Pet owners' online information searches and the perceived effects on interactions and relationships with their veterinarians



Open Access Logo



Objective: To explore pet owners’ online search experiences for pet health information and the perceived effects on their interactions and relationships with veterinarians.

Background: Few studies have examined pet owners’ online searches for pet health information; even less is known about how these search experiences may impact pet owners’ interactions and relationships with veterinarians, including any effects on bond-centered care.

Methods: Qualitative study consisting of five focus groups conducted with 26 pet owners in the Greater Toronto Area, Ontario, Canada, between June to September 2016. All interviews were audio-recorded and transcribed verbatim. QSR NVivo 11® was used to facilitate organisation of focus group data for thematic analysis.

Results: Participating pet owners frequently referred to their relationships with veterinarians when discussing experiences searching online for pet health information. Owners reported choosing either to disclose or withhold declaring their online searches to veterinarians, depending on whether participants perceived a beneficial or detrimental impact on a “good” professional relationship with their veterinarian. Perceptions of veterinarians' reactions towards declaration of online searches were mixed, and influenced pet owners’ views of the existing relationship.

Conclusion: Pet owners viewed their veterinarians as their most trusted source of pet health information, but many owners also wanted supplemental information from online searches. Owners preferred veterinarians refer them to online pet health resources, ideally those affiliated with the veterinary profession. Searching for pet health information online does not displace veterinarians’ guidance. Rather, the veterinarian-owner relationship was perceived to be strengthened when online searches were openly discussed with veterinarians.

Implications: Findings offer insight into pet owners’ expectations of veterinarians within the context of online pet health information, providing ideas for veterinarians to strengthen bonds with owners such as; showing support of owners’ online pet health information searching by recommending resources and considerations about communicating professional opinions to owners regarding online information.


Open Access Peer Reviewed


Hou, J. and Shim, M. (2010). The role of provider–patient communication and trust in online sources in internet use for health-related activities. Journal of Health Communication. 15(sup3), 186–99. DOI:

Thompson, A. (2016). Hippocrates and the smart phone: the evolving parent and doctor relationship. Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health. 52(4), 366–9. DOI:

Sevransky, J.E., Nicholl, B., Nicholl, J-B. and Buchman, T.G. (2017). Patient- and family-centered care. Critical Care Medicine. 45(5), 757–8. DOI:

Küper, A.M. and Merle, R. (2019). Being nice is not enough-exploring relationship-centered veterinary care with structural equation modeling. A quantitative study on German pet owners’ perception. Front Veterinary Science. 6, 56. DOI:

Suchman, A.L. (2006). A new theoretical foundation for relationship-centered care – Complex responsive processes of relating. Journal of General Internal Medicine. 21(S1), S40–4. DOI:

Charles, C., Gafni, A. and Whelan, T. (1999). Decision-making in the physician–patient encounter: revisiting the shared treatment decision-making model. Social Science and Medicine. 49(5), 651–61. DOI:

Kanji, N., Coe, J.B., Adams, C.L. and Shaw, J.R. (2012). Effect of veterinarian-client-patient interactions on client adherence to dentistry and surgery recommendations in companion-animal practice. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. 240(4), 427–36. DOI:

Pukay, B.P. (2000). The impact of the human/companion animal/veterinarian bond on the future of the veterinary profession. The Canadian Veterinary Journal. 41(1), 28–9.

Ormerod, E.J. (2008). Bond-centered veterinary practice: lessons for veterinary faculty and students. Journal of Veterinary Medical Education. 35(4), 545–52. DOI:

Rötzmeier-Keuper, J., Hendricks, (née Lerch) J., Wünderlich, N.V. and Schmitz, G. (2018). Triadic relationships in the context of services for animal companions. Journal of Business Research. 85, 295–303. DOI:

Coe, J.B., Adams, C.L. and Bonnett, B.N. (2007). A focus group study of veterinarians’ and pet owners’ perceptions of the monetary aspects of veterinary care. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. 231(10),1510–18. DOI:

Steiner, E.T. and Silver, N.C. (2013). Raising canine: cross-species parallels in parental investment. Human-Animal Interact Bull. 1(1), 38–54.

Stoewen, D.L., Coe, J.B., MacMartin, C., Stone, E.A. and Dewey, C.E. (2013). Factors influencing veterinarian referral to oncology specialists for treatment of dogs with lymphoma and osteosarcoma in Ontario, Canada. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. 243(10), 1415–25. DOI:

Shanan, A. (2011). A veterinarian’s role in helping pet owners with decision making. Veterinary Clinics of North America: Small Animal Practice. 41(3), 635–46. DOI:

Tian, K., Sautter, P., Fisher, D., Fischbach, S., Luna-Nevarez, C., Boberg, K., Kroger, J. and Vann, R. (2014). Transforming health care: empowering therapeutic communities through technology-enhanced narratives. Journal of Consumer Research. 41(2), 237–60. DOI:

Murphy, S.A. (2006). Consumer health information for pet owners. 94(2),152–8.

Kogan, L., Schoenfeld-Tacher, R., Simon, A. and Viera, A. (2009). The Internet and pet health information: perceptions and behaviors of pet owners and veterinarians. Internet Journal of Veterinary Medicine. 8(1), 19. DOI:

Boden, L. (2018). Pet owners turn to the internet for advice: will vets be there to provide an information prescription? Vet Record. British Veterinary Association. 182, 599–600. DOI:

Hofmeister, E.H., Watson, V., Snyder, L.B.C. and Love, E.J. (2008). Validity and client use of information from the World Wide Web regarding veterinary anesthesia in dogs. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. 233(12), 1860–4. DOI:

Kogan, L., Oxley, J. A., Hellyer, P., Schoenfeld, R., and Rishniw, M. (2018). UK pet owners’ use of the internet for online pet health information. Vet Record. British Veterinary Association. 182(21), 601. DOI:

Bao, Y., Hoque, R. and Wang, S. (2017). Investigating the determinants of Chinese adult children’s intention to use online health information for their aged parents. International Journal of Medical Informatics. 102, 12–20. DOI:

Bergström, A.L. and Hanson, E. (2018). An integrative review of information and communication technology based support interventions for carers of home dwelling older people. Technology and Disability. 29(1–2), 1–14. DOI:

Chiu, Y.C. (2011). Probing, impelling, but not offending doctors: the role of the internet as an information source for patients’ interactions with doctors. Quality Health Ressearch. 21(12), 1658–66. DOI:

Eysenbach, G. and Diepgen, T.L. (1999). Patients Looking for Information on the internet and Seeking Teleadvice. Arch Dermatol. 135(2), 151–6. DOI:

Kłak, A., Gawińska, E., Samoliński, B. and Raciborski, F. (2017). Dr Google as the source of health information – the results of pilot qualitative study. Polish Annals of Medicine. 24(2), 188–93. DOI:

Lee, K., Hoti, K., Hughes, J.D. and Emmerton, L. (2014). Dr Google and the consumer: a qualitative study exploring the navigational needs and online health information-seeking behaviors of consumers with chronic health conditions. Journal of Medical Internet Research. 16(12), 262. DOI:

Malone, M., While, A. and Roberts, J. (2014). Parental health information seeking and re-exploration of the ‘digital divide.’ Primary Health Care Research and Development. 15(2),202–12. DOI:

Manganello, J.A., Falisi, A.L., Roberts, K.J., Smith, K.C. and Mckenzie, L.B. (2016). Pediatric injury information seeking for mothers with young children: the role of health literacy and ehealth literacy. Journal of Communication Healthcare. 9(3), 223-231. DOI:

Shroff, P.L., Hayes, R.W., Padmanabhan, P. and Stevenson, M.D. (2017). Internet usage by parents prior to seeking care at a pediatric emergency department: observational study. Interactive Journal of Medical Research. 6(2), e17. DOI:

Kim, G.R. and Lehmann, C.U. (2003). The impact of the internet on pediatric medicine. Pediatric Drugs. 5, 433–41. DOI:

Stevenson, F.A., Kerr, C., Murray, E. and Nazareth, I. (2007). Information from the internet and the doctor-patient relationship: the patient perspective – a qualitative study. BMC Family Practice. 8(1), 47. DOI:

Tan, S-S.L. and Goonawardene, N. (2017). Internet health information seeking and the patient-physician relationship: A systematic review. Journal of Medical Internet Research. 19(1), e9. DOI:

Pilgram, M. (2009). The Dilemma of Offering Social Support: The Veterinarians’ View. Death Studies. 28(2), 97–105. DOI:

Cornell, K.K. and Kopcha, M. (2007). Client-Veterinarian Communication: Skills for Client Centered Dialogue and Shared Decision Making. Veterinary Clinics of North America: Small Animal Practice. 37(1), 37–47. DOI:

Frankel, R.M. (2006). Communication: An Essential Veterinary Professional Attribute Pets, Vets, and Frets: What Relationship-Centered Care Research Has to Offer Veterinary Medicine. Journal of Veterinary Medical Education. 33(1), 20–7. DOI:

Mellanby, R.J., Rhind, S.M., Bell, C., Shaw, D.J., Gifford, J., Fennell, D., Manser, C., Spratt, D.P., Wright, M.J., Zago, S. and Hudson, N.P. (2011). Perceptions of clients and veterinarians on what attributes constitute “A good vet.” Vet Record. 168(23), 616. DOI:

Robinson, O.C. (2014). Sampling in Interview-Based Qualitative Research: A Theoretical and Practical Guide. Qualative Research in Psychology. 11(1), 25–41. DOI:

Lue, T., Pantenburg, D. and Crawford, P. (2008). Impact of the owner-pet and client-veterinarian bond on the care that pets receives. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. 232(4), 531–40. DOI:

Ness, P. and Fusch, L. (2015). Are We There Yet? Data Saturation in Qualitative Research. The Qualitative Report. 20(9), 1409–16.

Creswell, J.W. and Miller, D.L. (2004). Determining Validity in Qualitative Inquiry. Theory Into Practice. 39(3), 124–30. DOI:

Braun, V. and Clarke, V. (2006). Using thematic analysis in psychology. Qualitative Research in Psychology. 3(2), 77–101. DOI:

Kogan, L., Goldwaser, G., Stewart, S.M. and Schoenfeld-Tacher, R. (2008). Sources and frequency of use of pet health information and level of confidence in information accuracy, as reported by owners visiting small animal veterinary practices. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. 232(10), 1536–42. DOI:

Kogan, L., Schoenfeld-Tacher, R., Gould, L., Viera, A. and Hellyer, P. (2014). Providing an information prescription in veterinary medical clinics: a pilot study. Journal of the Medical Library Association. 102(1), 41–6. DOI:

Bell, R.A., Hu, X., Orrange, S.E. and Kravitz, R.L. (2011). Lingering questions and doubts: online information-seeking of support forum members following their medical visits. Patient Education and Counseling. 85(3), 525–8. DOI:

Usher, W.T. (2011). Australian health professionals’ health website recommendation trends. Health Promot Journal of Australia. 22(2), 134–41. DOI:

Usher, W.T. (2007). Gold coast general practitioners’ recommendations of health websites to their patients. Medical Journal of Australia. 187(2), 82–3. DOI:

Tan, SS-LL. and Goonawardene, N. (2017). Internet health information seeking and the patient-physician relationship: a systematic review. Journal of Medical Internet Research. 19(1), 9. DOI:

Mota, L.R.A da., Ferreira, C.C.G., Costa Neto, H.A.A da, Falbo, A.R. and Lorena, S. de B. (2018). Is doctor-patient relationship influenced by health online information? Revista da Associação Médica Brasileira. 64(8), 692–9. DOI:

Crooks, V.A. (2006). “I go on the internet; I always, you know, check to see what’s new”: Chronically Ill women’s use of online health information to shape and inform doctor-patient interactions in the space of care provision. Acme. 5(1), 50–69.

Bowes, P., Stevenson, F., Ahluwalia, S. and Murray, E. (2012). “I need her to be a doctor”: patients’ experiences of presenting health information from the internet in GP consultations. British Journal of General Practice. 62, 732-8. DOI:

Bylund, C.L., Gueguen, J.A., D’Agostino, T.A., Li, Y. and Sonet, E. (2010). Doctor-patient communication about cancer-related internet information. Journal of Psychosocial Oncology. 28(2), 127–42. DOI:

Bylund, C.L., Gueguen, J.A., Sabee, C.M., Imes, R.S., Li, Y. and Sanford, A.A. (2007). Provider-patient dialogue about internet health information: An exploration of strategies to improve the provider-patient relationship. Patient Education and Counseling. 66(3), 346–52. DOI:

Wang, J., Ashvetiya, T., Quaye, E., Parakh, K. and Martin, S.S. (2018). Online health searches and their perceived effects on patients and patient-clinician relationships: a systematic review. The American Journal of Medicine. 131(10), 1250.e1-1250.e10. DOI:

Murray, E., Lo, B., Pollack, L., Donelan, K., Catania, J., Lee, K., Zapert, K. and Turner, R. (2003). The impact of health information on the internet on health care and the physician-patient relationship: national U.S. survey among 1.050 U.S. physicians. Journal of Medical Internet Research. 5(3), e17. DOI:

Schrank, B., Sibitz, I., Unger, A. and Amering, M.. (2010). How patients with schizophrenia use the internet: qualitative study. Journal of Medical Internet Research. 12(5). DOI:

Tischler, V.A., Cobb, M.A., Dean, R.S., Robbé, I.J., McDermott, M.P. (2015). Veterinarian–client communication skills: current state, relevance, and opportunities for improvement. Journal of Veterinary Medical Education. 42(4), 305–14. DOI:

Hamood, W.J., Chur-Hansen, A. and McArthur, M.L. (2014). A qualitative study to explore communication skills in veterinary medical education. International Journal of Medical Education. 5, 193–8. DOI:

Van Riel, N., Auwerx, K., Debbaut, P., Van Hees, S. and Schoenmakers, B. (2017). The effect of Dr Google on doctor–patient encounters in primary care: a quantitative, observational, cross-sectional study. BJGP Open. 1(2), BJGP-2017-0833. DOI:

Chen, Y.Y., Li, C.M., Liang, J.C. and Tsai, C.C. (2018). Health information obtained from the internet and changes in medical decision making: Questionnaire development and cross-sectional survey. Journal of Medical Internet Research. 20(2). DOI:

Topaz, M., Bar-Bachar, O., Admi, H., Denekamp, Y. and Zimlichman, E. (2019). Patient-centered care via health information technology: a qualitative study with experts from Israel and the U.S. Informatics for Health and Social Care. DOI:

Woodward-Kron, R., Connor, M., Schulz, P.J. and Elliott, K. (2014). Educating the patient for health care communication in the age of the World Wide Web: a qualitative study. Academic Medicine. 89(2), 318–25. DOI: