Pet Parents and Veterinarians: Time to Re-evaluate the Relationship
Do you only take your pet to the vet when it has a problem or when vaccines are due? Be honest. This is the way most pet owners utilize veterinary services. Veterinarians have responded with a business model and appointment scheduling that is based on treating illness. They set aside standard 15-20 minute appointment blocks for every office call. That gives the vet time to get a brief history, look at the patient, assess the situation, offer diagnostic and/or treatment plans and move on to the next exam room.
Veterinary consumers and providers have created a crisis management system for treating illness rather than planning wellness. This has driven the cost of veterinary health care higher.
More and more, the owners of pet patients want state of the art technology to treat or cure chronic ailments. This increases the cost of veterinary practice, which is passed on to the veterinary consumer. Why not envision veterinary health care more proactively to prevent illness and reduce veterinary care costs?
Although pet parents are demanding more emphasis on wellness, and the veterinary industry encourages and emphasizes more wellness plans, neither side is really moving in a wellness direction. Why?
- Pet parents still view veterinarians as “healers” rather than health care partners.
- Pet owners are unaware that wellness is more than just “shots” to prevent serious viral diseases.
- The failure of both pet owners and vets to recognize the threat to a pet’s health if it is overweight.
- Veterinarians lack a working knowledge of nutrition to provide objective information.
- Veterinary wellness programs are little more than a program of discounted services.
- Lack of standardized pet wellness veterinary recommendations.
The Pet Parent’s Role in Pet Wellness
How many of you have ever taken your pet to the vet when you didn’t think anything was wrong and it didn’t need vaccines? That is what wellness is all about.
Without the clutter of concentrating on an illness, you and your vet can discuss what is right or wrong about diet, supplements, exercise program, current vaccine schedule or health maintenance programs for parasites, dental disease and management of chronic ailments.
Why wait for a problem to perform wellness laboratory lab work-ups that might identify changes early when medical intervention can be less invasive and more successful? Why not have a soundness exam and x-rays performed to identify potential osteoarthritis and treat it early rather than wait until it becomes so severe that the pain causes limping or reluctance to move, and when medications may not be as effective?
Often owners balk at the cost of lab work and x-rays without realizing that the cost of treating illness is always more expensive than maintaining wellness. Updated wellness data often reduces the need to repeat tests and procedures in times of unforeseen illness.
It might be time to re-evaluate your relationship with your veterinarian and use him or her as a regular health maintenance advisor.
More owners and vets need to accept that the fitness level of the portly over-nourished pet is driving most of what ails them. The slightest amount of excess weight results in the secretion of pro-inflammatory hormones. This chronic inflammation is associated with many of the chronic diseases common in pets today. Recent studies have shown that owners consistently underestimate the amount they feed their pet, as well as their level of “fatness.”
The Veterinarian’s Role in Pet Wellness
Hippocrates is credited with saying “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” It is the earliest recognition by medical professionals that nutrition is the key to excellent health and wellness.
A recent survey of pet owners listed advice on nutrition as their most important concern. Yet veterinary surveys and studies consistently show that most veterinarians feel they are not prepared to provide useful, objective, and knowledgeable information on nutrition.
It is no wonder, as nutritional instruction is limited in veterinary schools.
Working knowledge of nutrition requires active self-learning and continuing education. Given the “dry” nature of the subject and its intense reliance on math, most veterinarians are content to let the commercial dog food companies be their primary source of nutritional education. No wonder pet owners are distrustful of veterinary advice and feel it is all a conspiracy by all involved to sell dog food, not health.
Every veterinarian graduates from school having only done a few surgeries, but they put in the effort to become better surgeons because it is so necessary in practice. Veterinarians need to adopt the same attitude about nutrition.
Presently there is a push in the veterinary industry to offer pet owners “wellness packages.” What that translates to is a package of discounted age appropriate diagnostics and treatments. But wellness is about taking that diagnostic information and crafting a sensible prevention program. This requires time with the owner.
Few hospitals that offer wellness programs have changed their appointment schedule to allow the time for truly implementing an individualized wellness plan for their patients.
Wellness appointments take longer, so veterinary hospitals need to adjust and schedule depending on the appointment type. Much of that time must be spent helping owners to help their pets achieve a better level of fitness.
Sixty percent of pets are overweight. The illness approach to veterinary care leaves little time to treat the root cause of many of the problems linked with obesity. Longer wellness exams can address pet fitness and the need for weight management programs.
More standardized recommendations are needed by the veterinary community. Despite extensive information and guidelines offered by the American Veterinary Medical Association, the American Animal Hospital Association, veterinary specialty associations, and state and local veterinary associations, standards of care and wellness are largely fragmented among veterinarians.
Regional environmental differences make standardized programs even more difficult, but it is an issue we veterinarians need to address and resolve to find common recommendations for patient care.
What is your vet’s approach to wellness? Share your experience in the comments.
Dr. Ken Tudor