5 Ways to vet your Vet

Dachshund looking concerned and on Lap of Someone in ScrubsI just finished the ABC segment “Is Your Veterinarian Being Honest With You“?

If you missed it, here’s the general gist:

First, they interview a Canadian ex-veterinarian, who admits to duping clients and trying to upsell unnecessary services. A great blog by Dr. V of Pawcurious shows the money this gentleman is likely to make as a result of his appearance. “Some Veterinarians Sell Unnecessary Online Memberships By Throwing Colleagues Under the Bus“.

Then, they have an apparently healthy dog evaluated by a Manhattan veterinarian. Afterward, they take the same dog to a series of other vets to see if they all make similar recommendations.

ABC briefly mentions that “most of the veterinarians” they saw agreed with the first vet.

Most. As in over 50%.

Quickly moving on, the rest of the segment focuses on 2 or 3 clinics that disagreed and made additional recommendations.

Ominously, they warn you to be careful for veterinarians who will “prey on your emotions”.

This segment does you a disservice by giving you the impression that veterinarians are out to get you, when over 50% of veterinarians in their little experiment (they don’t give an exact number,) agreed with each other.

I get it.

No one wants to be screwed over.

I had a sketchy mechanic one time. There was something wrong with my car and the fix was expensive. So I got a second opinion from a mechanic friend and he said that the other guy either 1) wasn’t well trained enough and broke something on my car without realizing it or 2) deliberately broke something to get me to pay for something that I didn’t need.

So yeah, I’m wary of which mechanics I see. But should I never trust a mechanic again and stop getting my oil changed?

Of course not, I’d put myself in a much worse spot.

The real problem I have with this segment is that they missed a great educational opportunity.

They spent all that time effort scaring you.

They could have at least given you some tips on what you can do to make sure your vet is trustworthy.

So I’d like to take over where they left off. Here are 5 ways to vet your veterinarian:

1 – Understand the clinic’s standard of care.

Different types of clinics make different recommendations. Are you at a clinic that is on the cutting edge of veterinary medicine or one run by a vet who has done things the same way for 30 years?

A holistic doctor is unlikely to agree with a conventional veterinarian about whether homeopathy is helpful or an expensive placebo.

Just like pet owners, veterinarians feel differently about what standard of care is appropriate for pets.

Recognize what kind of treatment you’re looking for – if you want bare bones treatment, the very best, or something in between – and find a veterinarian on the same page.

It’s not fair to go the most cutting edge clinic in town and then think the veterinarian is crazy for letting you know that they could refer your cat in kidney failure for a kidney transplant.

2 – Ask “Why?”

A good veterinarian should be able to explain why they are making their recommendation and back it up with data.

While 20/20 claimed that dental care is the veterinary equivalent of “super-sizing” it, there is amazing data to support the importance of regular dental care for people and pets. Vickie Byard has an excellent blog entry about this.

Similarly, you might think your vet is trying to up-sell you by recommending you bring your cat in every year for an exam and bloodwork if your cat “seems fine”.

But what if your veterinarian told you about a recent study showing that a large percentage of cats over 6 years of age – whose owners thought they were perfectly healthy – had hidden diseases revealed by physical exams or labwork? Check out that neat study here.

Since cats are prey animals as well as predators, they are very good at hiding signs of pain and illness.

Each month we see at least 3 cats dying of illnesses we could have caught early. Sometimes we could have cured them, sometimes treated them to give them many more comfortable years, if only the owner had come in for their pet’s annual wellness care.

A good veterinarian should help you see why their recommendation makes sense for your pet and what studies support the point that they are trying to make.

3 – Discuss Alternatives

A good veterinarian should help you understand your options. What happens if you choose not to treat your pet? Are there other ways of addressing your pet’s condition?

Take these two pets:

  • Jimbo – a dog I strongly suspect that has hypothyroidism
  • Candy – a cat I strongly suspect has hyperthyroidism

If Jimbo’s owner does not test and treat him, Jimbo’s might gain weight, feel excessively cold, and have more skin issues. It’s still important to treat him, but his life is not immediately at risk.

If Candy’s owner does not take my recommendation, Candy is likely be severely dehydrated, lose a lot of weight and muscle, and eventually go into heart or kidney failure. Her life is definitely at risk.

After letting Candy’s owners know what could happen if they decline testing and treatment I should discuss their treatment options . These include radioactive iodine treatment (expensive but the best chance for curing Candy) or pills and diets that could control but not cure her disease.

A reputable veterinarian should help you weigh the pros and cons of different options, let you know what happens if you do nothing, and help you make the decision that is best for your family.

4 – Develop A Relationship

Whose advice about buying a holiday gift for your mom would you be more likely to take? The advice of someone you just met or the advice of someone who has known your family for years?

It’s important to get to know a veterinarian and build a trusting relationship over time. This helps your veterinarian get to know you, your pet, your preferences, and your unique needs.

Seeing what your veterinarian recommends and how they respond to your questions during regular yearly exams will help you know you can count on their advice when something is wrong with your pet.

Invest in the time that it takes to develop a long-term partnership with a veterinarian you trust.

5 – Get a second opinion

If all else fails, a vet who is confident in their recommendation should feel comfortable with you getting a second opinion.

Keep in mind though – “Top of the Line Clinic” and “Low Cost Clinic” are unlikely to make the same recommendations. Compare apples to apples based on the standard of care you want for your pet.

The Bottom Line

Veterinarians do their job because they love people and animals. Even the 20/20 piece admits the odds are in your favor that your veterinarian recommends what other vets recommend.

If you fell unsure about the advice you are getting, use the tips above to help put your mind and heart at ease.

If you do, I’m confident that what another veterinarian said will be true: “our profession’s compassion and dedication will ring out much louder and clearer than any junk piece of journalism.

That my friends is how you make sure your vet is legit – or dare I say…

Too legit to quit.

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