A few weeks ago, I had to deal with an irate pet owner who thought I had mistreated his dog for mouse and rat poisoning. To make a long story short, this pet owner ignored my recommendations and chose to go to a different emergency veterinarian — only to spend hundreds of dollars (at least $500-700) for things that didn’t need to be necessarily performed, including inducing vomiting, giving activated charcoal, doing blood work, giving the antidote, and hospitalizing the dog overnight.
Don’t get me wrong — the other emergency veterinarian didn’t technically do anything wrong; they just chose an alternative, more expensive, and more aggressive way of treating the poisoning. My way: cheaper, less traumatic to the pet, and way less expensive. Ultimately, both medical recommendations were "right," but the pet owner was frustrated by being presented two options that didn’t match up.
Well, welcome to veterinary (and human) medicine. There are — fortunately or unfortunately — different ways of skinning a cat. (Hey, I’m a veterinarian, I’m allowed to say that.) Pet owners often become frustrated by this. More importantly, pet owners may not be aware of all these different options that they may have for their pets.
One of the reasons why I was passionate about writing It’s a Dog’s Life ... but It’s Your Carpet and It’s a Cat’s World ... You Just Live In It was because of these situations. My goal was to help pet owners be the best advocate for their dogs or cats so that we could all avoid those disastrous cases that I constantly saw walking through my emergency room door (e.g., big-dog little-dog fights, outdoor cats mauled by coyotes, etc.). A lot of the emergency cases I saw could have been prevented by:
- Better pet education (See "Avoiding the HBC," and simple tips like "Should I keep my cat indoors?" or "The dirt behind kitty litter boxes")
- Being your pet’s best advocate and seeking a different option, if needed
- Doing your research
- Communicating with your veterinarian to make sure you are aware of all your options
Finding a health care provider that you trust and believe in is imperative, whether you are a 2-legged or a 4-legged client. Things to keep in mind when finding a veterinary practice include the following:
- Do you feel comfortable with the doctor and technical staff? Do they take the time to answer your questions?
- Does the veterinary clinic maintain an organized health record that details prescriptions, physical examination findings, and blood work?
- Are your phone calls answered and handled well?
- Are the office hours convenient to you?
- What payment plans or methods are available?
- Do they accept pet insurance?
- What range of medical services do they provide? Do they do in-house blood work and x-rays? Do they have anesthetic machines, oxygen, a full pharmacy, and options for referral if necessary?
- How are emergency calls handled?
- Do they provide non-medical services such as grooming, nail clipping, boarding, and puppy training (if not, can they refer you to such a place?)
- Are the veterinarians members of a professional association (such as the American Veterinary Medical Association) or a state veterinary association?
More importantly, ask your friends, breeder, or acquaintances in the dog park who their veterinarian is, and take the time to shop around. Be a smart consumer for your 4-legged family member. It’s not like you’re shopping for a new brand of dog food here; it takes research and forethought to make the best choice. That being said, there is also something to be said for trusting your gut —if the clinic reeks of cat pee, is dirty, or has poor customer service, look elsewhere. Likewise, if your dog or cat has a serious disease (e.g., cancer, kidney failure, etc.), consider getting the second opinion of a veterinary specialist to make sure all options have been pursued, if needed.
I want pet owners to be smart, fun-loving, responsible, and wise. The first step to being a good consumer is to find a veterinarian that you like and feel comfortable with. Just like with your own health care, you should trust and like your veterinarian. If not, seek a second opinion. At the same time, remember what your options are. With the advent of the Internet, there is a lot of knowledge available —but you must be able to separate wheat from the chaff. There is a lot of inaccurate, wrong information out there, and I’d hate for you to make a hasty decision.
When in doubt, talk to a veterinarian and remember that you always have the option to seek a second opinion or a referral to a specialist, with or without your veterinarian’s approval. Become educated on the health of your pet, either by consulting reliable sources (veterinary-based) or by asking your veterinarian.
Finally, maintain a detailed and precise medical record file at home, so you have all that information readily available in case of an emergency. One helpful hint is when your dog or cat has blood work performed, ask for a copy for your own record. In fact, if your veterinarian doesn’t give you a copy, consider that a red flag. After all, you paid for it, and should get a right to a copy of it, right?
Be your pet’s advocate … after all, you’re honored with the tongue-licking reward of loyalty and companionship. It’s the least we can do to make sure our 4-legged pets are in the right hands.
Dr. Justine Lee