Who is your Vet? Demystifying the facts!

December 11, 2016 Facebook Twitter LinkedIn Google+ Dr.Katz,Heath & Well being


People are creatures of habit and we repeatedly do things that we have done in the past.  We drive the same route to and from work, we shop at the same stores, we buy gas at the same gas stations.  We are often on auto-pilot and don’t give a lot of thought to why we do things.  Sometimes, a moment of reflection can be invaluable!

What happens when we need a veterinarian for one of our pets? A few of us have a relationship with a veterinarian and we routinely show up for examinations and vaccinations when reminded by their receptionists.  Sometimes we just schedule the appointment out of obligation and send our husband or wife  to take our pet in for whatever they need.  How much thought goes into why we are going to the vet?  And which vet are we going to?

Let’s pause for a moment and reflect.

Do you have a relationship with a veterinarian; and if so then who is your vet?  Do you know anything about the experience, the reputation, the values or the work ethics of the person you trust most with your loved one?

Perhaps you don’t have a relationship with a veterinarian; then who do you call in the case of a pet emergency?

Should you have a relationship with a veterinarian and, if so, then what does this mean for you?

People with pets have different expectations of veterinarians just as much as veterinarians have different levels of knowledge and skill to offer.  Some people search for a veterinarian based on proficiency, reputation and communication skills; others based on the advertised price tag or location.

Understanding why different veterinarians offer what appear to be similar services for different prices can often be confusing.  Knowing what questions to ask such as what is “not” included in an “over the phone” quote for a spay or neuter or dental cleaning, for example, can be overwhelming.

Veterinarians are health care professionals who have invested time and money into learning and practicing their skills.  To be licensed to practice, veterinarians must pass national board exams to demonstrate minimum acceptable proficiency and once licensed are obligated to continue learning through educational seminars and conferences.  With time and experience, the individual skill sets evolve.

Veterinarians are people, individuals with personal value systems just like any other people you know. Veterinarians are people who have chosen this career for different reasons: some for their attention to detail and diagnostic skills; some for their medical treatment or surgical skills; some for their magnanimous love and compassion for animals; some simply as a way to make a living; and most for some combination of the above.

Most veterinarians work in public practice out of a Hospital or Clinic that may or may not be owned by them.  Most veterinarians who work for somebody else are either employed as associates and paid in the form of a salary plus benefits including paid continuing education expenses and licensing fees +/- commissions; or as Locums where they are paid a per diem rate for services rendered.  Regardless of how a veterinarian is paid, they depend on you, the clientele to supply them with business.  Every veterinarian deserves to earn a decent income commensurate with their years of investment in training and experience.  The question then is: what you are looking for in terms of service and expectations from a veterinarian and what you are willing to pay for!

All general veterinary practitioners offer physical examinations and spay and neuter services.  More involved surgical procedures offered may depend on the training and experience of the available veterinarians.

Some veterinarians offer low cost examination and vaccination and spay and neuter fees.  In these cases, in order to meet the bottom line it is important that there is a rapid turn around between the time that you arrive and the time that you leave the hospital.  This means that the history taking and physical examination may be rather shortened and vaccinations administered and parasite (flea, intestinal parasite, heart worm and  tick) prevention  recommended are likely to be standardized.  There may be a surgical “assembly line” and corners may be cut to keep costs to a minimum.

Some veterinarians offer more of a boutique, client-pet-veterinarian relationship experience.  Here, you should expect to have your pet thoroughly examined from head to tail and to be engaged in discussion about any abnormalities that have been identified during the examination. Recommended vaccinations and parasite prevention should be tailored to specific lifestyle and risk assessment.  Surgeries are more likely to be performed one at a time with more attention to your pet as an individual from admission to discharge.

Veterinary clinics, by definition, do not offer hospitalization for sick and injured animals.

Veterinary hospital do offer a range of services from diagnostic imaging to treatment and surgery.  Imaging may or may not include radiographs ( processed by chemical or by computed or direct imaging); ultrasound; CT scans; and MRI.  Most general practices do not offer CT scans or MRI diagnostic services without referral.

Some veterinarians limit themselves to specialty and referral services.  These specialist veterinarians have pursued more intensive schooling and limit their practice to a smaller scope of work.

When a veterinarian graduates from veterinary school, they pass the minimum required knowledge to practice veterinary medicine.  This entitles them to be licensed as veterinary practitioners.  Once a veterinarian is licensed to practice then they are legally authorized to offer their medical and surgical services with no limitations other than those that are self-imposed.  Some veterinarians are pressured by the circumstances within which they find themselves working to offer services with which they have no prior experience.  In these cases, the the veterinarian may be required to depend on text books and peer consults to attend to you pet.  This is not uncommon.  In some cases, a newly graduated veterinarian will work under the guidance of an experienced veterinarian and it becomes incumbent on you, the pet parent, to ask if the mentoring veterinarian will be present during the procedure.

Although different veterinary associations mandate specific required hours of attendance of Continuing Education, there are no pursuant examinations to qualify veterinarians for levels of competence beyond what they face during their initial veterinary studies.  In fact, there are no specific requirements of any veterinarian to prove competence prior to the offering of any medical or surgical treatments beyond which was required of them at the time of graduation from their basic veterinary degrees.  Consequently, when making the decision to entrust your pet to the care of a veterinarian for any treatment or surgery, consider your relationship with and understanding of the competence and confidence of the attending veterinarian and veterinary staff.

Too often, complaints against veterinarians arise out of break in communication between the veterinarian and the client.  No matter which veterinarian you decide to work with, ensure that you have a clear channel of communication.  Ensure that both you and your veterinarian share common expectations and that if any questions arise you are available to be contacted and consulted.

Relationships take time to build and with time grows trust.  Remember that when you and your pets have a relationship with a veterinarian, you gain trust in their knowledge and experience and what you can expect from them. There is great safety in trust and peace of mind when it comes to your loved ones.

When you have a relationship with a veterinarian, you gain knowledge about who this person is.  How long have they been practicing for?  What motivates them?  What role do they play in promoting animal welfare in their local community? How do they value your time and opinion?  How do other people perceive their care and expertise as measured by ratings on petmapz.com and vetratingz.com, for example?  Do they involve you in step-by-step decision making the way you want to be involved?  Some people prefer to be told what their pet “needs” and to follow instructions whereas others prefer to be more involved.  This is your choice.  Make an informed decision.

When considering which veterinarian you wish to trust with your pets, take a moment to pay attention to the environment in which they work.  Is it clean and organized?  Are the people and animals in the waiting room and treatment area relaxed and trusting?  Is attention taken to minimizing the stress on both people and their pets?  Put yourself in your pet’s position – would you be comfortable being left here and entrusted to these people if you were sick or injured?  Do these people really care about you?

Finding a veterinarian / veterinary hospital where you feel comfortable can take some time and may be a culmination of trial and error.  Once you have found the right fit for you, you can share this experience with other like-minded people to further encourage and promote good practices of medicine, surgery and general communication.  These attributes are important to pet lovers everywhere.

If you don’t have a regular veterinarian but face an emergency with your pet you can  learn from the experiences of people you may know either personally or through ratings on petmapz.com; vetratingz.com and yelp to help you choose the hospital that is best for you.

When your pet has a health concern then the veterinarian will start by taking a thorough history and completing a physical examination.  At this point, there should be some discussion about what may be the problem with your pet and treatment options.  Sometimes, the veterinarian may recommend further diagnostic testing such as xrays and blood work to further narrow done the underlying problem.  There should be some discussion regarding the purpose of any recommended tests.  What is the veterinarian specifically looking for?  Take it upon yourself to be involved in the decision making process regarding diagnostic testing and treatment.  Know your options and use your veterinarian’s advice to make informed decisions.

Regarding surgical procedures, expect that surgical time will correlate somewhat with the experience of the surgeon.  Ask the veterinarian who will be performing the surgery on your pet and inquire about their experience with the surgery in question.  Surgical time is both trauma to the pet and financial cost to you.  The overall cost will reflect both the experience of the surgeon and the time of the surgery.  Keep these in mind when you make the decision about the veterinarian with whom you will entrust your pet’s care.

Sometimes your pet may need to be hospitalized for treatment, other times the treatment may be as an out patient.  Ask questions to understand your choices and the pros and cons of each option.

Ask your veterinarian what their policy is regarding diagnostic testing and visitation.  Are you permitted to stay with your pet for blood collection if you want to or will your pet be taken into a back room without you?  Some people prefer to stay with their pets whereas others prefer not to.  Know what feels most comfortable for you and find a  veterinarian who can provide you with what you want.

While all licensed veterinarians are obligated to meet basic levels of competency, not all offer the same skill sets.  Spend the time finding a veterinarian who works best with your expectations for you and your pets.  Make this a priority while your pets are healthy so that you can trust who you are working with in times of emergency.  Pets are a part of our family and they deserve the same respect and level of health care that we expect for ourselves.


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