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Felinexpress.com home > Cat Care > Processing Fact from Fiction in Cat Communities

Processing Fact from Fiction in Cat Communities

A cat owner worried because her cat wasn’t acting “right” sought help from an Internet cat-related forum. After listing the symptoms her cat displayed, she hit the submit button. In the matter of a few minutes, her thread showed responses. If this cat owner is a well-established member of the cat community, she might posess the ability to discern between the posters “in the know” from the ones who post advice which can range from foolhardy to downright dangerous.If she is well invested in the forum, she will be able to also distinguish between a poster's high posting count not necessarily meaning that the poster is adding quality information. On some forums, those who know what they are talking about often have little time to sit and post, therefore their posts are few and far between but contain excellent advice or opinions.

An Internet forum’s existing purpose is providing a place for discussion. Once a situation becomes public, this invites anyone lurking to offer their opinion, expertise or advice. Forums don’t often leave facts that are well-documented. Moderators, moderate on a volunteer basis. They are not fact-checkers. Anyone in the world can participate now that the Internet reaches into remote corners of the globe.

A few years ago, I saw a bumper sticker on the back of a car. At first I laughed when I read it, but then it set me to thinking. The bumper sticker read “I am not a psychologist, but I play one on the Internet!” This sticker sadly carries a grain of truth; anyone can say anything on the Internet with no consequences to themselves. The consequences occur when the person on the other end of the computer screen decides to take that post as gospel and follows the wrong advice.

People sometimes find themselves in no-win situation with their cat. Perhaps they have money issues. If they take the cat to the vet maybe this will result in family hardships. Perchance, deep down they understand the truth of what they should do, but they can’t quite bring themselves to follow-through. Instead, they search for validation.  Believing their only option (their saving grace) will arrive by turning to internet forums for advice, they type out their thread. After all, the advice is free. No need to bother with catching the cat they write about (he hides at the very appearance of the cat carrier). They don’t have to rob their life’s savings to take the cat in to be examined. No money exchanged hands. Life should be so simple.

The reality of the situation is life isn’t that easy. When you share your life with a cat, you also handle the burden of responsibility that goes with owning any animal. This means making wise decisions in regards to his care. When your cat isn’t acting right, the prudent course of action is to call your veterinarian. That’s what the vet gets paid for. Your vet is there, in your presence not sitting in another room behind a computer monitor diagnosing your cat from afar.

In the exam room, your cat will have a hand’s on examination, his vitals will be taken and blood drawn (if necessary) or other diagnostic tests ordered if need be. How can a stranger adequately diagnose your cat through a computer screen?

Deb Eldridge DVM, author of Pills for Pets shares her thoughts on the subject of dealing with Internet information overload:

“Anybody can set up a website and even printed materials may not get much critical review. Be a critical reader. Do your homework…”

  • Do your research before moving ahead:
  • The old adage holds: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
  • If the poster states, “studies show” find out if there was a study.
  • Be a fact-checker before you move ahead.
  • Don’t accept everything you read as the bottom-line.
  • Use Internet forums wisely.
  • After your vet has been consulted, then post about what is going on.
  • Ask for ideas which you in turn can discuss with your vet.

Dr. Eldredge shares a true-life situation which happened when she was working in an emergency animal clinic.

“On Christmas Eve a family called in because their cat Cleo was having trouble delivering kittens. They had found Cleo 6 months ago and taken her in and now she was straining to deliver. What they wanted was some oxytocin (a "pit" shot") to stimulate contractions which they would give her at home.

We insisted we needed to actually examine the cat. And guess what - it was a neutered MALE cat that had a urinary blockage! He would have died if we hadn't insisted on actually examining him.
Even speaking to the family over the phone - vet to owner, we would not have diagnosed this cat correctly. So what are the chances that a stranger on the Internet, who may or may not have ANY medical background, can diagnose your cat correctly and/or give treatment advice? Minimal at best.”

Another example of keeping a discerning eye when it comes to Internet advice brought about tragic consequences for the cat and the owner. A gentleman brought home a new kitten. His girlfriend already had two cats in the home. But this gentleman felt sorry for this kitten he found. For the first few hours, the kitten was safely sequestered inside a small bathroom. The guy wanted a quick introduction of all the cats, so he went on a cat-related forum asking for advice on how to achieve his end goal. He was told “to sprinkle the new kitten liberally with tuna juice, then put all the cats into one room, step out and shut the door!” 

He did what was advised. The kitten was immediately attacked. Because of the strong fish smell lingering on the fur, the attacking cats were driven into a frenzy. The result, the kitten died, two other cats’ sustained injuries. The man was devastated. He had followed advice presented. He thought the recommendation sounded plausible. Now, he was plunged into grief and guilt. In trying to accept this loss, he stumbled onto one of my websites www.kitten-rescue.com and contacted me.

In a situation such as this, comforting words fall on a deadened heart. He had the best of intentions and figured that since it was a cat-related forum the person knew what he was talking about. I told him more than likely, the person offering the advice was a child. For a child, this type of action might sound like the right thing to do.

“Don’t be fooled by pleasant graphics and well-laid out pages when it comes to searching for information on the Internet,” instructs Dr. Eldridge. She cautions that checking the credentials of the person behind the advice should be paramount before following the advice.

There is nothing wrong with brainstorming for ideas in forums, finding comfort during your cat’s recovery, asking for the deciphering of confusing lab-work results or finding out what other options might be available for you. But ask yourself first: How reliable and safe is this information? What will the end result be for you and your cat, should you decide to follow the advice?

When you are using the worldwide web, these are tough questions to ask yourself. But it is vital that you know the answers before you proceed.  Please remember when seeking advice on cat related forums, only your vet is qualified to properly diagnose and treat your cat effectively. The time spent searching for answers should be spent after the cat has been to the vet not before. And yes, I am repeating myself here. Because many a cat's health can became compromised if the owner does not act accordingly.   There are knowledgeable cat-people on the Internet. But the true enlightenment arrives in your discernment of the information being offered and how you choose to use that advice.

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