Veterinary Viewpoints: Giving and Receiving Veterinary Medical Advice via Social Media

Thursday, September 2, 2021

Media contact: Derinda Blakeney, APR | OSU University of Veterinary Medicine | 405-744-6740 | derinda@okstate.edu

Pet owners often turn to social media for answers to all kinds of questions, including medical advice for their pets and farm animals. Information online is abundant but not always accurate, and it can be difficult for some owners to tell the good from the bad. Most pet owners are also willing to share their experiences and help others through social media, but depending on the advice given, they can break the law.

A non-veterinarian providing medical advice to an animal owner in person or via social media could be viewed as “practicing veterinary medicine without a license to practice”. Every state has a Veterinary Practice Act that prohibits individuals from diagnosing disease, recommending certain treatments, performing medical procedures, and prescribing medication unless they are a licensed veterinarian in that state. In order to be able to advise or treat an animal, a licensed veterinarian must also have a veterinarian-client-patient relationship (VCPR).

This means that the veterinarian has examined the animal or has sufficient knowledge and has taken responsibility for the medical assessment. The veterinarian must also be ready to provide some form of follow-up care and must keep written medical records detailing the test results, diagnosis, and treatment (s). Even a veterinarian is prohibited from giving specific medical advice to animals he does not know.

Why is this the case? Many diseases or foods have very similar symptoms, and some conditions described by animal owners are not actual diseases. Vomiting, lameness, and colic, for example, are not diseases; they are clinical signs that can have a variety of causes. To make an accurate diagnosis, a veterinarian exam is needed, which often includes diagnostic tests such as x-rays or blood tests. Improper online advice can delay adequate treatment, which can make the condition worse or cause a new problem altogether.

So this leads us to get medical advice through social media. A non-veterinarian is unlikely to have the sophisticated medical knowledge needed to diagnose a condition or disease. In addition, without a full examination, a veterinarian may not be able to apply their knowledge and experience accurately. Someone offering general information about a medical condition or describing a previous experience with their own pet is likely to comply with the law; however, this information may not be accurate.

Most veterinary colleges and many private veterinary practices have websites and social media accounts that provide general information about specific animal diseases. These are good sources of general information; Most, however, do not offer specific information on social media about a particular animal without a valid relationship.

Horse owners often say that they “read online” or “learned from a Facebook friend” how to handle a problem with their horse. Usually they tell me that they tried the advice or a variation of it. When the advice didn’t help, they decided to schedule an examination. This delayed diagnosis and treatment of the real problem. In a serious or life threatening situation, this delay can be catastrophic.

If you have any questions about your pet’s health, do not contact social media or “Dr. Google. “Contact your veterinarian. Have an established relationship through routine grooming of your pet or farm animal such as annual physical exams, vaccinations, dentistry, etc. If your veterinarian knows you and your pet’s medical history, they are more likely to be ready and in the know Able to provide advice by phone, email, or social media If you think a second opinion is needed, contact another veterinarian or specialist clinic.

About the author: Mike J. Schoonover, DVM, MS, DACVS-LA, DACVSMR, is Associate Professor of Equine Surgery and Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation in the College of Veterinary Medicine at Oklahoma State University. He is a specialist in large animal surgery and equestrian medicine and rehabilitation. The focus of his clinical work lies in sports medicine and surgery of the western performance horse. His research interests lie in objective lameness assessment modalities, regional perfusion techniques of the limbs, and bovine sports medicine.

Veterinary Viewpoints is offered by the faculty of the OSU Veterinary Medical Hospital. The American Animal Hospital Association-certified hospital is open to the public and offers routine and special care for all animal species, as well as 24-hour emergency care, 365 days a year. Call 405-744-7000 for an appointment or more information.