Do You Treat Your Pets Better Than You Treat Yourself?

Patty Khuly, DVM
Published: April 21, 2009
Do You Treat Your Pets Better Than You Treat Yourself?

Last reviewed on January 21, 2016

Do we humans often treat our pets better than we treat ourselves?

Don’t bother answering; I know the truth. Most serious pet people are too willing to put off their on medical issues in favor of their pets'. 

Since I’m a veterinarian who makes her living from making sure her patients get the care they need, you might think I’d be elated to entertain a client’s day-after-day visits with one and another pet who sincerely needs attention. But sometimes––too often, in fact––the client is more in need of help than the pet is. And that raises a whole host of issues you might not think veterinarians would need to handle. 

Many of my clients are avid pet people––in the extreme. (In case you’re wondering, this is true for all veterinarians. We deal in atypical pet adoration every day.) And this is OK; not only because this is how we make our living, but because we can identify similar, pet-addled behavior in ourselves, too. 

Still, that doesn’t mean we don’t concern ourselves with the very personal issues our clients clearly face when it becomes obvious that they care more for their pets’ health than they do for their own. 

Sure, I know many veterinarians like to keep themselves out of the emotional loop. Compassion fatigue is a recipe for burnout, as we all know. But this attempt at personal preservation is just not doable for some of us. Burnout or not, some of us believe that this job isn’t worth having without its inherent psychological risks.

That’s why we’re willing to stress out when we see our clients wither away while tending to their brood of pets. That’s why some of us spend inordinate amounts of energy holding our clients' hands when they’re having trouble making decisions. And that’s why we sometimes lose sleep over our clients when by all rights we should be concentrating on our patients. 

But there’s another aspect to this that all veterinarians––not just especially sensitive or eccentric ones––should keep in mind: All clients make decisions for their pets based on their personal experiences. This may include how things went with their own cancer care, how their parents’ end of life care was handled, or whether they fear doctors for themselves. 

On Dolittler, I’ve heard you say things like:

  • I’m fat but that’s no excuse for failing to keep my dogs lean.
  • I hate the dentist but I’d never forgo dentistry for my pets.
  • I’d never do chemo again but I wouldn’t blink for chemo if my cat had cancer.
  • I wish I could elect euthanasia for myself. 

Sure, I also hear the opposite expressions––perhaps more often (except the euthanasia comment)––but it’s all to my point: People personalize patient care on behalf of their pets. And if my experience is any guide, they’re doing it more often now that more sophisticated care is available for pets. 

That’s why I’ve gotten to thinking: Is this because pets are treated more like kids (who are treated more carefully by their parents than adults typically treat themselves)? What can I do to recruit my clients into seeking better healthcare for themselves? I know it’s not my role, but is it, nonetheless, my responsibility as a human being

I know some of you fall into this category of pet parents and pet healthcare providers who neglect themselves. How so? And what's a veterinarian or veterinary technician's role, if any? Is it their place to give advice? Share your experience. 

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