Vet Sees People Manipulated By Clickbait, You Won’t Believe What Happens Next!

OK, jokey title aside, this is serious.

Are you struggling under the weight of too many choices? Everyone telling you how you must use a certain food, or a special remedy? You’re in good company.

Linus Pauling was one of the greatest scientists of all time, but even that didn’t save him. Despite groundbreaking discoveries and a Nobel Prize, he is perhaps most famous for the wrong reason.

It’s mainly thanks to him that megadosage of Vitamin C is seen as a credible treatment for colds, cancer or whatever. His belief in its power means that we’re stuck with it now, even though it works no better than a placebo.

I’m not going to criticise individual movements; after all, even Vitamin C is great for guinea pigs! What I say here could be true for training methods, diets, natural remedies or even veterinary pharmaceuticals. Instead I want you to see them through the eyes of a vet who has seen a lot of things come and go.

For what makes me saddest are the dog or cat owners who have fallen under the spell of extremists. Except they don’t know it. To them, the bubble that Google and Instagram create makes it look like they’re doing the right and proper thing.

More than that, it makes what everyone else is doing look like ignorance, or even cruelty. Which is probably part of the strategy that keeps them from straying.

Sometimes the influencers are doing it for money, sometimes fame, and sometimes just because they have a fervent belief in what they do.

Just for example, I saw two cats recently whose pelvises both collapsed within a week of each other. The poor owner was devastated. She’d just been doing what she was told was right, just trying to do her best.

We didn’t get to her in time, but I wonder if we would have succeeded anyway without the proof. It’s not a fair fight.

You can spot the arguments easily. They are full of:

  • black and white statements
  • bold promises
  • harsh criticism for methods that aren’t their own

Vets can’t fight back because the ‘truth’ isn’t that simple. To live in the real world means dealing with the messiness of biology where nothing is ever truly black and white and knowledge is gained through the slow spasmodic creep of scientific discovery.

These people use fear. It’s such a strong motivator that once owners have it, you can understand how hard it is to change. Especially because they get to pet owners first.

These people are also tapping into a deep-seated human need for absolute truths. Miracle cures and superfoods are the benign end of something that through history has often turned quite dark. But let’s not get political.

All I ask is this. If you are doing something that seems 100% right, but isn’t mainstream, be very careful. There’s harm in doing the wrong thing. There’s also often harm in not doing the better, other thing.

Personally, I plead for three things:

  1. Moderation. If something is good, more of it is rarely better. Biology is all about having optimal concentrations in chemical reactions, not megadoses.
  2. Compromise. “Compromise means no-one is happy” said a single man I knew in 1986. He’s still single. Keep an open mind and a foot in several camps if you can.
  3. Collective wisdom. The human collective endeavour is what has brought us here, and we ignore it at our peril. A majority saying the same thing doesn’t mean conspiracy, it means consensus.

There is much to be said for safety in numbers and following the crowd. Yes, it’s boring, but it’s usually safe, and often only small tweaks are needed to make it perfect.

But most of all, ask a trusted professional about it. There isn’t much to lose. You’ll usually find that we’re quite happy for you to continue, just with a bit of non-judgemental no-high-horses advice.

After all, you asked!

Have something to add? Comments (if open) will appear within 24 hours.
By Andrew Spanner BVSc(Hons) MVetStud, a vet in Adelaide, Australia. Meet his team here.

6 Replies to “Vet Sees People Manipulated By Clickbait, You Won’t Believe What Happens Next!”

  1. What caused the cats’ collapsed pelvis?

    The influencer ‘treatment’ that makes me angriest is homeopathy for dogs. I am so angry people fall for it, and it’s so cruel to the pet if they need genuine medical treatment. Even mainstream pet stores sell homeopathic pet products and it’s just so distressing.

    1. It was a diet deficient in calcium. I was reluctant to say this because it’s just as dangerous adding too much calcium as not enough. The problem was that it had never been worked out properly by the influencer despite their spiel.

      1. Could that have been mitigated by a chicken neck every week, or eggshell in diet as in Raw Meow mix if senior/urinary tract compromised?

      2. Hi Alison. The owner was doing exactly that, but the problem is once you take calcium away from the carcase it’s very hard to know how much to put back.

  2. Quick response about Linus Pauling. In 2016 I had three separate bouts of cold/flu, each knocking me out for two weeks. Doc said, you’re a teacher–exposed to everything, getting older, so “that’s just the way it is.” I searched everything on building up your immune system and came across Linus Pauling. I have followed his Vit C regime since then whenever I get the slightest sniffle. Have not had a single sick day related to colds for over four years! (Or pretty much anything else.) Linus was still smiling aged 93. If you want to read a great article on this by someone with similar experience but much great research capability than me, google “Flu, Viruses, and Vitamin C Megadoses: A Personal Statement” By Robert G. Smith, PhD. Research Associate Professor, Department of Neuroscience, University of Pennsylvania.

    1. Hi Jim. One thing we can say about vitamin C is that it’s reasonably safe. It’s just that the science doesn’t follow reports like these. None of us can ever know the absolute truth of course!

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