From time to time, a friend or family member will call or email with questions about a sick pet, and I am happy to try to help. I always explain that without actually physically examining a pet, it is hard to say for sure what the problem is, but often all they need to hear is “yes, your pet needs to see a vet” or “yes, it sounds like your vet is doing the right thing.”
Something happened this week, though, that led me to answer, “I think maybe it is time to find a new vet.”
My cousin texted me about a problem her young dog was having with one of his toes. She told me that ever since she adopted him as a pup, his toenail had grown oddly, and it has always seemed sensitive, bordering on painful. From the picture she sent, I couldn’t really figure out what the problem could be, and I advised her to see her vet about it. She went on to explain that she had taken him to the vet, and despite the fact that she explained to the vet that she thought her dog was in pain, her veterinarian dismissed her concerns.
This really upset me—as veterinarians, it is our job to ensure that our clients are satisfied, but above all, it is our duty to make sure our patients are as comfortable as possible, even if it is something as small as a sore toe.
This incident also got me thinking about how many other people might be seeing a vet that isn’t the best fit for them or their pets. With the New Year approaching, it’s a good time to reassess what’s best for the both of you, so I thought I’d offer some advice for when it might be time to make the switch:
- If your concerns are dismissed, it’s time to move on. Sure, there are times when owners come to me with vague concerns, and maybe I don’t see what they are seeing, but I know that my patient’s owner is her only advocate. There are any number of reasons a pet may act differently in my office than she does at home (anxiety, fear, excitement), but that doesn’t mean that the problem isn’t a real one. A symptom as vague as “she just doesn’t seem herself, doc” could mean that a serious problem is brewing. And certainly any mention of pain should be taken seriously. If your vet dismisses your concerns, find someone who will address them.
- If your vet is unwilling to communicate with you, it’s time to move on. If your phone calls are not returned (either by your vet or by a member of their staff), shouldn’t that be viewed as a dismissal of your concerns? Now, mistakes do happen—messages get lost, wires crossed, etc. But if it’s a regular occurrence, find a new vet.
- If your appointments always seem rushed, it’s time to move on. Veterinarians are often very busy, to be sure. We regularly have emergencies that come in that may push your regularly scheduled appointments or distract us from your pet’s routine vaccination visit. But this should not be an excuse for us to not give your pet 100% of our attention when we are with you. If being rushed through an appointment happens regularly, find someone who will give you and your pet the time you deserve.
- If you have doubts about the standard of care your pet is getting, find a new vet! Whether it’s regarding vaccine protocols, antibiotic use, surgical procedures or pain control, if you think your pet isn’t getting up-to-date medical care, get out of there. Remember, you are your pet’s only advocate.
- If your pet has a problem that your vet can’t get to the bottom of, yet he or she is reluctant to refer you to someone who can, it’s time to find a new vet. You know that saying, “It takes a village to raise a child?” Well, sometimes it takes a village to cure your pet. General practitioners just can’t possibly be expected to know everything, and if they claim to, you should view it as a red flag. Veterinary specialists exist for the good of your pet—if your veterinarian doesn’t offer referral for a problem he or she can’t fix, find someone who will. Your pet’s life may depend on it.
I don’t mean to sound all doom and gloom—there are so many wonderful veterinarians in the world whose only desire is to give your pet the best care possible, and I hope that is how you feel about your vet. But if not, maybe it’s time to move on.
Besides reassessing your vet, there are a paw-ful of other ways to prepare your pet for the New Year. Check out our Resolution Solution page for vet-picked resolutions for a healthy year (and find out your pet’s own pledge!).