Speak up! Don’t let bad pet health advice pass unchallenged

What do you do when you see bad pet health advice fly by? I suggest that we in the veterinary community step up and put the truth out there. Case in point:

Dog-owners on Facebook were sharing the story of a dog who, as the story went, died of acute gastric dilatation-volvulus after drinking ice water. As if that weren’t bad enough, even a few veterinary practices were observed sharing the “warning.” (I’m guessing at those practices non-veterinary folks are handling the social media — at least I sure hope that’s the case!)

I noticed this incorrect information early last week, but since I was wasn’t able to get online that much — too many meetings — I didn’t realize how widespread this story had become for another day or so. The head of Nationwide Pet’s social media team noticed, however, and she saw an opportunity to put the “veterinary” back into veterinary advice. She asked me if the ice water issue was legitimate, and I told her I was pretty sure it wasn’t. But I like to be very sure in such cases, so I did three things, none of which took much time:

  1. I searched PubMed for relevant journal articles, to find out if any recent studies had found that ice water was a risk-factor for GDV. Nothing.
  2. I called a colleague, a well-regarded specialist in canine sports medicine who is teaching at one of our veterinary schools, to see if she knew of any studies that suggested ice was was linked to GDV. She did not.
  3. I checked Snopes.com to see if they knew the original source of this information, and if they had chimed in with a “thumbs up/thumbs down.”  They not only gave it a “thumbs down,” but they provided  further information: This “warning” first surfaced in 2010 and was back in circulation like  a bad penny.

Having confirmed that I had the latest information from colleagues who are experts in this field, I worked with our social media team to develop a Internet “meme” — something that could be easily shared to get the word out quickly and accurately.

NewsThat meme immediately started to be shared. Hundreds of people shared it, and tens of thousands of people saw it — and that was just on Facebook! In addition to countering the “warning” that was circulating with the help of well-meaning but ill-informed pet-owners, it helped to put the veterinarian back into the loop when it comes to pet-health advice. My most fervent hope is that because of our actions, people will take a few minutes to find out more about the risk factors for GDV from legitimate veterinary sources, such as our own Pet Healthzone, where our veterinary-reviewed article on GDV is here. I also hope it helps to reinforce the point that veterinarians should be the primary source of information on pet health.

We all need to be proactive in making that happen.

The first step, of course, is monitoring social media for inaccurate information about pets and their care. Make sure whoever is handling your practice’s social media knows to watch for rocks in the whitewater ride that is social media, and to bring any questionable material to those in your practice who can provide accurate information. That’s especially true when “sharing” on social media — if it can’t be independently confirmed through reputable sources, it shouldn’t be shared.  We are all so busy that even with continuing education and dedicated journal reading we just can’t keep on everything, which is why I took a little time out of my day to make sure my knowledge was current before I made a definitive statement and put it out there for everyone to see.

Once you have the correct information, share it with your clients and other pet-owners. Put it on your Facebook wall, share it on Twitter  — any social media platform you have is a good place to educate your clients. Fight back against the erosion of our status as the definitive experts in veterinary medicine: Step up and post as a veterinary professional.

If we at Nationwide get the information first, we will help you. Follow me on Facebook , Twitter and on Instagram, and rest assured that anything I post can be shared — and I hope it is. As I’ve said many times, no pet insurance company has more veterinarians and veterinary technicians than Nationwide, and that shows in how we do business.  We always work to ensure that caring for pets is done as a partnership between the pet-owner and the veterinary team, with us helping to make sure pets get the care they need.

Sometimes the place for that to start is by making a statement. I did, and I hope you do, too!

(Updated 11/23/2015 to update hyperlinks and reflect brand change to Nationwide.)