Veterinary “Advice” For My Readers: What’s “Helpful” and What’s Not

Dr. Patty Khuly

I’m not just a veterinarian who happens to write for The Water Bowl. I also blog for myself, contribute weekly to The Miami Herald, and write a couple of times a week for (among other online outlets).

With all this scribbling about, it stands to reason I’d be a prime target for fan mail (I use the term “fan” very loosely). Consider this email missive from one of my columns’ readers (which I’ve paraphrased for clarity):

“You probably won’t print this letter but I’d like to offer my opinion anyway. Your columns are not usually very helpful. You don't actually address specifically how to treat the pets. Instead, you write a list of possibilities. You should keep in mind that people like me are trying to cut their veterinary expenses and turn to this column for help. We should be rewarded for our readership.”

Interesting comment, right? Because it’s true; my columns and blog posts don’t tend to offer discrete solutions aimed at one particular illness. Rather, they’re more likely to address a specific problem with the more ecumenical goal in mind: I want my reader to learn and apply critical thinking skills to what I’ve written.

In other words, I respect my reader enough not to cave to the obvious while, nonetheless, offering a highly educational answer for those willing to put their mind to the task. So here’s how I responded:

“My writing is not directed at those who seek a solution to their pet’s current illness in lieu of a veterinarian. Rather, it’s written for intellectually curious pet lovers who seek organized information that’ll help them ask better questions, make better choices, and access a higher quality of veterinary care on behalf of their pets.

Columns like this are not designed to offer veterinary advice to help you treat your pet’s condition in the absence of professional veterinary care. Ideally, it’s where you come to receive supplemental information and tools with which to improve your ability to become a better steward of your pet’s care.

Moreover, you should understand that it's absolutely impossible to do justice to any veterinary topic without detailing all the possibilities and potential outcomes. For that reason, veterinary journalists tend to believe that offering a basic understanding of the complexity of the subject at hand is a far better approach than offering a definitive solution that may well be based on faulty information.

This approach will not only help a wider percentage of the population, by making you smarter it may well save you money too. But let me be clear: If you’re reading columns with the expectation that they’ll replace traditional veterinary care, you’re probably doing your pets a disservice. Looking for quick, money-saving fixes outside the context of a professional veterinarian-client-pet relationship doesn't help anyone in the long run –– least of all, your pet.

Can it be done? Sure, you might hit upon the right answer to one of your pet’s problems by reading something here. But there’s a low probability of success that any one column will guide you perfectly –– not to mention a significant risk that you would do more harm than good by taking “advice” you gleaned from a column, online forum, or blog post.

After all, this column isn’t about "advice,” per se. Rather, it’s about offering you the kind of information that’ll make you a better advocate for your pet over time. No shortcuts.

Which is how I really feel. I’m not one to mince words. But I will allow that not everyone shares the same conviction. How about you? Are my blog posts “helpful” enough? Or do you need me to deliver more meat for you to chew on?

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