How to Break Up With Your Vet in Seven Not-So-Easy Steps

By Patty Khuly, DVM on Feb. 11, 2010

There is an etiquette to every practice under the sun. Whether you’re a lounging lizard intent on staying alive through breeding season or a dog entering ground zero in a puppy park, there’s a right way and a wrong way to go about it. So, too, should you consider your approach to switching veterinarians.

Maybe you’ve been with your vet for years, but sometimes you get the feeling your pet may benefit from a change, especially now that your cat’s got diabetes. Or perhaps you’ve come to realize that you and your veterinarian really aren’t as like minded as you previously thought. Maybe you’ve always known the magic wasn't there and just never got up the nerve to break up or had a good enough reason to move on.

I got to thinking about offering you all this information after reading last Wednesday's MSNBC article on veterinary liability (interesting timing after last week's post on the subject, right?). In it, I couldn't help thinking that the aggrieved parties should have broken up with their vets long before the events that led up to their terrible, injurious experiences. Not that they would have known the unthinkable was about to happen, but what can I say, breaking up inevitably came to mind while reading the piece.

As a veterinarian, perhaps the information I’ll provide below is somewhat slanted in favor of my own feelings (when is it not?), but if you consider the Golden Rule, you’ll understand that protecting feelings is what etiquette is all about. With that in mind, here are my tips for breaking up with your veterinarian … in seven not-necessarily-so-simple steps.

1. Making the decision

Here’s a whole post on how to know if you need a new pet healthcare provider … in case you’re unsure.

2. Saying goodbye

If you’ve been with your veterinarian for a long time, you might feel obligated to let him or her know that you’re moving on. If you’re on good terms, explaining in person or writing a really nice letter "excusing" yourself may be the thing to do.

Just don’t take this opportunity to bash your vet over the head with your reasons unless, 1) you’re not happy and you want your vet to understand how he/she might do things better, or 2) you plan to offer some face-saving white lies (she’s too far, too expensive, etc.). Otherwise, you’re likely to offend … and who needs the negativity if it’s not going to help anyone in the end?

3. Keeping it quiet

Remember what your mother told you: "If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all." Yep. Sometimes it’s best to just leave without explanation. From a veterinarian’s point of view, I’d probably rather not know — that is, unless you have something useful to say.

A few months from your departure your vet may wonder where you went, but it’ll probably be a fleeting thought that comes and goes until you pass from memory altogether. It’s not that we don’t value you, it’s just that sometimes we’d rather not dwell on why you left. (Life’s stressful enough, right?)

4. All in the family

Let’s say you really want to try out a young new vet in the practice but you’re worried you’ll offend your long-time old-timer. Please remember that the reason your veterinarian hired this young buck (or doe) is because he or she wants you to establish new relationships with trusted veterinarians. If you must say something, compliment your long-time vet on his/her choice of excellent colleagues.

If you’re just trying out all the veterinarians in the practice to see who fits you best, that’s almost always OK with us. Contrary to popular client belief, we’re not as sensitive about these things as you might think. Remember, the reason we practice together is because we trust one another and have learned to share well.

5. YOUR medical records

Saying goodbye to your veterinarian is often hampered by one crucial thing: Your medical records. In my experience, clients are so sensitive about not wanting to offend their past veterinarian that they refuse to request records altogether, preferring that either, 1) we call for the records, or 2) we "start over" with a whole new series of diagnostic tests.

But the latter, altogether too common approach is NOT what’s best for your pet. Having all the records and X-rays handy means your pet gets the best care possible.

To keep this from becoming an issue, I recommend that you always keep a copy of your pet’s medical records handy. Not only is this crucial should you travel with your pet, or should she suffer an emergency after hours, it also means you have the option of a second opinion easily at the ready.

Many of my clients request copies of the records after every visit. And I think this is smart.

The only caveat I would add is that X-rays are not technically part of your medical record. We are required by law to keep them on file, so they are not transferrable from vet to vet except when we know they are to be returned. Copies can be made, however, and digital X-rays can be copied to a disk.

6. Coming back to the fold

Recognize that your change might not prove so productive. You may feel you need to come back to the fold after a few months or years. It’s true that sometimes you don’t know what you have until you lose it. That’s why I always recommend you leave any situation with a minimum of negativity. Never burn your bridges, right?

If you do find you want to come back, don’t feel you need to apologize for your "lapse." We get it, and we’re just happy you trust us enough to come on back.

7. Remember the goal

It’s all about getting what’s best for your pet. You shouldn’t feel that any one person (or his or her feelings) are standing in the way of your pet's best interest. Be positive. Be honest. And don’t be a shrinking violet. Do what you need to do on behalf of your animals. Our egos are not so delicate that we won’t understand.

Dr. Patty Khuly


Patty Khuly, DVM


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