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Using the internet safely

Written By: Jane Davidson RVN

This might seem an odd piece to write for a pet website – you’ve successfully got to this website so surely you’re doing ok when it comes to using the internet?

Well, Yes and possibly No, and most importantly it can be REALLY hard to know what’s safe and what’s not. The internet is full of often well-meaning but inaccurate and sometimes dangerous information for you and your pet. There are some simple ways to keep yourself safe and ensure you get helpful and not harmful information for your pets.

Location, location, location

Let start with something that’s easy to see – the webpages URL – the Uniform Resource Locator. This is the ‘address’ of a webpage or website and appears in the small box at the top of your browsing page.

The ending of a web address can tell you a lot about the creator of the website and give you an idea if they are a reliable resource for you.

You can tell the where the information originated – you will want to try and focus on addresses using .co.uk or .uk to show the content is relevant to the UK. If you’re looking for information for overseas animals or travelling to a country with your pet then find out their URL code – for example .ie for Ireland or .fr for France. Of course, there are exceptions, but if you don’t recognise the site, it’s a really useful guideline.

The examples above also show what a charity website (.org) would look like or a government website (.gov). Sometimes large organisations have their own URL code – like our own National Health Service (NHS) so if you see a web address that isn’t familiar then its worth hunting around to find out more.

You can always call…

As pet owners we often access the internet for ‘the little things’ that worry us. We know there are emergency vets available 24/7 and you can call them for free but sometimes we want to try and find out something without bothering them, but you aren’t sure the reliability of the website then do call your vet!

It’s absolutely OK to do some personal research but just make sure you are safe; if you’re not sure then go on, give them a call. Speaking for a moment as a vet nurse I would rather take a phone call and avert an issue at 3am than have to see you at 4am with a preventable problem.

Species specific sources

Remember, a dog isn’t a big cat, and a rabbit isn’t a small dog! There are some great species specific websites out there - for cats there is icatcare.org which is an organisation that works with vets and welfare organisations to provide information for owners. I particularly like sending owners to this website to find out about how they can help when their cat is diagnosed with renal failure. That can be a scary time and there is factual, helpful and supportive information on this website that will help you have discussions with your vet about how best to care for your cat.

For rabbits there is the Rabbit Welfare Association and Fund (RWAF), which is the largest UK organisation for rabbit lovers. They have great information on diets and housing for rabbits – two areas that owners can really improve and help prevent health problems. Their ‘a hutch is not enough’ is a very helpful way to show that the typical hutch sold in pet shops is rarely suitable for rabbits to live in.

Reptiles can be harder to find good information, on but the Tortoise Trust is an amazing resource for tortoises and turtles and, while UK based, is helpful for the many species of pet tortoises and turtles found as pets across the world.

You may think it’s odd I’m listing dog information last in this section but that’s because a good resource for dogs also overlaps into my charity section.

Know the names to trust

There are numerous animal welfare charities in the UK – amazingly, it’s a fact that the UK had the RSPCA before we had the NSPCC for children!

As I mentioned before it’s a charity that is good dog information resource – the Dogs Trust. Although they are mainly known as a rescue and rehoming charity they do have some great information sheets on how to care for a dog, dog law and the very important “can you afford a dog”!

You will find welfare and care advice for pets at the RSPCA, Blue Cross, Wood Green. The RSPCA also has wildlife advice and of course runs the Inspectorate that investigate animal cruelty complaints – hopefully you’ll never need to use that.

Vet practices

While I advocate contacting your own vet or an emergency vet when you need to, in general the information on vet websites will support the services they offer. As care for pets advances that means you will find practices offering laser therapy, acupuncture, hydrotherapy and more. While some of these may be of benefit to your pet I would encourage you to ask your own vet about using them, they know your pet best and can then refer to these services if needed.

Some practices now have special resources for pet owners - such as blogs or, even better, banks of factsheets, that can be a really useful resource. If well written, these can help to translate complicated ideas and conditions into easily understood English.

Trust your instincts

Most of us have now used the internet for long enough to know what a trusted website looks like. If you find interesting information on a website that you don’t know then have a little look around to see if you can trust it:

  • Are there lots of adverts for non-related items?
  • What’s the URL – is it .net or a non-standard URL format?
  • Does it look well laid out and professional?
  • Is there a date on the information?
  • Is there an author or a named contributor?
  • Does it state a number of opinions rather than facts?
  • Is it difficult to work out who runs the site and how to contact them?

If the answer is Yes to a few of these questions you might want to find a more reliable resource. Using websites from recognised resources will offer you sensible, safe advice for pets in the UK, and if you can’t find what you need, you can always call your vet!

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