A common theme on this site is "help! my pet is sick and I need an answer right now!" and "should I call the vet?". As an animal lover myself, I certainly understand the panic one feels when a pet is sick or an animal is injured. However, no one, not even a veterinarian, can diagnose what is going on based on an owner's description over the Internet. Sure, you could say "it might be this" and maybe it is, but... maybe it isn't. People make decisions based on what they read (want to read?) and it may or may not be the best for our pets. The following is what I recently posted in the Veterinary Medicine Forum.
For the record - NO ONE can diagnose via the web, not even veterinarians. To say something "could be this" or "could be that" based on a person's experience is OK. That isn't diagnosing, but sharing a personal experience. True, it may not what someone wants to hear, but there are many possible answers to any post. People need to take posts with a grain of salt - it may or may not apply to them/their animal/their situation.
This is tough for a vet forum -- people want answers, they want a "fix" or an answer to base a potentially serious decision on. This isn't possible. Too much room for error. The best answer is that if you notice something "not normal" with your pet, please check with your vet. It may just require a phone call -- your vet knows your pet/has the health records, and may be able to make a decision based on that.
I have seen and heard the gamut -- from "help! help! my dog's leg is broken (dog not limping, pulling in owner to clinic) to "oh... he hasn't been too active for about a month" (pet is near death). It is hard to be objective when it comes to our beloved pets. I know that I am not when it comes to my own pets! Hard to think clearly when you are upset, and this forum can be a good sounding board. Sometimes just a "yes, you better call your vet" answer is all someone needs.
The thread that this was posted in can be viewed here.
Veterinary professionals and animal lovers want to help of course, but it can be hard to offer completely accurate answers for that particular animal without seeing it, hearing it, knowing the history, etc.
So what good IS the Internet for veterinary information? The answer will vary with the person, of course, but as with any information, health or otherwise, accuracy is not guaranteed just because it is in print. The Internet can be very helpful for finding information out about a disease, knowing what to look for and what questions to ask of your veterinarian, meeting people with like interests and who can offer support, hearing about other's experiences to help relate what you/your pet is going through. It is also good for gaining "preventative knowledge" -- first aid preparedness, knowing what plants/foods/medications/chemicals are toxic to pets, and so on. Finally, I believe that the Internet is good for raising awareness for issues like pet overpopulation (and the importance of spaying and neutering), pet abuse and neglect, and the important human health benefits of pet ownership.