Proposal: Pets

Health is in general an insecure issue in Internet discussion. Usually some measures are taken to prevent people from treating themselves (in this case their pets) using the Internet instead of seeing the doctor (veterinarian). Should questions like "My pet has such symptoms, what can it be? How it is treated?" be asked here?

On the other side, I know some cases when such Internet advices helped a lot. There are some veterinarians who don't really know what they are doing and won't admit it. The advice to take other opinion might spare a pets life. Other veterinarians might be open to some ideas brought by the owner of the pet who read them on the Internet, for example additional laboratory test.

There also is a risk that behavioral questions will turn into health questions, like some strange behaviour (e.g. eating soil) being a symptom of disease.

I have no strong opinion on this issue, but I think it should be discussed separately for the pets site. Similar problem was discussed for other site here: https://area51.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/6037/legal-medical-questions-disclaimer

6 Answers 6


Mostly people pick up on medical issues that require professional assistance pretty quickly... (e.g parenting.stackexchange.com). So explicitly banning health questions would not appear to be that beneficial. Also some medical questions such as flea/worm treatments for dogs are well known and the discussion of product alternatives or timing would be eminently suitable for the site.

  • 2
    I'd also note that most Vets will have had little or no training with exotic animals, and (at least in the UK) some quite common pets are classed as exotics by the RCVS e.g. rabbits. While we perhaps have an unanswered question about how we decide what veterinary advice is correct I do believe there is a need for it
    – jk.
    Commented Apr 30, 2013 at 15:14
  • In addition, questions about resources for making health-related decisions seem quite appropriate here. For some unusual diseases my vet and I have been learning together about options, and I'd've liked to have been able to find resources to point her at (that I can't necessarily understand myself). Commented Jul 23, 2013 at 14:13
  • I'd agree. Different approaches to flea/tick control, house training, etc. could all be classified as health related and should be allowed.
    – Jason
    Commented Oct 15, 2013 at 17:03

This is a tough question to answer in the context of the proposal. In general, this type of question is asked and answered in the per site meta of the beta site.

Without seeing specific examples, it's really hard to say. In general, direct medical advice should probably be closed as off-topic with a comment to consult a doctor. However, some questions may still be answerable if there are other components to the question.

In short, it's tough to say for sure at this time.


Let’s face it; how many people actually make health decisions based only on what they read on the Internet. That is, how many people would have paid money to go to the doctor (or vet) if they had not checked the Internet first? The truth is not many. If someone is avoiding going to the doctor or vet at all, it’s almost certainly because they cannot afford the money to do so, and therefore, whatever they see on the Internet is unlikely to change their minds sufficiently to have an impact (if you don’t have the money, then you just don’t have the money).

What does matter when it comes to health research on the Internet is education and support from others in the same situation. Banning health-related questions would preclude useful information like asking others whose pets have a specific issue how they deal with this and that issue.

For example, my cat has diabetes and I have to take a blood-glucose reading now and then. This is extremely difficult and I have on several occasions tried to reach out to ask others with diabetic cats how they do it and if they have any tricks to make it easier and less painful (for both of us).

Likewise, I am skeptical about my vet’s warning that she eat absolutely nothing but the special—and expensive—diabetic cat food that only the vet sells. While I understand the medical explanation for this, I would prefer to find out what other people who actually have and care for diabetic cats do, where the get their food (e.g., any cheaper options than the vet), and how they provide variety in food and treats for them (imagine having to eat nothing but a single hospital food for the rest of your life!)

Obviously health questions on the Internet are tricky, but there are countless scenarios where people can find out how others in the same situation are dealing with issues that arise. This site (if it ever manages to go live) would be like a support group. If some actual vets join, then all the better; that would make it ideal.

The one caveat I would point out is with people guessing. In other words, if someone asks something, there will likely be people who just do a quick Google search and type in whatever they found on the first page or two. This is likely to be a waste of time since the asker has likely already done some research and is now trying to ask people who are actually in that situation. Of course this happens with all of the SE sites, and is normally dealt with by simply down-voting it like any other bad answer.

  • 2
    I disagree with "That is, how many people would have paid money to go to the doctor (or vet) if they had not checked the Internet first? Not Many" - I think most people do not know what to ask but if they could get the answer off of the internet easily they would avoid the 200 vet bill to be told to use flea powder, or an antifungal cream. Which isnt a big deal until their pet has a real disease that needs treated and we tell them flea powder..
    – Chad
    Commented Oct 1, 2013 at 12:07
  • The point to rep is to give weight to answers based on users’ trustworthiness and dependability. (Some of the users will likely have medical training or even be vets.) Most people will be smart enough to take what they read with a grain of salt and monitor their pet and take whatever steps they can to help them. Anyone who is stupid enough to take everything that random people (especially low-rep users) on the Internet say as indisputable fact and don’t bother to double-check or verify or anything, are obviously stupid enough that their pets are probably already screwed website or no.
    – Synetech
    Commented Oct 1, 2013 at 19:40
  • Rep is easily gamed. Some people will up vote anything. All rep means is that you have been her long enough to get the number of points you have not how good your answers are. I have watched some users on other sites get to 10k rep quickly by just answering every question even though very few of their answers get more than 1 or 2 net upvotes one vote up cancels 5 down votes... rep really means nothing as far as a gauge of quality
    – Chad
    Commented Oct 1, 2013 at 19:46
  • Like I said, if someone is stupid enough to instantly and irrevocably take everything they read as indisputable fact, then their pet is already screwed regardless of whether or not people try to help on the Internet. It’s absurd to withhold useful information from other people who are smart enough to do their due diligence just because some people are idiots.
    – Synetech
    Commented Oct 2, 2013 at 5:08
  • People trust other people and I suspect most people are genuinely trying to help. People are not rational when it comes to the health of their loved ones. It is why you hear about people being scammed so often when it seems so obvious to anyone else it was a scam. They are not idiots they are scared, and sometimes desperate because they can not really afford to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars.
    – Chad
    Commented Oct 2, 2013 at 13:52
  • They are not idiots they are scared, and sometimes desperate because they can not really afford to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars. And how does withholding information fix that? If they can’t afford to take them to the vet, then they won’t regardless of whether you tell them anything or not.
    – Synetech
    Commented Oct 2, 2013 at 14:12
  • I did not say withhold information... I said I disagreed with your assessment that people do not use what they read on the internet to make decisions about the health of their animals
    – Chad
    Commented Oct 2, 2013 at 14:18
  • People use what they read on the Internet and offline, and what they hear from others to make decisions about all kinds of stuff, including important things. The genie’s out of the bottle; there’s no way to restrict information to only a small set of authorized, verified, trusted professionals anymore (even if there were, it would preclude a large amount of useful information from “non-professionals”). Again, it is up to people to double-check, verify, and follow-up on any information they get, even from professionals in person—e.g., “second opinion”. Anyone who doesn’t will be trouble anyway.
    – Synetech
    Commented Oct 3, 2013 at 3:24
  • Also, if trustworthy and knowledgeable people withhold information for fear of it being misused, then that is not helping or preventing problems because people will simply go and find the information they are looking for from somewhere else, including potentially untrustworthy and/or incorrect sources.
    – Synetech
    Commented Oct 3, 2013 at 3:26
  • I am not arguing to withhold information. I am taking issue with your claim that people do not use information they get on the internet to make medical decisions. I believe your claim to be incorrect and because your answer is based on that claim the answer is invalid
    – Chad
    Commented Oct 3, 2013 at 13:37
  • When did I say that people don’t use information (from any source) to make decisions—of any kind? I said the lack of free information has little effect to someone who can’t afford to go to a doctor in the first place. If you have no money to pay a professional, then reading about the problem can’t make it worse. If you have no money to take your car to a mechanic, then you won’t (can’t) whether or not you can get a DIY car-repair book; all that getting one can do is to—potentially—allow you to handle it yourself (and maybe reduce your stress). Medical information is no different.
    – Synetech
    Commented Oct 4, 2013 at 2:40
  • I guess I am reading your answer wrong. how many people actually make health decisions based on what they read on the Internet... The truth is not many. I think that confused me because it was together.
    – Chad
    Commented Oct 4, 2013 at 3:52
  • I guess you stopped reading at that point because my post made it clear that I was talking about how money has a bigger effect on decisions and actions than availability of information.
    – Synetech
    Commented Oct 4, 2013 at 16:53
  • I think we basically agree... my only issue was with that paragraph. I do not think it is conveying the message you want it too.
    – Chad
    Commented Oct 4, 2013 at 17:10
  • There; happy now?
    – Synetech
    Commented Oct 4, 2013 at 17:30

Some times, questions related to diseases can be answered by non-experts. Questions like "Is my pet sick because it stopped eating?", or help on how to make a dog eat the pills and such.

Although those are related to diseases, the community can really benefit from the answers that they could bring.

So with that in mind, it makes it a grey area open for later discussion. As jmort253 pointed out, specific examples will become very useful and easy to find once we get in beta.


I think that a question like:

What are the common signs and symptoms of parvo?

is on topic

Here is a picture of the rash on my dogs bum. What is wrong with him?


These are the symptoms my Cat has what is wrong with her?

Should be explicitly off topic. Answering general focused questions about a specific disease should be a good thing. We need to avoid the questions like

Here is a list of symptoms what could the problem be?

I think those questions can be answered in chat if they want but they should be actively discouraged on the site itself.


There is no simple answer, especially when it comes to the healthcare of elderly cats with chronic medical conditions.

Right now, there are tens of thousands of cats (if not more) who are alive and enjoying a high quality of life today precisely because their caregivers went out looking for their own answers, and used information found online to either nudge their own veterinarians towards more aggressive & experimental treatments, or to find veterinarians who were more willing to work with them.

9 times out of 10, if you show up at a vet with an extremely elderly cat who has some combination of chronic renal failure, chronic pancreatitis, HCM, megacolon or IBD, cancer, asthma, and/or progressive neuropathy (often including laryngeal paralysis), the main (often, only) option presented will be euthanasia. Almost without exception, it's up to you to take the initiative and make your cat's veterinarian understand that you're willing, able, and determined to do whatever it takes to maintain his or her quality of life as long as possible.

Most veterinarians will support you once you demonstrate your willingness, ability, and determination to do whatever it takes... but few will ever suggest it out of the blue. People need to know that these conditions aren't hopeless death sentences, and that many of them can be successfully managed as long-term chronic conditions.

The fact is, if you blindly outsource 100% of your cat's medical care to "professionals" and unquestioningly defer everything to their judgment, your cat is unlikely to live as long, with as high a quality of life, as he would if you take primary responsibility for his day-to-day healthcare, and work with his vet as a partner and mentor rather than expecting to simply be a passive customer. The healthcare of geriatric cats and/or cats with chronic conditions is still VERY MUCH the absolute bleeding edge of veterinary medicine, and many of the advances made over the past 10-20 years have occurred as a direct result of online communities sharing information about their treatment.

  • What is interesting, I also had mainly a case of elderly cats in mind when putting arguments in favour of allowing health questions. Commented Sep 8, 2013 at 13:22

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