Top Ten Stupid Vet Tricks: Pet Healthcare Confessions From The Front Lines

Patty Khuly, DVM
Updated: August 04, 2015
Published: February 27, 2008
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Hot on the heels of my malpractice insurance fiasco comes this timely post. Here I detail the top ten mistakes seen in vet practice (yeah, we vets do stupid stuff sometimes):

1. Forgetting to take out the IV catheter when pets go home

This is common (three or four times a year for us), though not so much since we started including CATH OUT! checkboxes on our patient’s cage cards.

For the record, I know firsthand this happens in human medicine, too. I remember distinctly after bringing my 85 year-old great aunt home from the hospital that I’d had to remove the IV the hospital left in. The most memorable bit of this story is that before I extracted it, she’d been calling her doctor claiming they’d left her “VCR” in. I got a kick out of that one.

2. Leaving the thermometer in

Yes, really. Though I’ve never been known to do this, almost everyone has at least one story about broken thermometers in backsides, clients threatening to sue over mercury poisoning, surprise thermometer-laden  stools and other decidedly un-funny rectal temp occurrences. Other than a slew of broken digital thermometers lost to racehorse hooves during my stint in school at Penn’s New Bolton Center (you try taking the rectal temp of a spoiled, 1,200 pound two year-old) I have no great stories for you on this front.

3. Close-cropping toenails 

OK, so this one’s boring, but the bloodbath that can result from an overtrimmed claw means possible head trauma for our squeamish, faint-prone clients. Such a tiny transgression is not without its ripple-effect.

4. Cutting the patient while removing bandages

Again, one disaster I’ve never managed but which one bifocal-sporting colleague admits to frequently stressing over—especially when it comes to cats (even when using bandage scissors!). Tissue glue works wonders for this, by the way—as does honesty. No client wants to be surprised by evidence of your accidental slice before you tell them about it.

5. Too-tight bandages

Now, this is an understandable one. In many cases, we’re stuck bandaging swollen spots. We sometimes make it a tad tighter in places with the judicious understanding that the swelling will subside over the next 24 hours. But not all estimates work out. And then there’s the vagary of limb movement and bandage sliding and chewing to consider.

6. Mis-labeling the meds

Wow, now that’s a killer—potentially, anyway. Though we typically train everyone in our hospitals to learn how to check standard drug dosages, it still happens.

7. Just plain forgetting to do something while the pet was under anesthesia

Just today, I realized I’d committed this sin (which occasioned this post, of course). I hadn’t removed a retained puppy tooth from a one year-old dog’s mouth during her spay. Oops!

Sure, it’s in the chart. Sure, it’s ultimately my responsibility if someone’s ears didn’t get a thorough flushing. But an extra tooth? Sheesh! That needs to come out! And this one’ll be on my dime for sure—as it should be.

I know ya’ll hate declaws but I couldn’t resist telling you about one who’s left dewclaw got left behind. That’s an asymmetrical double-oops!

8. Whose poop is whose?

On a busy day it’s all over the place. (The stool, that is.) The last thing you want is to try figuring out who had the hookworms…after the fact.

9. Forgetting to place the e-collar immediately after surgery

Murphy’s Law dictates that these are the pets most likely to tear out their sutures. And finally…

10. The dreaded syringe malfunction

I actually read about a lawsuit currently pending on this issue. The aggrieved owner is suing the vet for pain, suffering and an emergency room visit after the euthanasia solution got into her eye after a syringe malfunction during the procedure. For the record, something like this has happened to me exactly twice in twelve years of practice.

One time, the thickness of the solution, the slipperiness of the needle tip and too much pressure on my part made for a barbiturate  shower. Luckily the owner wasn’t present and the only one personally affected by the solution was me (and it didn’t hurt my eyes a bit but it sure tasted awful nasty). I now use luer lock syringes for all euthanasias.

The second time, my syringe actually came apart during a sizable blood draw, spilling what appeared to be buckets of blood on the tile floor below. The owner didn’t faint but she didn’t wit around for another blood draw, either.

Image: Sean Locke Photography / Shutterstock

Last reviewed on August 3, 2015