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How to Get Better Results From Veterinarians

October 30, 2011

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What To Do When Your Pet is Still Sick?

Basically, you’ve gone to the vet.  Maybe many veterinarians.  Your  dog still has terrible skin, or your cat still vomits almost every day.  You are frustrated.  The profession that is supposed to help you has let you down and taken your money in the meantime and you are sad and alienated.  Sound about right?

Skinny soft Sugar Glider clings to mom's shoulder. HIs right eye has an abscess that needs surgery to cure it.

Sugar Glider awaits eye surgery.

You Just Can’t Face Disappointment from Another Doctor

As a veterinarian, I must overcome the pessimism and honestly, the “wall” between you and veterinary medicine that has been built brick-by-brick over years of disappointment and poor results.  Do not misunderstand me- I love my profession.  Every veterinarian is devoted to their work moreso than any other profession we know.  But miscommunication about money, expectations, and a failure to express human concern for someone’s suffering pet have chased pet parents away from the veterinarian’s consultation room.

It Seems Like My Vet is All About Money

If it feels like you are spending money for nothing, it is not because your veterinarian is greedy.  Someone smart enough to beat 80-120 people for their spot at veterinary college (which is the odds nowadays) certainly could have gone into any profession that actually pays very well.  For instance, the average starting pay for a veterinarian n the US in 2010 was $67,359 with $133,873 average loan debt. A full veterinarian in the US earns an average of $90,110 compared to pharmacists at $108, 830,  chiropractors at $93,450, dentists at $132,230 (with only 3 years of grad school), and physicians at $174,280/year income.  Veterinarians work long, long hours, usually on-call, for very little compensation compared to loan debt and intellectual potential that we have devoted to animal health.

So why does it clearly feel like it’s about money when you go to the vet’s office?  I believe there are a few contributing reasons.  One is stress about money.  There never seems to be enough and most people do not have a separate budget for their pet’s healthcare. (Get pet insurance, or set aside about $1,000 for common emergencies.)

A brown, tan and white kitty with tall, cupped ears pointed forward waits for chemotherapy for his lymphoma

Tricolor Ragdoll Kitty

It always seems like “extra” and an “emergency” when your pet gets sick.  It’s stressful.  Now, I am not saying that you show this stress or even say anything about it to your veterinarian.  I know most people are kind and polite and private.  They would not dream of telling the vet or the nurse about their personal finances. So how does this affect your relationship with your vet?

The last 5 people in the door did talk about finances!  Some of the pet parents were hostile, mean, blaming, condemning.  Veterinarians know the best health recommendations for your pet, yet most people cannot afford it.  Or let’s be fair, maybe they can, but they can’t afford it during the consultation because it’s new information and they haven’t consulted a veterinarian before getting the pet, so they are in a little bit of shock over the care needed and the costs involved.

You may ask politely for a payment plan.  Sounds reasonable, right?  Well, your veterinarian probably has about $100,000 in accounts receivable.  That means a year’s work that no one has paid for.  Then you think, “but it’s all profit anyway.” You think?  Did you know that a veterinary office, if it is well-run and tops in the area, makes a profit of  10.5%?  You could do better in the stock market most years!  Occupational therapists make 11% profit, optometrists 12.2%, dentists 15.4%, chiropractors 16%, and CPA offices 17.1% (according to the same study linked above.) When your veterinarian gives you a discount, anything more than 10% is out of the pockets of the staff and the vet because they care about your pet.  If you pay with a credit card, anything more than 8% takes money out of the staff’s pay (because the credit card company takes about 2%).  If you pay with CareCredit, the card company takes 8-12%, essentially all profit, so now your veterinarian is caring for your pet for cost.

Money Has Nothing to Do With It, the Vets Just Want to Push Tests and Medicine (Products)

Post anesthesia, this little rat sits hunched up with his fur fluffed on his arched back. He felt better 10 minutes later!

Post-Op Rat

Ah!  This is an interesting barrier.  Veterinarians are taught to perform diagnostics and prescribe medicine (products).  I believe people want a doctor who communicates the big picture, who asks where a family is coming from and tailors the discussion to the family.  Education- explaining the terms- explaining the test results- explaining what medicine can and cannot do- are important, essential parts of the consultation.  Many people do not feel they are getting this kind of consultation from their veterinarian.  You can address this directly by bringing your written questions to the exam and consultation.  Scheduling a phone discussion or another face-to-face if you are busy or the vet is busy.  Remember, you are paying for 20-30 minutes of doctor time when you see the vet.  Maybe 5-10 minutes is face-to-face.  Be sure you get your time, and offer to pay for an extended consultation if you need more time because you are not as versed in medicine and terminology as other people.

If you seek herbal medicine, holistic medicine, acupuncture, etc, be sure to ask the receptionist when you book the appointment. Do not be disappointed that a doctor does not offer “non-doctor” services like grief counseling or pet massage therapy; set realistic goals for your veterinary appointment.  You should always ask for referrals or resources for services you need that are not provided at your animal hospital.  Chances are they can help you.

“I Did Everything the Vet Told Me to Do and My Pet’s Not Any Better.”

I find this is rarely true.  Be honest with yourself.  Did you do the recommended tests?  All of them? Did you return for a recheck?  On time? Were you able to give all of the medicine?  Did you give the vet feedback when things weren’t working so they could strategize a new plan for your pet?

Now, if you have followed directions and you are being told the same thing at every recheck and your pet still has bad skin, or ears, or a limp, or constipation, then your veterinarian is not taking the mental time to think about your individual situation.  I would call and tell them you need more.  They will either start thinking or refer you to a specialist.  If they do neither, then find another veterinarian.

A good veterinarian will provide you with the following information at a visit (and ask for it if it is not forthcoming):

  1. Problem List.  The vet should check with you about what are the major problems you are seeing.  Basically, they should address your concerns!
  2. Diagnosis or working diagnosis.  (After testing if needed.)
  3. Treatments and nursing instructions and an honest conversation about the practicality of the instructions for you)
  4. Prognosis.  How likely is the problem to be cured or controlled?
  5. How long until you start seeing results?  What should you see?
  6. How long until cure?  Or is cure a reasonable hope?
  7. How many more steps along the way to a cure.  2?  10?  What?
  8. Exactly when should a follow-up consultation occur?  Will there likely be more tests or a medication change?
  9. Is the condition we are treating zoonotic? (Precautions to prevent friends and family from catching a disease)
  10. What are the side-effects of treatment?
  11. What should we look if things are worsening and we need to come back in sooner?

Listen to Your “Gut”

A jaunty yellow bandana adorns this Shih Tzu

Like my new haircut?

Too few people in today’s world follow their intuition.  If you have a gut feeling your veterinarian doesn’t care about your pet one way or another, leave.  Otherwise, you will not communicate well with a person whom you believe doesn’t like or respect you or your pet. If there is a team member you think doesn’t like your pet, ask to speak with a manager or the veterinarian (if that person is the manager).  That is a training issue and the veterinarian will be happy to address your concerns and learn your feedback for good team training.  If that problem does not resolve through training or rescheduling, then you may have to leave if you have a strong negative feeling.

Be Optimistic

If you believe there’s a solution, there is, one way or another.  It may be a new cure.  It may be a clearer path to resolving a long-term problem.  It may be a spiritual awakening where you realize your pet must move on, but finally you can feel confident that you are making the right decision.  All are good outcomes, as long as the path we follow is right for you and your pet.

Read VirtuaVet Regularly

Emerse yourself in positivity!  Two years ago, Doc Truli started writing inspirational pet medical stories to provide an online source of information and inspiration about pet health care and medicine.  We are all here for our pets, we owe them the best life we can provide!

Shaggy elderly Yorkie gives a sweet smile to the camera.

Elderly Yorkie Smile

Attribution to: Bayer HealthCare LLC, Animal Health Division, Bayer Veterinary Care Usage Study income statistics and the link to the study (above) (These data are copyrighted by Bayer and can only be shared with attritbution)

11 Comments leave one →
  1. Linda permalink
    November 24, 2012 10:39 pm

    Resent response when I had my vet call me to answer a question. I wanted to know why my cat was breathing heavy. Her response..”you know, you need to take him to a specialist who can help you with this cat, then you won’t be bothering me or any other vet in town with this cat, because I don’t know.” hangs up. Her attitude was that I was bothering her, and she was really stern and cold on the phone. I now have to look for another vet I can trust because I will not support a person with such a cold heart. She shouldn’t be practicing if she has an attitude like that, but should retire.

    • November 25, 2012 10:08 am

      Dear Linda,

      I’m sorry your veterinarian is not a good counselor. It really would help you. Unfortunately, veterinary students are still in this day chosen for academic excellent and ability to excel on tests, not people skills or communication ability.

      I understand she feels you need to see a specialist in order to diagnose your cat. But I sense you need more information to understand why your cat is having trouble breathing. And maybe you also need to understand why the diagnosis is eluding a general practitioner. Am I right?

      -Doc Truli

  2. Linda permalink
    September 6, 2012 9:57 pm

    I am going through this now with my cat. He is really sick and I just got back from the vet 2 days ago. He is not any better. I was thinking about how vets do these tests that aren’t on the same line of what you want. He has been suffering with weight loss, loss of appetite, labored breathing, weakness, and he drinks a lot. He is skin and bones and looking scary. They wanted to rule out heart disease so they gave him a chest ultrasound which was good. Now I don’t know what tests to do next, he is fading fast. They told me he has kidney failure, I was thinking today, what about, diabetes, cancer, he coughs a lot now for about 3 months. How about asthma, etc. Please I need help, he is my son. I found this article to be what I have been thinking today and came across it. I can’t trust many vets, because I had a bad experience with one about 2 months ago. What am I to do my cat is still sick. They think its heartworm, which has never been a case in cats in this state. Thanks though DocTruli for this wonderful website I found about an hour ago. I wish I was in Florida, I would bring my cat to see you for sure! I wish I knew what to test him for next. I don’t want to put him down yet I believe there is something or someone out there to cure him. The thing I don’t understand is they say they take these tests but they don’t show you the results, that’s what I don’t understand and this has been going on now for some time here where I live and I’m tired of spending hundreds with no results. Thanks for reading and listening.


    • September 7, 2012 7:13 am

      Dear Linda,
      Sorry to hear your kitty is so sick. I hope you find some help for him.

      Kitty asthma is an x-ray diagnosis. Cat Heartworms are very difficult, of not impossible to prove with tests. The treatment is just asthma symptomatic treatment. There is no cure for Heartworms in cats.

      The kidney diagnosis is concerning. That needs digging into and treatment.

      If he has struggling kidneys, then steroid-type treatments for his lungs can destroy his kidneys. But if the lungs are as bad as you say, you may have an imperfect choice of possibly hurting the kidneys more. So kidney support is of utmost importance.

      Please consider sharing your eloquent concerns with your vet so you can sit down and communicate better to make a plan for your cat. It’s your job as his human to let the doctor know how very sick he acts at home and to push them for a plan of what to do next.

      Please let us know what happens next!

      -Doc Truli

      • Linda permalink
        September 7, 2012 11:52 pm

        Thanks Doc,
        Unfortunately the bad experience I had two months ago was this doc shot him up with steroids when I told her not to and she was the one who said he had kidney failure. He’s been hit hard feeling bad after that and was nearly dead the next day. He’s never been the same after that. He has x rays of his lungs big films.Its weird a few vets have seen them and they don’t say anything. His cough was bad a few weeks ago now he coughs very little. They want to give him antibiotics for it. He had his appetite tonight when I came home, but wants cheap food instead of the healthy stuff. I ‘ve been giving him nutri cal to keep him going. I’ll let you
        know how I make out with him, but I feel his time is running out. His purr is
        now amplified real loud.


  3. January 24, 2012 3:47 pm

    Suagr gliders are beast pets!

  4. Sue permalink
    December 19, 2011 10:00 pm

    I had a dog go from a routine urinary tract infection to dead in my arms in a matter of four days and 2 vet visits. I’m a scientist, so I knew my vet had done everything he should have, and I although I was absolutely devastated beyond comprehension, I did not blame him. I went in to the office and told him that my little guy had passed away and my vet cried. I knew in my heart that this was the best vet for me at that moment from his reaction.
    Weeks later, reports of melamine laced pet food was making the rounds, so I visited my vet. I am so glad I did, as he told me he hadn’t been able to get past what had happened to my dog, and was constantly trying to think of what he could have missed. I was so sorry that he was blaming himself, as I hadn’t been. I was glad to be able to tell him that we really had no way to know what was happening with the food being poisoned. I still trust him with all my other animals, and will not go elsewhere. After 20+ years of pet ownership, and almost as many vets, I am so pleased to find one who works like a partner in my pet’s care, and not just a provider. To me, the relationship between myself and my vet is much more important than anything else.

    • December 25, 2011 12:29 pm

      Dear Sue,
      Thank you for sharing your incredible story. The melamine-cyanuric acid contamination in the ingredients from China caused sudden kidney failure, as you know from your research. I helped discover the newer contamination in the chicken jerky treats. I saw a dog with a particular electrolyte imbalance in his urine that is usually only seen in Fanconi’s syndrome. He was very, very suddenly ill. I sent the patient to the doggy intensive-care unit and I spoke with the board-certified Critical Care specialist on staff that night. As we spoke, he realized, “we’ve seen 4 other dogs with laboratory results like this in the past 2 weeks. No one mentioned chicken jerky treats. Let me ask the owners and get back to you.” Sure enough, all of the dogs had eaten the same chicken jerky treats from China. The specialist sounded the alarm nationwide so more vets could check for the problem as quickly as possible.

      Because of our work together, we saved my patient (even though he has permanent kidney damage from the treats). Scientists still cannot isolate what is wrong with some of the chicken jerky treats from China and the problem is still happening 2 years later. The USDA has published that 70 dogs died from this problem in 2010 in the US.

      Sue, you know how hard we work to try and save each patient, your doggy included. Your story shows you now know what veterinarians go through. There’s a reason we’re the most psychologically depressed professionals and the most likely to kill ourselves. Most veterinarians work alone, or in relative isolation, we love our patients, and even in the best of worlds, sometimes we lose a patient.

      Thank you for sharing your wisdom,
      Doc Truli

  5. December 6, 2011 3:56 am

    This was an awesome read, very informative. I had an experience with a veterinary hospital that staffed a few veterinarians, all of which had treated our animals from one time or another. Over a few years we had spent at least $5000.00 at this hospital, we have 5 cats and a standard poodle and we were happy with the care we received and we never complained about prices. Our bill was always paid before we walked out the door. Then a couple of years ago my best friend Mikey gets sick, he is my deaf white cat and just means the world to me. They wanted to run tests and I said of course. They took the blood and I went to pay and somehow my bank messed up a transfer of funds and it was going to take a day to get it all fixed and the vet said they would not send Mikey’s blood for testing until it was all paid for right then. It was a Thursday and if it didn’t get out then we would have to wait til Monday. I tried to offer a post dated check, the title to my car, everything I could think of to get them to do it and they flat refused. I was not so happy. I finally ended up resolving the issue with my bank and the vet got paid and the blood was sent out but I have not been back there since.
    Mikey’s blood work turned out to be fine and I contacted the vet we have now which practices holistic medicine, acupuncture along with western medicine. Turns out Mikey was constipated, Dr. Peggy told me to give him pumpkin and she did so through an email before she ever saw him, it worked like a charm and I was sold.
    There is nothing like the feeling of believing in your veterinarian, trusting them with the care of your animals. I don’t know if Dr. Peggy is the best vet out there, I haven’t been to every vet out there to know but I do know that she listens to me, looks at me too, at the same time.🙂
    I just had to put my Roo kitty to sleep last Monday, it was, like it always is a sad experience to say the least but we tried everything we could try that was within our power, I kept her posted every few days of his condition through emails and we would change our game plan as needed but she finally told me it was time to move on to a specialist, we would have made it but Roo just took a turn for the worse and I called her and told we needed to put him to rest. She said bring him in and we did and he died in my arms. After Dr. Peggy gave him the shot , I looked up at her from my chair where I had Roo in my lap and she had tears in her eyes. I knew right then and there that I had found the place where I want my animals to be cared for in their time of health, illness or worse.
    I believe that people place to much responsibility on veterinarians to cure their animals but it really is a team effort and the owner/parent is the other half of that team. No one knows our animals as well as we do, you don’t live with the animal, you get to hear about the symptoms but seeing them is only something you can hope for during a vet visit, many animals just don’t act the same at the vet as they do at home so you really have to rely on us for info. I would take pictures of Roo and email them to Dr. Peggy so she could see first hand what I was seeing and she said this was wonderful for her as she had time to examine the photos and do any research before I actually would arrive for my appointment and have a game plan in mind but we worked together. I know in the end we had to put Roo down but it happens, you guys are veterinarians and though to me you are all these angels in disguise, you can only do what you can do.
    I miss Roo but I feel good about the care he received and that feeling is worth ten times what I paid for in services.

    Sorry this is so long.

    Thanks for being you.

    • December 11, 2011 3:44 pm

      Thank you, Jennifer.
      Your post was a purrfect length.



  1. How to Get Better Results From Veterinarians « epicpoocher

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