s true, how do you argue with a popular (or more palatable) plan?

First, recognize that pet parents want to find good information. They may not know where to look. They also may not know how to recognize red flags that signal untrustworthy sites.

To keep an open line of communication, pet professionals often must bite their tongue and carefully choose words to respond. One way to deflect a client’s potential ire might be to say (truthfully):

“You must have spent a lot of time researching [XYZ] issue. Thank you for bringing it to my attention. That’s something I’ve not seen before,” or even, “In my experience, that’s not been an issue.” Then you can proceed to explain what’s actually going on.

Think about educating clients how to spot the quack sites, too. Create a handout. That actually encourages clients to continue taking an active role in their pets’ wellbeing. It also promotes you as the open-minded and caring professional that you are. You could start with this list of quack warning flags:

  • Claims supported primarily by anecdotes or vague testimonials from non-professionals (explain what constitutes a professional, and science-based studies).
  • Descriptions that include words such as “amazing” or “miraculous” or “cure.”
  • One lone “guru” who has discovered a new, hidden, innovative (FILL IN THE BLANK) that conventional science refuses to recognize.
  • Copy that says the experts don’t want you to know about these cures/treatments because they’d lose business.
  • Any “one-size-fits-all” treatment that cures multiple issues.

What To Do With Credentialed References

Online resources such as veterinary schools are terrific, of course. Many savvy pet parents today have learned to access sources that are reviewed by veterinarians. Some online chat groups and email lists include veterinary members who offer their expertise with answers to general questions. That doesn’t mean the information applies in all cases, though.

When a client arrives with credentialed resources, celebrate! You’re on the same page. These resources save you time by providing background information pet parents need to understand a particular health challenge. Such clients understand that their cat or dog is a unique individual and that this information offers only the starting point. You can then move on to a complete examination and possibly further tests to provide more specific and beneficial information for their pets’ circumstances. Rather than discounting the information, build on it.

It’s helpful for you to know what credentialed references clients access. One of the best ways to avoid quack information is to provide a list of credentialed resources. Offer a handout that lists the websites or specific topic articles for educational purposes. That way, you know the source. Why not send clients to pertinent Fear Free articles, for example?

This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.