Are you spending less on your pet’s healthcare lately? If you’re anything like my clients, you are. But if my practice is any guide, you’re not necessarily scrimping on all kinds of veterinary care. Nope. You’re picking and choosing, trying hard to do your best by your pet in a scary economy....and that's why specialists are feeling the slowdown more than most.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not crying a river for the personal finances of those who make two or three times what general practice veterinarians make, but I am concerned about what that means for our pets. 

Consider my recent experience:

  • Over the last few months I’ve done about twice as many non-routine surgeries than is typical for me.
  • Suddenly, I’m finding that we don’t have enough fluid pumps in the hospital...because, I’ve realized, I’m hospitalizing more cases than usual.

No, that’s not because I’m more popular than ever and the clients are beating down my door. It’s because it’s getting harder and harder to convince my clients they need to see the specialist. 

OK, I lie--maybe I’ve convinced them. It’s just that the prospect of spending two to three times as much at the specialist is not an appetizing one in this economy. At least that’s my take...and it makes sense:

  • If you’ve got to save your dog’s life with intestinal surgery and you trust your general practitioner, why go for the veterinary surgeon’s best work (at the highest price) when you’re not sure you’ll have a job next month?
  • Your cat’s mammary tumor is back. You know you should see the oncologist again but you also know your credit cards are almost maxed out. The room you do have is enough for your regular vet’s estimate for surgery and chemo but not for your oncologist’s. 
  • Your puppy’s cherry eye has reared its ugly head again. Do you opt for the ophthalmologist at four times your vet’s price or do you let her try her hand at tacking the sucker down?
  • I’ve found an interesting lesion on your limping dog’s knee. I think it’s probably a normal variation but I want a radiologist’s second opinion to be sure. You choose not to spend the extra eighty bucks because the X-ray’s already a splurge.
  • Your cat’s diabetes has suddenly gone into a tailspin. Do you go back to the internal medicine specialist who charged you $4,000 for her last adventure in ketosis or do you stick with your regular vet’s ministrations?

These are the cases that are now keeping me up at night. Sure, I can handle them all...but not like I’d prefer they be handled. I want better for my patients...when their owners can afford it.

So you understand, I work very closely with specialists. I refer patients to dermatologists, cardiologists, ophthalmologists, internists, surgeons, oncologists, radiologists, dermatologists, etc. They have the specialized know-how and the equipment to make a profound difference in the level of care I can provide.

Many veterinarians regularly eschew the services of specialists on behalf of their patients, preferring to keep their services in-house. But I’ve always felt like the reason specialists exist is because they know more than I do. Sure, I’m not as versatile a vet as those who don’t use specialists, but I’ve convinced myself that I’m a better general practitioner because I concentrate on my core competencies. 

Yet now that more of my clients are sticking with me in tough situations, I realize that being a GP in a rough economy means newly familiarizing myself with what I’ve farmed out for years. It’s better for my bottom line, of course, but I worry on my patients’ behalf. No veterinarian can be all things to all patients, right?

On that note, you may now wish me luck as I pin a cat’s fractured femur later today. It’s only my third case like this in almost fourteen years...but, heck, the other ones did OK...