Military, Moving, and Managing Pet Care In Between
Working in northern Virginia, I have helped numerous clients who are active duty or retired military. This means there are lots of pets who have travelled a lot, both nationally and internationally, and seen many veterinarians. Medicine is both a science and an art, and every veterinarian has had different education and experiences which have shaped the way he or she practices medicine. This can lead to conflicting opinions and recommendations, which can be confusing for pet owners. Similarly, the cost of pet care is highly variable from one area to another, so this can cause some irritation for pet parents as well.
Several weeks ago I took a call from a client who had recently moved to Switzerland. She called looking for answers and closure after the sudden and unexpected loss of a darling dachshund we’d seen as a patient for years. She was understandably devastated and I looked through the patient file to help her make sense of what could have caused her beloved companion to deteriorate and pass so quickly. We had, after all, just seen him for an exam for his international health certificate a month or so prior to his death. The client remembered running some bloodwork before leaving for Switzerland, and wanted to know if there had been any sign of illness in that bloodwork, or any previous lab work. I reviewed the record and unfortunately had to inform her that the bloodwork we ran was a simple heartworm and tick-borne illness test. We had never run any other lab work on her dog. Perhaps the kidney failure had been acute, and we wouldn’t have caught it anyway; but perhaps it had been chronic, and regular blood screening would have clued us into the disease before it was too late. We discussed possible toxin exposure and how physical exams, no matter how comprehensive, can never give us a full picture of the health of an animal. Animals hide illness well.
So why didn’t we run any blood work on this little old dog? I'm not sure. I wish I could say that I didn't have several other examples of cases with the same sort of storyline. It breaks my heart every time. What frequently happens is one of two things: The veterinarian makes the recommendation but the owner declines, either for financial reasons or lack of understanding of the importance of the testing; or the veterinarian doesn’t make the recommendation for fear of being accused of “up-selling” or making recommendations for “unnecessary” testing. Most veterinarians have the animal’s best interest at heart, but pet parents frequently misread medical recommendations as “up-selling” and accuse veterinarians of being “in it for the money.” I can assure you – no veterinarian becomes a veterinarian for the money. In fact, no one in the veterinary hospital is there for the money.
Generally, situations like this arise due to multilevel failure. Failure on the part of the veterinarian for not being prepared to discuss medical recommendations with the client, or not making the recommendation at all. Failure on the part of the client for not asking the right questions or trusting the veterinarian to provide the best care possible for the pet, or not having the time or resources to care for the pet appropriately.
My suggestions for my fellow animal caretakers are:
Veterinarians: Get comfortable making recommendations to your clients. Explain why you recommend bloodwork, or medication, or weight loss, or whatever it is you’re recommending. A wise man (Dr. Dave Nicol) has said that we need to stop being apologists for our prices, and become advocates for our service.
Pet parents: Ask questions! Your veterinarian and his/her team work tirelessly to be the voice for your pet. Be actively engaged in the care of your pet, and work to understand why we do what we do.
Together, we can help our pets live long, happy, healthy lives.