I was going over the comments that you all left on my survey (take it if you haven’t already) a few months ago and was shocked at the number that touched upon a common theme: veterinarians disrespecting an owner’s expertise with his or her own animal. Here are some examples of what you find so frustrating:

  • Getting an appointment with the "right" partner — the one who admits I can possibly have a greater knowledge about the "uncommon" breed I have owned since before he entered vet school.
  • I wish vets would flag records for experienced people so that we didn't have to re-establish ourselves with each new vet coming in!
  • I hate going to the vet and being treated like one of their less knowledgeable clients. I know it must be hard to have a range from compete idiots to the extremely experienced, but getting my vet to realize I'm not a moron is hard.
  • Being treated as a partner in my pet's care.

There were more comments along the same lines, but you get the idea.

Owners are such an important source of knowledge about their animals. This doesn’t just apply to individual idiosyncrasies, but also to breed predispositions and species that veterinarians may not have a lot of experience with. It is simply impossible for one veterinarian to stay on top of every bit of information that could be relevant to all the animals we might treat over time. I’ll take any help that’s available when it comes to preventing disease in, diagnosing, and treating my patients.

Respect must go both ways, however. Yes, veterinarians need to honor their clients’ expertise, but owners should also recognize veterinarians as an expert when it comes to the medical and surgical care of animals. I’m not saying that clients should blindly follow their veterinarian’s recommendations. There are some bad seeds out there after all, and even the best doctors make mistakes, but on more than one occasion I’ve met clients who seem to distrust every word that comes out of my mouth. They’ve made up their minds regarding what their pets need, and nothing I say is going to change their minds.

And keep in mind that veterinarians hear some really whacky things from pet owners. Just a few days ago I talked to an owner who thought ear cleaners were a waste of money. He was planning on using rubbing alcohol to treat his dog’s horribly infected ear. I think I convinced him that this would be excruciatingly painful for the dog (and for him if the dog were to bite in retaliation) and could very well lead to deafness if the dog’s eardrum was ruptured, but I’m not willing to put money on it. I hope I put that conversation behind me and listened with an open mind to my next client, but conversations like these do take their toll.

Veterinary medicine is all about communication … true communication, where both sides are open to new information and keep an open mind.

Dr. Jennifer Coates

Image: Joyce Vincent / via Shutterstock