Beyond Dr. Google: Finding quality pet health information online

By Sadie Skeels

cat and dog

At the James L. Voss Veterinary Teaching Hospital Library, one of the first research skills librarians teach students in the veterinary medicine doctorate program is how to search for credible information about animal health conditions. But, as any pet-lover will tell you, future veterinarians aren’t the only ones who worry about pets’ runny noses.  

So what does the average pet parent need to know about finding quality pet health information online? Our expert librarians have broken it down into four easy steps for you. 

Step 1: Carefully Choose Your Search Words 

This can be fairly simplespecies plus symptoms is a good formula.  

For example, “dog coughing runny eyes.” After reviewing results, you might notice that some articles use “ocular discharge” instead of “runny eyes,” and try substituting that into your search.  

Step 2: Know Where to Go 

For general level information, Google will be your friend. When searching Google, enter your search terms and or site:.eduThis will tell Google to only return results from government or academic websites. 

If youre keen to find advancedlevel scientific informationPubMed is a free search engine from the National Library of Medicine that houses a wealth of veterinary research articles. Most articles will only have an abstract – a summary of the article – available for you to read, but it will give you enough information to collaborate with your veterinarian. Google Scholar is a popular option for finding research articles, but people often find it harder to narrow down results there than on PubMed.  

Step 3: Consider the Source  

dog and owner looking over ocean

As with anythingconsider the source of any information you find. Many veterinary clinics will post pages on their websites about common conditions and some generally credible sources like DVM360, Pet WebMD, or VetStreetThese sources offer content written by people in the veterinary field, but not reviewed by peer veterinarians. Peer-review is considered the gold standard for research quality 

Key indicators of quality include: 

  • References – The article should tell you where they get their information from. 
  • Author credentials – The article should tell you who the author is and their credentials, such as board-certified DVM or journalist. 
  • Unbiased arguments – The article’s purpose should be to inform and educate, not persuade you to pursue one treatment or product over another. 

Step 4: Take ITthe Experts (Your Veterinary Team)  

Reading an article is never a substitute for getting professional veterinary adviceeven if the article is written by a veterinarian. However, educating yourself about your pet’s health and collaborating with your veterinarian can help you, your pet, and your veterinarian.  

Sadie Skeels is the manager of the James L. Voss Veterinary Teaching Hospital Library at Colorado State University and liaison librarian for the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.