Working with dogs and cats all day, every day is the highlight of my career.
When deciding to become a veterinarian, not only was I interested in the science of medicine and healing but also in a job where I would get to interact with animals. I never considered human medicine because I did not want to work on people.
The one thing I did not realize until after school was that with each animal comes a person. Not only must I be good at working with animals, but I also must be good at dealing with the people who come with them.
Pets are family members, and when ill, their owners experience the same emotions they would if any other human family member became sick. People may exhibit a variety of emotions, including sadness, anger, depression, etc. As the veterinarian, not only do we have to try and assess the patient, but at times we have to counsel their people.
Veterinarians and owners must work together as a team to come up with a diagnosis and then formulate a manageable treatment plan. If there is not a good relationship among all of the members of the team, the animal suffers.
After 20 years of practicing veterinary medicine, I realize there are things that you as a pet owner can do when working with your veterinarian to make your office visit a positive experience for both you and your pet.
Trust: Your veterinarian has been through extensive education to get a veterinary degree (eight years of college at a minimum) and must go to yearly continuing education courses to maintain his license. As such, he should receive the same level of respect you give to your family physician.
In addition to having a good knowledge base, it is also important to find a veterinarian with whom you connect and are able to talk openly. There are many different personalities out in the veterinary field, and you want to have a good relationship and be comfortable with the person who is giving you medical advice.
Honesty: When answering questions, be as honest as you can. We all have a tendency to tell people what we think they want to hear. I try to floss my teeth every day, but some days I may forget, and when my dentist asks, I find myself wanting to lie and say that I have been flossing daily.
If you have forgotten to give heartworm medication, be honest about it. If you overdosed a prescribed medication, tell your veterinarian. We want to help your pet, and we cannot solve or treat a problem we do not know exists.
Follow instructions: There are reasons that medications are prescribed as they are. A drug given three times a day is given this way to maintain therapeutic blood levels. If you drop to two times a day for convenience, in between doses, your pet may not have high enough levels to be effective.
Dr. Henri Bianucci has spent many hours repairing bone fractures then given detailed instructions for post-operative care. Leave the splint in place and restrict activity until the first recheck. Occasionally, he has been devastated to see a dog return limping and the fracture broken down because these simple instructions were not followed.
Another example that we see in medicine is with diabetic patients. People always want to adjust their pet’s insulin doses as they would their own, even after we explain that pets are not small people and are not managed as tightly. Unfortunately, making changes without consulting your veterinarian can result in a visit to the emergency clinic for symptoms of low blood sugar.
Patience: It still surprises me how quickly blood reports, radiology reports and pathology results return in veterinary medicine. When I have had my own radiographs (X-rays) taken or a biopsy submitted for pathology, it usually takes a week or more to get the results. For my patients, I usually have the radiology reports back within 12-24 hours and pathology reports back within two to five days. Be patient with your veterinarian when waiting for results. I promise you that we want the results back in a timely manner as much as you do so that we can start treatment and make your pet feel better. It is also important to remember that sometimes a diagnosis may require several days to figure out.
In veterinary medicine, our patients cannot tell us what hurts or why their appetite is decreased. We have to use our best tool, information from you (the owner) in addition to a good physical exam and diagnostic testing to make a diagnosis. Often when results return, we need to think about how they relate to what you have described and what we have noted on a physical examination before coming up with a plan.
Question: Do not hesitate to ask questions. You need to have a relationship with your veterinarian in which you are comfortable asking questions and they are comfortable being asked questions.
An owner’s questions often will trigger me to think of something I may have forgotten. The more you know and understand about what we are thinking, the better compliance we see with treatment, and that usually correlates to a better treatment response. This all comes back to choosing a veterinarian that you trust.
Your pet’s health care decisions depend on you and your veterinarian being a team and having a good relationship. Hopefully, these tips will help make the experience a positive one.
Dr. Henri Bianucci and Dr. Perry Jameson are with Veterinary Specialty Care LLC. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.