More than just a series of tubes, the internet is a wealth of information on any subject you could possibly imagine and a few you couldn't. Unfortunately, the information available on the internet varies from being extremely beneficial to being downright harmful to the user. This is not going to be an attempt to discourage you from looking to the internet to answer your questions about your pet's health. I encourage you to look things up for yourself and educate yourself as much as possible about everything we could possibly talk about in an exam room when discussing your pet's health. I love the enthusiasm that people show when looking into what they should be feeding their dog or cat, or which vaccines they may or may not need or the best way to manage a diabetic cat. It's only when someone comes to me with misleading information that goes against the available evidence we have that I start to worry that all of that enthusiasm and time have been wasted.
My goal in writing this is to give you some advice on the best way to be sure that you are receiving valuable information from the internet. I am going to break it down into three basic categories and then have some other ideas at the end. I'll even throw in a few recommendations for good sources of information.
The most important part of any good internet search is to consider the source. While bias may or may not have an effect on the information being presented it definitely affects the presentation of the information. This blog is a wonderful example of that. I am a human being and have my own biases and perspectives, the information I present here by itself is objective and well founded on evidence but I present it through the mind of a veterinarian who puts a lot of emphasis on science, reason and logic. I would not recommend that you cite any one of my blogs in a research paper on any subject but one of my blogs might very well make a good starting point. The same is true of any other piece of information on the internet. While all information should be viewed with a healthy dose of skepticism, there are three basic tenants to look for when looking for bias. Anyone trying to sell you something is either financially tied to the information, emotionally tied or both. This will skew objectivity. Someone presenting a very strong ideologically position on a subject is emotionally tied to their subject and it is extremely hard to be objective when explaining your core beliefs. Anyone who argues that their information must be correct because an expert, doctor, scientist or astronaut told them so is also suspect for bias. We are trained to trust authority but authority by itself is not expertise and expertise in a particular subject does not give you pull over any other subject. No matter how much internet reading I do, I will never be an astronomer, meteorologist or auto-mechanic. Doesn't work like that. Looking for these sources of bias when examining a source is a good start. It isn't fool proof but that's where our skepticism about everything protects us.
Anyone providing scientific information has to also provide scientific references. I am providing opinion, my work is not meant to replace proper scientific inquiry, it is meant to pique you curiosity and get you looking for information. If you like I can typically within a few minutes find you a decent scientific reference for any piece of information I have shared with you. I can also provide references who will assert that this is the truth! Scientific references come from scientific journals. Magazines, newspapers, books and blogs do not count as they are not peer reviewed. The peer review process, while not perfect, is the best way to remove bias from the presentation of information. The reason it works so well is multi-factorial. First it is an anonymous practice, neither the submitter of a proposed scientific journal nor the initial reviewers know who each other are. Maybe they could figure it out as these tend to be small fields and people know what they are working on but by and large it is anonymous. Further more, these people all compete for the same grant money every year, that's how research is funded. No one receives any money for publishing a scientific article, not a single dollar, but you are more likely to receive funding for your next project if your current project reults in multiple publications. All of the people reading your submission are probably going to be applying for the exact same grants as you. They are going to try to find flaws in your work, if they do it will come back to you with notes and you must revise your work. If they fail to find flaws in your work, you win. It is a contest and that is why they call it the "arena of ideas." So you are looking for actual science when looking for scientific evidence to support a claim or someone's ideas.
Finally you have to look at the writer. The writer of a page giving medical advice about pets, technical advice on repairing automobiles or ballistics support for your sub-orbital space craft should have the appropriate training to do so. I personally always become skeptical when an author lists themselves as Dr. So and So. The exception to that of course being Dr. Suess. I would list myself as Heath McNutt DVM, if I listed myself as Dr. Heath McNutt I could certainly get away with giving out human medical advice or even physics lessons until someone with a little more knowledge than me realized I had no idea what I was talking about. By then, I might very well have a loyal following who don't care if I am discredited and still find meaning in my fraudulent works. I would feel good about myself "making a difference" in people's lives and they would feel like they were a part of something special and outside the mainstream. Except it would all be predicated on a lie. That is how quackery happens. So anyone writing to you from a grounded area of expertise should have no problem listing their educational background, beyond just DVM or PhD or any other degree. They should list the school they attended, the approximate time they were there and the degree conferred on them when they left. If they have advanced training they will typically list that as well. You want to look for training information when evaluating an author.
It is extremely important that you remember that when it comes to veterinary medicine, you do not have access to the same information that I do. For one, I belong to groups that give me access to literally hundreds if not thousands of other veterinarians many of whom are leaders in their specific fields. I have social circles that include veterinarians and allows me to use not only all the brains I have but all of the brains I have access to when researching a question. (Winston Churchill quote was not accidental) I also have the unique training of being a veterinarian, I know what I'm looking for before I am looking for it. For example, I am not going to search about why a dog's ear is swollen, hot to the touch and fluid filled. I will look for the most current treatment methods for dealing with aural hematomas. The difference in the quality of information between those two searches would be remarkable. I suppose that is a nicer way of saying, all of the internet research in the world won't make you a veterinarian anymore than it makes me and my wife pediatricians.
And now the good stuff. There are websites with information that I find more valuable and useful than others. When it comes to pet medical information Veterinary Partner is a wealth of information. The site is a little difficult to navigate but the search function works fairly well. Free Medical Journals is a site that gives you free access to several medical journals, it too is a little difficult to get used to but has a reasonable search function. My favorite site for finding new papers and information is the United States National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health website PubMed.
Enjoy the web, be safe out there and please share what you find! You truly own the knowledge you seek out for yourself.