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We've decided that medical questions are on topic, and especially when the pet already has a diagnosis, the questions can be very focused about how to manage that particular diagnosis.

However, I'm not sure that "Here's a list of symptoms, do you have any advice for me/my pet?" questions should necessarily be on topic. We cannot examine the animal, and most of us are not animal care professionals. The best we can do is say "Go to the vet".

I compiled a list of example questions to show how widespread the problem is:

I noted as well that these questions tend to not have very good or highly upvoted answers. There's just not much that we can do (short of really weird random intuitive leaps like in Should I be worried that my cat is making a huffing noise? ).

I tried to create something of a canonical answer in "Leg Injury Confusing the Vet", but that had a particular focus (how do I determine what tests to do at the vet), and many questions don't have that much focus and instead are just a list of vague symptoms. In addition, it would be WEIRD to close a question like "My dog has diarrhea" stating that it's a duplicate to a question about a leg injury.

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    My first impulse is to say yes, these should continue to be in scope. I don't have the rational clear enough for a direct answer at the moment, my thought is that providing a location for for the questions, will in the cases where the problem is wide spread (and we can't know without allowing all) provide a place for solutions that work as well as those that don't. – James Jenkins Sep 19 '14 at 10:30
  • I think there is a place for such questions, though they may suffer a little bit today. Hopefully our community growth will lead to adding people that may be able to do more with these. – John Cavan Sep 21 '14 at 3:58
  • @JohnCavan what people will ever be able to answer these questions? I can't imagine a professional even offering a diagnosis without examining the pet, so a professional's answer would be similar to mine "take your pet to the vet". – Zaralynda Sep 22 '14 at 15:25
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    @Zaralynda - True, but there's a comfort factor that matters to people, I think and there is in a number a cases the possibility of "first responder" type actions that can be taken prior to a vet visit. To be fair, I think we're in duplicate territory here. :) – John Cavan Sep 22 '14 at 16:00
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I can't think of any reason why they should be off-topic. I stand by my statement I made before that we really can't answer behaviour questions when we don't study animal behaviour, but then decide not to answer medical questions because we don't study medicine.

We definitely aren't a replacement for visiting a vet though, so I think it would be good if we put it in the help center, or made an announcement on meta that any medical advice is supplemental to visiting a vet. It would be really nice to have a pop-up when selecting the health tag that they should consider visiting a vet.

I think what we need to do, is figure out what isn't working about these questions, and try to figure out a way to fix that problem.

The common problems I've noticed with medical questions are:

They don't include a picture:

If we can't touch the animal, then we need to see it. We should get stricter on these questions and instead of asking for a picture, require one. I put together some posts under What common information should a question poster be expected to provide about their pet? for what I think is required in different types of questions, one of them is for medical questions. I think it would help if we could have items listed that are a minimum requirement for what's needed in a medical question.

They try to ask multiple questions at once:

A lot of times with these questions, I see the final question being asked is really not clear. There are two types of questions I've noticed.

  1. Where the person is scared or stressed about the condition, they tend to ramble off questions at the end. *"What if it's this condition, should I do this? Should I be worried? What if it gets worse? Is this normal?"**

  2. Questions that follow the format of "Is X true or normal?

We need to be more strict and enforce one question per question block.

We should try and figure out ways to make these questions more clear:

I think what this all leads to is a bunch of questions that aren't really clear enough that people feel comfortable answering, but no one votes to close them as unclear because technically they aren't.

The problem is that makes these questions just okay, and okay questions are boring. If we want to keep the site interesting, we need to have more great questions than okay questions.

I don't know if we can completely get rid of these types of questions, because sometimes they do work pretty well. I'm pretty biased since it's about reptiles, and I answered the question, but I think that What is this dull patch on my bearded dragon? turned out to be a good example of how these questions can work. I had to ask for a picture, but after that was added the question had everything needed to diagnose the condition.

Personally, I would like to see some of the questions changed to be more like "Is X a symptom of Y?". But in order to do that, I think we would need to decide if we require some sort of prior research done on these types of questions.

If we can set up some minimum requirements for these questions, whether it's requirements for what's needed in the question, or prior research, or both. Then we can start to close the not so great questions for not adhering to the guidelines. (It would be great if we could have a new close reason specifically for not having enough details, but I think we're supposed to use the unclear vote for that.)

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