By Cheryl Lock
These days it’s easy to find information on just about any topic with the push of a button. After all, what’s simpler than using the Internet to find the best pet food, toys, and other products for our dogs?
While there’s nothing wrong with hopping online to find products for your furry friend, it’s always important to make sure that the information you’re accessing on the Internet is accurate, unbiased, and updated.
“As with any web search, the information available is only as reliable as its source,” says Dave Norem, Data Manager for GoodGuide. “Anyone can create content online, but [as a user] it’s important to access the site’s credentials when relying on its content to inform your opinions.”
So what are some easy ways to make sure that what you’re reading is, in fact, updated, unbiased, and accurate? Follow these five steps from Norem and Pedro Vierira, VP Ratings for GoodGuide, and you’ll be well on your way to becoming a savvy online pet shopper.
What to Look for in a Trustworthy Pet Site
1. The Use of Science. Many dog food and pet product rating sites rely on rumors that have little scientific basis. That’s why it’s important to question everything you read online and to look at the methodology to make sure it has been vetted by several independent experts in the field, not just one person. Check the dog food manufacturer’s website to find information on clinical trials and to see if the food has been tested according to protocols from the Association of American Feed Control Officials. It usually reads something like this: Animal feeding tests using AAFCO procedures substantiate that X Dog Food provides complete and balanced nutrition for the appropriate life stage.
2. A Systematic Approach. Does the site you’re on judge all products with the same applicable and objective criteria? A good site will have a system that clearly states these criteria up front and fairly and consistently uses them as a basis for reviews.
3. The Absence of Conflicts of Interest. Does the site owner have a financial stake in any products discussed on the site? When there’s money on the line, beware that the opinion on the site could be biased towards getting you to buy certain goods or services. Also, consult alternative information sources with advice from independent experts for a balanced perspective. For example, The American Animal Hospitals Association (AAHA), the American Veterinarian Medical Association, or the petMD Nutrition Center.
4. Quick Responses. A good website should be refreshed frequently and site owners should be responsive to engagement and feedback from their users. Pet products, particularly food products, can change quite often and you don’t want to be basing decisions on outdated information. Another bad sign is if you have trouble identifying or reaching an actual person on the site to answer your questions or concerns.
5. Unquestionable Transparency and Accountability. The websites you use should be crystal clear about their mission, data sources, methodology, and ownership of the site (a named individual or company). If any of these are missing, you might want to consider looking elsewhere.
Of course if there’s any doubt in your mind about any dog food or other pet product you’re interested in, your veterinarian should always be your trusted source for accurate, up-to-date advice.