Eight in ten internet users look online for health information. When it comes to advice about your cat’s health, you’re looking for reputable sources of information. How can you tell the difference between good and bad information about your cat’s health online?
Scientific and Institutional Sources
Going straight to the scientific sources is a way of getting information about your cat’s health without risking someone adding non-evidence-based information to their articles about it. One of the best sources for veterinary journal articles is PubMed, from the US National Library of Medicine at the National Institutes of Health. When you read full veterinary journal articles, they’re heavy reading, but can provide valuable information you don’t see anywhere else.
In addition to the PubMed, which is a US federal web site, large professional organizations and well-known medical schools are also good sources of feline health information.
Some examples of professional organizations providing information for health and wellness for your cat include:
- American Association of Feline Practitioners
- American Veterinary Medical Association
- American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA)
Look for the site to be a .org (organization) rather than a .com (commercial) site.
Examples of veterinary schools that provide information to the public include:
- Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine Feline Health Center
- Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine Indoor Pet Initiative
There are plenty more, but those give you the idea. Look for a .edu on the site’s URL, which indicates it is an educational institution.
Unreviewed Sources of Unknown Credibility
This category of web sites includes everything from well-informed individuals writing for sites, well-intended individuals writing about things they really don’t have enough information about, and quacks. You need to use some critical thinking when approaching web sites in order to decide which is which.
The site you’re reading now actually falls under the category of unreviewed sources of unknown credibility. I’m not a veterinarian or a behaviorist, and I write pieces for Topical Thursdays that might be considered giving advice. How would you decide whether this site or any others are well-informed or might contain non-evidence-based information?
Find the Primary Source for the Information
One of the first things to look for when looking for a credibility is determining the source of the information published. What is the primary source?
- The primary source of the information may be the site’s author himself. If this is the case, what are the author’s credentials to give this health advice? There should be an About page or something of the type giving information that you can use to determine whether you want to trust the advice of the author.
- The primary source may be a medical study. Look for information about the name of the study or the author so that you can refer directly to the study for additional details. You might find that studies cited are a dozen or more years old. Does that change your opinion of whether you want to take the advice from this web site?
- The primary source may be quoted in the article. If that’s the case, there should be some brief mention of the source’s credentials so that you can decide whether they are a trustworthy source of advice for your cat. You can even search for other information about the person quoted to see how authoritative they are on the subject.
- The primary source of the information may be another web site. If that’s the case, what is that site’s primary source? You can use the same steps above to decide on whether this site is a trustworthy source of information to provide data to the site where you originally got the advice.
Things to Watch Out For
A few more things to keep in mind while you’re surfing for health information for your cat:
- You can’t always trust your instincts. Part of what some people don’t understand about cats when researching their health is that they don’t work like miniature humans. For instance, cats do not produce amylase, the enzyme that helps break down carbohydrates in food, in their saliva the way that humans do. Advice to eat lots of vegetables makes sense to you because you are accustomed to advice for human health, but it isn’t appropriate for your cat.
- It’s not all in slick design. A great-looking web site may have unsubstantiated information and a site without bells and whistles may include only evidence-based information.
- Consider how timely the information is. Veterinary science, like human medical science, keeps learning. Some information and studies from five or ten years ago may have been updated with new information.
- What’s the web site’s agenda? Are they trying to sell you a product, and if so is their information biased to convince you to buy?
Use some critical thinking while you’re surfing the web for information about your cat’s health to ensure you get the best information to make good decisions for your four-footed friend.
References and Further Reading