The Internet allows veterinary clients ready access to a wide range of pet health information. However, little is known about what clients seek, what strategies are used to verify information accuracy, and how client perceptions of online information impact communication with veterinarians.

Objectives: (1) To explore veterinary clients’ Internet search strategies and methods for assessing pet health information online, and (2) to investigate how client perceptions of online information impact communication with veterinarians.   Methods: As part of a larger qualitative study, five focus groups with active veterinary clients (n=26) were conducted. Thematic analysis was used to analyze verbatim focus group transcripts.

Findings: Clients reported using search engines (e.g. Google) and social media platforms (e.g. Pinterest) to seek health information for various pet species, such as causes of pets’ symptoms and related treatment options. To verify information accuracy, clients often compared materials across multiple online resources. Some clients who successfully obtained pet health information online discussed their findings with their veterinarians and felt these conversations improved their veterinary client relationships. Other clients were reluctant to share this information with their veterinarians, believing the discussion would detrimentally affect their relationships. 

Discussion: Despite feeling successful about their Internet search strategies for pet health information, clients were either confident or reticent in sharing the information with veterinarians. Speculatively, pre-existing relationships and previous interactions may help explain some of these findings.   

*LAI, Nanette, KHOSA, Deep, DEWEY, Cate, JONES-BITTON, Andria 
Department of Population Medicine/Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph, Guelph, Canada