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I am seeing several answers that boil down to I do not know your answer you should consult a vet. The goal of this SE is to help answer questions about pets. If the question truly requires a vet to answer it then perhaps the question should be closed with out answer. In addition hopefully we will have some vets in our community which will be able to provide better answers.

So are answers where the response to the primary question is consult a vet appropriate?

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    I'm very interested in the conclusion on how should we deal with it. In other sites, questions about legal advice and medical problems always have this "see the lawyer/doctor", mostly because no one wants to take responsibility on a bad advice. If there were some disclaimer stating to always seek a vet first, and that no answer substitutes this kind of counseling, I think we could even get better answers here. – woliveirajr Oct 15 '13 at 19:21
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    I think Pets doesn't have, yet, a well defined rule if we're expecting just the best answer or if general opinions, anecdotal evidence, and "from a similar problem, the solution was..." kind of answers. – woliveirajr Oct 15 '13 at 19:23
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    @StevenV - I really wish this urban myth would die... they are not going to lose their licence for answering questions. They might is they say i am a vet and here is what you do to perform surgery, make medicine, or other dangerous activity. The same is true for lawyers. If you sue them you will win or you should sue them is legal advice. You could sue them on grounds X is not. – user9 Oct 15 '13 at 19:28
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    @Chad It's not so much about the license, but about the ethics of making a diagnosis without ever having seen the patient before. – jonsca Oct 15 '13 at 19:40
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    @Jonsca - You can provide information with out making a diagnosis. We are talking about providing information not treating the animal. If a vet can not provide the information for some reason they can also explain why. – user9 Oct 15 '13 at 19:45
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    While SE has no liability to filter or even put a disclaimer on the information, I don't know if we want to have a reputation as a "back alley". So, you are correct in saying that information is likely fine, but it's a slippery slope. I highly respect that you very likely have more experience with raising your animals than most vets do, but in the other 99.99% of people on the internet probably do not. – jonsca Oct 15 '13 at 19:47
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    @Jonsca have you read the answers below? I do not think anyone is saying we want what you are suggesting. And my response to StevenV was not to say that they should just to point out that the myth he is perpetuating is a fallacy. – user9 Oct 15 '13 at 19:55
  • "Back alley" is a bit of hyperbole, but the idea of someone being able to tell if an x-ray or labs will be necessary is still asking a (potentially unqualified) person to take on some responsibility. In a human, given a choice between whether something is indigestion or a heart attack, people are still better off getting the indigestion checked out. – jonsca Oct 15 '13 at 20:02
  • Perhaps I should clarify that I don't think that "consult a vet" by itself is an answer. Not at all, but it never hurts for people to recommend doing so. What Steve and I are saying goes beyond this one meta question and speaks to what our general philosophy on these types of questions should be. – jonsca Oct 15 '13 at 20:08
  • Have you read the answers to this question?They are saying just that... but they need to explain why. And steve is saying that they can lose their licence.. that is an urban myth. – user9 Oct 15 '13 at 20:10
  • I have read the answers to this question, thank you! My knee jerk was more to your comment on I really wish this urban myth would die... they are not going to lose their licence for answering questions. They might is they say i am a vet and here is what you do to perform surgery, make medicine, or other dangerous activity. – jonsca Oct 15 '13 at 20:12
  • I am not claiming it is neccessarily ethical... and if SteveV will delete his comment i will mine as well. – user9 Oct 15 '13 at 20:14
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I'd say we need to distinguish between answers where "consult a vet" is the right response, and ones where some users will suggest that in place of a "proper" answer.

"Consult a vet" is generally very good (and safe!) advice, but frequently it isn't mutually exclusive to an answer providing high-quality advice.

For example, What's the best way to heal a scab on top of my dog's head? could very easily be dismissed with "consult a vet", yet the two answers provide what seems to be good advice (and one answer also includes the phrase "consult your vet").

Questions like this, where there is a known issue, even if it is medical in nature, are generally fine.

However, questions which attempt to diagnose a medical problem are much more problematic.

I think questions like this one about identifying spots on a cat's chin, What can I do about the black dots on my cat's chin? are perfectly fine for our site.

On the other hand, if a question seems to be asking for help in identifying a serious injury or illness (e.g. "I think my dog's leg is broken; how can I tell?" or "My cat hasn't eaten or drank water in 3 days... what is wrong with her?"), then those questions should be closed and a comment left directing the OP to a veterinarian.

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  • I think in both of the cases we can explain why you need to see a vet, the first because it will require an xray to answer difintively and if it is broken and sets improperly they dog could be plagued with pain for the rest of its life. The second needs to see a vet because the cat could dehydrate and die if its condition is not addressed. We could probably even find a few potential problems that require a vet to diagnose. – user9 Oct 15 '13 at 19:13
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If your answer consists only of "consult your vet" advice, this should be a comment, not an answer. An answer needs more information than that. (A valid answer, however, can certainly include "consult your vet" along with more information.) If it is not likely that anyone will be able to answer a question with more than a simple "consult your vet" comment, then the question should be closed.

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It is only appropriate if you can adequately explain why the answer can only be obtained through a visit to the vet.

For instance if to find the answer will require lab tests, x-rays, and/or other complex medical procedures that should be explained. If you are not able to say what will be required to answer it then it is much better if you leave the question unanswered so that those who do know can answer.

Many times the first answers in if they sound about right will get voted up and drown out responses that come after. If you can not provide a quality answer that adequately explains the situation then leaving the question unanswered lets the experts focus on those questions to help resolve the problem.

In addition people are coming here many times hoping to avoid a vet bill but still take care of their animal. If all they here is a vet can answer that, they will tune it out. If you explain why they need to go to a vet they are more likely to take them to a vet so they can get the care they need.

And finally there are many things being referred to vets that do not really need to go to the vet. Many of the experts here have the knowledge of either how to answer, or where to get the answer from. Everyone knows they can go ask the vet, but running to the vet for every little question is not only expensive it is wasteful. It is similar to running to the ER every bump, scrape, or splinter. We should try to help where we can.

Here is a perfect example:

In this version it basically just says you need to see a vet.

In this version it explains why you need to see a vet.

The first version was really noise where the second one brought the explanation home which should be much more helpful to the OP.

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  • Regarding the drowning: As long as people upvote answers that give laymans advice and reward their writers with reputation, these answers will continue to appear. The person who asked this question can mitigate this problem by accepting an answer which will make it float to the top, regardless of the votes. – Baarn Oct 15 '13 at 19:05
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    @Baarn - I think as long as we have a policy we can point to that says that just consult a vet is not enough we can help curb the worst of the offenders. We have a similar problem on The Workplace where the common answer is you should quit your job. – user9 Oct 15 '13 at 19:15

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