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This year, avoid ‘Dr Google’ and call a Vet

By Dr Othieno Joseph

A farmer called me one evening during Christmas. He was a gifted orator who introduced himself as a successful farmer in Kitale. He poured praises on my articles and the Smart Harvest magazine and he said he never misses a copy. But he also had a query: “Daktari the reason I am calling you is because one of my best cows is suffering from Listeriosis and all I want from you is an assistance on which antibiotic I should buy.”

That question bothered me for two reasons. He said he was a farmer and had a sick animal which he already had a diagnosis and all he wanted me to do was to give him an antibiotic on phone so that he can walk to the nearest agrovet and buy and probably administer the drug himself. That thought was outright assault to the noble veterinary medicine profession.

Wrong facts

I gave him a benefit of doubt; maybe it is a vet who collected the sample and did a lab diagnosis and told him it was a case of Listeriosis. But again something told me no; it may not be a vet.

If it was a vet, he should have walked the whole journey and given a treatment. So with this doubt I asked him who had told him the cow was suffering from Listeriosis. Guess who? Dr Google.

The farmer read on Google that the disease is treated using antibiotics – which is true because the disease is bacterial. I tried my level best to persuade the farmer to consult a veterinary doctor in the vicinity but my efforts were in vain. I also declined to give the assistance he needed and it is for this reason that today I chose to write about the cons of Google doctor.

Advances in technology

Advancement in information technology and the ease of access to information the world over has come with its advantages and disadvantages in human and animal medicine.

Self medication is being practised on a large scale thanks to “Google doctors” and this will certainly worsen the resistance to antibiotics, already a global challenge in the management of bacterial diseases.

Why you shouldn’t use “google doctor”

The internet is offering a lot of information on animal production and health; you are probably reading this article online.

There are many websites giving credible and crucial information which farmers can utilise in their farms. But it must be noted that there are also some sites promising farmers more than what is in the real world; perhaps as a marketing strategy.

While a website can describe a disease; its clinical manifestations, its prevention and control and treatment, it can never give a diagnosis. That aspect requires a human and professional input.

My Prof Susan Mbugua used to tell us that “diseases don’t read books and will manifest in a way that may confuse even a learned mind…” It is worth noting that most clinical signs are shared across diseases.

For example, in the case of listeriosis; clinical signs include depression, loss of appetite, fever, lack of coordination (animals seen going around in circles), isolation from herd, salivation, facial paralysis, abortions and stillbirths.

Now these are non specific signs that are shared by many other diseases. A vet handling such a case will therefore ask a farmer other corroborating questions like the type of feed the animal ate – was it mouldy? The rearing system on the farm etc. He will also look at the environment, what are the prevailing weather conditions, what is the breed of the animal, the age the immune status among other questions.

After this interrogation, he will narrow down to a number of probable diseases what is called differential diagnoses, then a tentative diagnosis at which stage he may decide to give treatment as he awaits a definitive or confirmed diagnosis via some test in the lab or by the cowshed.

Trained vet is more superior

‘Google doctor’ cannot do this... And this is the reason no doctor gives a prescription on phone. One-on-one examination and history taking is the foundation stone of effective diagnosis and treatment.

It takes at least six years to produce a veterinary surgeon – during which many aspect of biological systems, environmental conditions and other factors of health and disease are taught. All these permuatate in a complex way in a disease instance, a reason the “Google doctor” can never replace a veterinary doctor.

“Google doctor” doesn’t have a human mind and professional training. “Google doctor” looks at a disease in isolation and through a fragmented prism; while “he” can inform and educate he can never make a diagnosis.So this year, if your animal is sick, call a vet.


The writer was the winner of Vet of the Year Award (VOYA) 2016 and works with the Kenya Tsetse and Trypanosomiasis Eradication Council –KENTTEC,

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