Vet on call: Don’t trust Dr Google, he is not the best bet

Friday February 21 2020
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Suleiman Said poses next to some of his 21 cattle in Shanzu, Mombasa County in this past photo. The increased reliance on the internet by most farmers for treatment of their animals can be attributed to growth in digital literacy, increased number of younger people going into farming and the widespread internet connectivity. FILE PHOTO | NATION MEDIA GROUP


The internet has certainly revolutionised access to information. I recall in my early practice years, my information repositories were my professional seniors, lecture notes, text books and the University of Nairobi Library at Kabete.

Obtaining published scientific papers involved writing letters which would, in most cases, be replied to after three to six months. But today, the information is just a click away. I get millions of options within seconds. Well, while the free information on the internet is highly welcome, it comes with many downsides.

The other day a medical doctor lamented how Dr Google is taking over the medical practice, with many patients and their relatives first making their own diagnosis after a few searches online before self-medicating.

This is further complicated by pharmacists and quacks who sell prescription-only medicine over the counter without even bothering to interrogate the buyer about the source of their information on their illness and treatment.

Many patients have thus ended up with severe complications arising from self-medication. Well, things are not any different in the veterinary field.

Pet owners were among the early adaptors of Dr Google. They would ask me over the phone if I had a certain medicine that they would like to collect to treat their sick animals.


Some of the enquiries would be weird, prompting me to probe the source of the prescription. I recall an owner of a Japanese Spitz dog who told me she was looking for an antidote for paraffin poisoning of her dog.

She told me the dog had constipation and she had been advised to give it liquid paraffin. The animal had not recovered; she thus needed an antidote as it appeared poisoned.

I asked her whether she gave liquid paraffin or it was fuel paraffin, otherwise known as kerosene. “What is the difference?” she asked surprised. I immediately concluded she had given kerosene and that explained the poisoning.

She brought the animal for treatment but it never recovered. She told me her friend had checked the internet and advised her to use liquid paraffin.

She never knew that liquid paraffin is a mineral oil used to lubricate the gut and relieve constipation while fuel paraffin is a highly toxic petroleum product whose severe poisoning is fatal. She went home crying, blaming herself for the loss of her pet.


Livestock farmers have also become great customers of Dr Google. I had a case of kerosene poisoning in a dairy heifer. The owner searched the internet on treatment of constipation in cattle and got liquid paraffin given by mouth as treatment.

She poisoned her cow to death with kerosene. When I examined the carcass, I found the poor heifer actually had a disease called anaplasmosis, which had caused the constipation.

Two other animals were also in the early stages of the disease. I treated them and advised the farmer to stick to veterinarians.

Vivian from Sagana called last week and said she treated her pigs with gentamycin after finding out from the internet that it killed many types of bacteria. The pigs had, however, continued to die.

My first response was that I could not discuss diagnosis and drugs with a layman who was relying on Dr Google. It is professionally unethical and punishable, on my side, by the regulator, the Kenya Veterinary Board (KVB). I advised her to consult a qualified animal health service provider.

I could then review the findings with her or the service provider if the need arose. She called me later and confirmed the correct diagnosis had been made, treatment given and the pigs were recovering well.

Similarly, Oti from Siaya called and said his cow had anaplasmosis and he wanted to know what medicine to give. He told me he had seen from the internet that the disease caused stool to harden resulting in constipation.

On further questioning, I concluded his cow had suffered water deprivation. I advised him to give sufficient water and the cow recovered.

I have come across many other cases in both pets and livestock and almost all of them end up with complications or death.

The increased reliance on the internet by most farmers for treatment of their animals can be attributed to growth in digital literacy, increased number of younger people going into farming and the widespread internet connectivity. Further, high cost of animal health services has pushed many farmers to Dr Google.

My conclusion is that the internet is a valuable resource for livestock farmers especially on animal management but one must seek information from trusted sources like universities, verified experts, research and government institutions.

Once farmers obtain information from the internet, they should cross-check its usefulness with their animal health service providers before implementing interventions based on the information.