Today there was a question which required immediate attention.

The asker had incorrectly selected the "disaster" tag to label the question (disaster is for, well, disaster preparation and post-disaster issues, where a disaster is an earthquake, flood, etc.)

Here is what I wrote for emergency:

A situation which requires immediate attention. You will more than likely be directed to contact a local veterinarian.

Emergency tag is used to label questions which are concerns that require (or required) immediate responses and attention. As this is the internet, and Pets.SE is not an emergency help clinic, you should not wait for an answer and instead must consider contacting a local veterinarian immediately for advice.

The intent was to create a tag to label those questions which require immediate medical attention (medical-emergency ?). We cannot possibly ensure someone can answer a question in a timely manner, so I'm not entirely certain what to do for this, but this will likely not be the last question we get that qualifies for this category.

Ideas on how to handle this?

  • This discussion is kind of moot now since @RobertCartaino deleted all of the tags in use.
    – JoshDM
    Commented Feb 3, 2014 at 19:02

3 Answers 3


This is a meta tag. It doesn't describe the question at all, it describes how important it is to someone at the time it was asked. When you have a tag that could conceivably be applied along with any other tag on the site, you're looking at a meta tag.

I don't see the good in having it, and I think it could be actively harmful as its existence could imply that a question will be answered faster, and delay action by the asker.

I would strongly consider not using it, and requesting that it be blacklisted if it continues to appear in various forms. Folks pull feeds here, we have questions piped into chat - if someone is around that can answer your question, they will. I don't think a special tag for that is a good idea.

  • Rather than 'emergency', what about a similarly described tag 'sick' or 'ill' to refer to an actively sick pet at the time the question is asked? Distinct from 'health'.
    – JoshDM
    Commented Feb 2, 2014 at 14:04
  • @JoshDM we discussed that a bit here meta.pets.stackexchange.com/questions/660/…
    – Zaralynda
    Commented Feb 2, 2014 at 20:44
  • @TimPost when I thought about the tag at first, I considered it terms of us seeing it, not in terms of search, which is an error on my part.
    – user53
    Commented Feb 2, 2014 at 23:07
  • @JoshDM I see the need you're trying to fill. If someone's dog all of a sudden .. broke out in spots, they'd definitely want to find any questions related to that. However, 'sick' really doesn't do that much justice, perhaps symptoms would make better tags. [dogs]+[spots]+[vomiting] .. but I'm not certain that's the best idea either. I'll give it some more thought.
    – user105
    Commented Feb 3, 2014 at 7:15
  • @TimPost - Unfortunately, unless we have a good synonym system in place, no one is going to type "symptoms".
    – JoshDM
    Commented Feb 3, 2014 at 8:01
  • Keep in mind, even if we are unable to help in a timely fashion the first time the question is asked, we can provide a good reference the second (& third & ...) time. Commented Feb 3, 2014 at 17:13
  • @TimPost is it possible for the tag to exist with the warning, and redirect to health? That way it shows up if anyone trys to use it, it gives them a warning, and it does not tag any questions as emergancy. Commented Feb 3, 2014 at 18:45

If we can change the text on the "ask a question" page to tell people that they may not get an answer right away and in a medical emergency they should contact their vet yadda yadda (like when you call your doctor's office after hours) that may help.

First they have to realize that they're having an emergency, but having that note in front of them as they're asking the question may cause them to think about it.

Unfortunately, that's the type of action that we would never know how well it works (if someone closes their browser and goes to the vet, we don't know; we would only see the persistant people who ask anyway).

  • I don't think this is something we can change, but I can ask if it is possible.
    – user53
    Commented Jan 31, 2014 at 21:20
  • Yeah I don't see any other SE sites where it would even come up as necessary (time crunch and not something that could be addressed later)
    – Zaralynda
    Commented Jan 31, 2014 at 21:28

Having a tag is certainly helpful. Unfortunately, there is not a whole lot we can do besides encouraging people to go and act quickly in whatever way (usually calling their vet, I suspect, will be the course of action).

We can only answer the questions as best we are able as soon as we see them, and hope for the best, unfortunately, as there is no other way we can directly affect the situation. Writing clear answers to these sorts of questions, pointing people in the directions they need to be going is all we can do.

It was suggested in chat, I believe, that a specific close reason for medical emergencies be created, and I don't think that that is the best course of action. Closing the question might lead people to believe they are beyond help, if they don't take the time to read the close reason, and that is the last thing we want to convince anyone of. If anything, these are the times when quick, clear, substantiated answers are definitely needed!

I think tagging them is good, because then they are easily findable in cases of crisis (as you can set tags as favourites and the like). Beyond that, I think we just have to do our best to help as best we can from across the internet.

  • 1
    A lot of points here, but I upvoted for two: the tag itself, and the answerability of the questions. I believe the answers to this kind of questions have further value to other visitors in Pets-SE. Commented Jan 31, 2014 at 21:46
  • My concern with tags is that it still relies on us to intervene. We may not be available very quickly (though on a Friday afternoon it's pretty likely I guess!). I'd hate to see something like this sit for several hours because we're all out or asleep.
    – Zaralynda
    Commented Jan 31, 2014 at 23:10
  • 3
    Unfortunately, that is the risk that people take, posting on an internet site like this. There isn't a lot we can do, although I am investigating if we have paths to make the "please see your vet in an emergency" message a bit more obvious to users.
    – user53
    Commented Jan 31, 2014 at 23:25

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