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.