This page is in two parts. The first part looks at how commonly cat owners use Facebook for cat health advice. The second half concerns the personal experiences of a long-term, knowledgeable cat caregiver, Elisa Black-Taylor. She is the person who asked the question and she regularly visits Facebook to discuss medical issues and other cat issues. She has some personal stories addressing the question in the title. Facebook users who use the website for advice of this sort are typically members of about five Facebook groups and below the age of 30.
Use of Facebook as a source of feline medical advice for home-diagnosis
How many people use Facebook to home-diagnose their cat’s health problem? How many people rely on Facebook users to provide reliable advice in order to diagnose an illness from which their cat suffers? Fortunately, we have got an idea of what the answers to that question because it was studied scientifically quite recently and the results published on May 29, 2021.
In round terms, they found that Facebook groups are a common source of pet health information. About 52% of cat owners reported getting health advice through Facebook groups. And around 58% of cat owners gave health advice through Facebook groups.
The most common type of medical advice sought and provided on Facebook concerned dermatology. Specifically, this was about allergies, ear diseases and grooming and other skin problems including lumps. Another common issue was health concerns regarding claws, feet and tails. Next most common were dietary issues including food allergies and gastrointestinal problems. Parasites and vaccine issues also ranks quite high.
The full list is set out below in a table.
The majority of people don’t really trust Facebook users to provide good medical advice which is sensible because although they might have excellent first-hand experience, they are not qualified veterinarians. In general, they thought that veterinarians provided much better advice. However, about 30% of the participants thought that Facebook groups are a trustworthy source of information and a similar percentage indicated that advice received on Facebook had influenced their decisions regarding the health care of their cat companion.
The upshot is that a lot of people use Facebook for advice on providing healthcare to their cat companion. It seems to me (not part of the study) that a lot of people perhaps use Facebook to try and fix a problem without the expense of utilising a veterinarian, combined with the hassle. And if Facebook fails to fix their cat’s health problem on the cheap, they might then go on to using a veterinarian. Or they might use Facebook to provide some background information which gives them a better handle on the problem that they are dealing with.
If you want to read the study which is actually quite readable for a scientific study then please click on this link.
Most common cat health problems discussed on Facebook
|Cat owner topics||Advice Received|
|Example advice statement|
|Behaviour (‘problem’ behaviours including aggression directed towards people and other animals and ‘inappropriate’ elimination, and queries about whether specific behaviours are ‘normal’)||71 (17.1)||86 (18.5)||‘Cat peeing outside of litter box’|
|Gastroenterology (dietary advice for pets stated as ill, ‘food allergy’ and any description of a gastrointestinal problem)||55 (13.2)||48 (10.3)||‘One of my sphynx cats has had a lot of problems with diarrhoea, I wanted to know if someone had any advice about his diet’.|
|Renal and urinary (any renal or feline lower urinary tract disease)||45 (10.8)||53 (11.4)||‘Chronic renal failure’|
|Dermatology (‘allergy’, grooming, ear disease and all skin problems including ‘lump’)||35 (8.4)||35 (7.5)||‘Bald patches’|
|Respiratory (includes ‘cat flu’)||27 (6.5)||20 (4.3)||‘Upper respiratory infection’|
|Parasites and vaccines (any questions about products and prevention and vaccination)||23 (5.5)||21 (4.5)||Asking about good flea medicines|
|Reproduction (kittens, breeding, labour)||21 (5.0)||36 (7.7)||‘Info about cats giving birth’|
|Multi system disease (any manifestation of Feline Infectious Peritonitis, Feline Leukaemia Virus, Feline Immunodeficiency Virus)||21 (5.0)||15 (3.2)||‘My old cat was diagnosed with FIP and I posted to an FIP group looking for help or answers to ensure his diagnosis was correct and to give him comfortable last days’|
|Diet/feeding (dietary or feeding statements without reference to the pet being ill)||13 (3.1)||32 (6.8)||‘Comparison of raw diet against generic cat foods’|
|Dental (dental disease, tooth brushing)||11 (2.6)||7 (1.5)||‘I try to turn other owners onto cat dental care, especially brushing your cat’s teeth’|
|Cardiology (includes heart murmur and specific diagnoses)||10 (2.4)||4 (0.9)||‘HCM heart scanning’|
|Toxicity (concerns about pet ingesting/coming into contact with products, foods, etc.)||10 (2.4)||8 (1.7)||‘Cat ate some table food and I was worried it could hurt him’|
|Endocrinology||10 (2.4)||14 (3.0)||‘My cat is diabetic. I have received a lot of advice about her diet’.|
|Orthopaedics (including claws, feet, tail)||10 (2.4)||6 (1.3)||‘When my cat was having trouble with his hip joints, someone recommended a product to add to his food’.|
|Oncology (discussion of tumour or cancer affecting any body system)||5 (1.2)||6 (1.3)||‘Where to get good cancer treatment’|
|Neurology||4 (1.0)||9 (1.9)||‘Feline hyperaesthesia’|
|Ophthalmology||4 (1.0)||11 (2.4)||‘I posted a pic of my cat’s eye that was weeping. Just wanted a few differing opinions from the cat lovers community before taking her to the vet’.|
|Weight (concerns about underweight and obesity)||3 (0.7)||2 (0.4)||‘My cat is now a senior cat and is losing weight, I posted to learn about other people’s experiences with this problem’.|
|Unclear/can’t recall||38 (9.1)||52 (11.2)|
My personal view is that it is helpful for a cat owner to have some medical knowledge as long as they know their limitations and are prepared to take their cat to the vet in a timely manner when required. I would not take FB advice literally. I would put it in the memory bank and use it to make a decision.
Experiences of Elisa Black-Taylor who asked the question in the title and who uses FB
I’ll be the first to admit I do a lot of silent snooping around Facebook as I search for ideas. One topic I see quite often is people turning to Facebook first for opinions rather than scooping their cat up and heading to the vet immediately.
Have any of you had a pet die because you listened to friends on Facebook who told you everything would be fine? You either took their advice without contacting the vet first or you took so long reading the Facebook comments the cat died because you didn’t trust your instinct to get help IMMEDIATELY.
It happens a lot. I’ve learned when to judge when a cat needs a vet. This may not be as serious a medical issue as it is an emotional one. Until you find out what’s wrong and you have an accurate diagnosis as well as a plan of action you will worry. I compare it to being a parent. You actually have an instinct and need to listen to it and actually do something, if not for your pet, then for your own peace of mind.
I’ve seen cases of poisoning where the owner was going ‘ok I’ll try that first.’ Um…NO! Don’t mess around with poison. Don’t wait for advice from friends. Get that cat to the vet because you may only have a few hours to act or your cat will be dead.
When it’s a life-or-death emergency
My mother’s cat Goldie came stumbling down her driveway many years ago. She knew something wasn’t right, scooped him up and took him to the vet immediately. He had a fever of 106F. The vet said his throat looked like someone poured Drano down it. He spent three days in the hospital but he survived and was never allowed outside again. The day he was poisoned was the day he became an inside-only kitty.
When it’s for your own peace of mind
Our deaf cat Annabelle had an accident. Even being an inside-only cat didn’t keep her safe from getting into mischief! You can read her story below
In it, I wrote “My poor kitty was limping and terrified. She couldn’t put the injured foot on the floor and it was swelling up quickly.”
Annabelle was diagnosed with having a bad sprain that would heal in about a week. The grotesque position of her paw left us grateful she didn’t break it. It appeared broken when we found her. The position she was in was so nerve-wracking (for lack of a better word) that we were about to clip the claw off just to keep her from tearing off her own leg.
I HAD to know she hadn’t caused major damage.
I see posts on Facebook where the owner is asking for opinions. Everything from seeing worms coming out the mouth to seriously enlarged pupils and the cat acting ‘weird.’ GET TO THE VET! Do not get on Facebook and wait for OPINIONS!
I’m going to end this article now
I could go on and on and on about the scenarios I’ve read on people using Facebook as their primary source of information. Sometimes you can and sometimes you can’t. Most pet owners just need a bit of education to learn how to tell the difference, especially if you have a cat. Dogs can get by with so much more and things a dog can survive may kill a cat in just a few hours.
Please feel free to comment in the Facebook section below or in the moderated comment section (Facebook is easier). Have any of you ever lost a pet due to accepting bad advice on Facebook?