This post originally appeared on www.equIDblog.com, the sister site of Worms&Germs that covers topics on equine infectious diseases, on February 3, 2009.
New animal health products are released on a daily basis. A great deal of time, effort and money is usually spent to market these products – sometimes more than was put into developing them. As a consumer, it’s important to think before you buy, especially with new products. Take a moment to consider whether a product is right for your animal, and whether the product’s intended use and claims are reasonable. The biggest problems tend to occur with "alternative" or non-traditional products, which encompass a huge range of products that are aggressively marketed, with little to no research or testing to back them up. Here are some specific points to think about:
- Ask for research proving that the product works. "Data on file", anecdotes and other non-scientific sources are not adequate. Demand published research in peer-reviewed scientific journals. That means that the research has been independently scrutinized. Published data are not a guarantee that something will work, because some journals are not very strong and may publish weak research, but the lack published research altogether may indicate that research was not done, was not done right, or showed no benefit to using the product. Regardless of the type of product, there is no reason why proper research cannot be done to prove it is beneficial if it actually works.
- When looking at promotional literature, read it with a bit of skepticism. Think about whether or not what they say makes sense. A good general rule that I have is something that claims to cure all that ails you, probably cures nothing.
- If promotional materials do talk about research, check if they did a proper statistical analysis to really show that the product is better than the alternative. Showing a difference in numbers between two groups really mean nothing without proper analysis. For example, you could flip a coin 10 times and get 6 heads and 4 tails. Someone else may flip the coin 10 times and get 5 head and 5 tails. Clearly there’s a difference in the numbers, but does it mean there’s a difference in the ability of the two people to toss a head or a tail? Absolutely not.
- Don’t get taken in by endorsements from "big names". More often than not, they’re being paid for the promotion.
- Consult your veterinarian about new products. Be aware, however, that bad science is often marketed to vets as well and your veterinarian needs to be equally diligent.
At the end of the day, it’s still "buyer beware". However, thinking about these basic points may help weed-out some particularly poor products. Additionally, and more importantly, increasing demands by consumers to see solid supportive research may be the only way to get companies to actually invest in testing and research to make sure their products work.