Pet owners never think about this (and why should you?), but veterinarians who meet brand new clients (at least two a day, on average) think about it a lot: "What kind of pet owner are you?"

For good reason; after all, you might be a deadbeat who refuses to pay - even after you've signed the estimate. (Here's a secret: there's very little we can do if you flat-out decide not to pay after services are rendered. Which is why we tend to collect our fees up front — that is, unless we know you well.)

But there are even more categories of pet owners to consider than just deadbeat and not-deadbeat humans. There are the do-all-you-can types, the hyper-emotional types, the pragmatic types, and the I-don't-want-her-to-suffer types. We’ve got 'em all. Most of them even make sense when it comes right down to it. But that doesn't mean there's any escape from the honest truth: The wide variation in pet owner outlooks means that veterinarians constantly have to tailor their approach to individual client needs.

Dr. V over on The Daily Vet (my sister blog here on PetMD) recently addressed this issue in all its complex glory. Here's what she had to say on this controversial subject:

I feel like, as a veterinarian, I wear a lot of hats. That’s a given. I’m sure you’ve heard it before: we’re all medical professions rolled into one. As general practice veterinarians, we get to be neurologists, dermatologists, gastroenterologists, ob/gyn’s, et al. We’re also psychiatrists, pharmacists, hospitalists, financial advisors, etc.

That’s not what I’m talking about; I’m thinking of bigger hats. When I walk into an exam room with a new client, I’ve got to figure out which vet they want me to be. What are their expectations? What’s their relationship with their pet?

So what kind of vet do they want me to be?

1. "Modern" Vet: Dog needs additional testing, possibly a referral to an oncologist, depending on the results. Let’s discuss the options.

2. "Old School" Vet: Well, the dog’s had a good long life. This looks serious. Let’s give him this big shot of antibiotic and steroids and see if it works. If not, well, maybe it’s time to put him out of his misery. (Some days I wish vet medicine was still this easy!)

3. Pediatrician: Your dog needs XYZ testing. Do as I say.

Personally, I generally stick to the "modern" vet option.
 

And so do I; which means I'll always offer you the best option (specialist referrals included, when appropriate) and work down from there. Because I get that there's an ideal world, and there's reality. But, as Dr. V says:

Conversely, I have read that, as a vet, I am supposed to be the pet’s advocate, to fight for his right to treatment. This is the pediatrician model of vet practice: You must do what I say because it’s the best thing for this pet. However, if your pet is your child, and you make that clear, I will wear that hat too.

This absolutely won’t work for the "old school" folks, though. I can’t just send them out the door if they refuse to run tests, hospitalize, etc.

I’ve read Internet rants from people who felt like their vets "guilted" them into undergoing extensive workups, procedures, or hospitalizations for their pets that they ultimately regretted.

I don’t force people to follow my recommendations. I feel like, ultimately, it’s up to them. I take as long as necessary to give them all the relevant information and options. In the end, the human is the one with the wallet.

So as Dr. V asks, which vet do YOU want? (1), (2) or (3)? I can wear any hat you want me to, but if you don't want, or cannot afford, the care I can offer (and will, without the guilt), please help me figure out which one works best for you.

Dr. Patty Khuly

P.S. The Daily Vet entries are great. Don't miss Dr. Lee's post from yesterday. It's very cute and funny — and telling.

Pic of the day: cats in hats by justonlysteve