Had A Bad Vet Experience? Please Read This

Updated April 13, 2021

Last week when I wrote about the shortage of Australian veterinarians, I laid the problems of our industry bare. Poor work conditions, inadequate support and low pay are just a few. They’re leading to what some people see as a crisis for the veterinary profession.

There’s something else contributing to the problem that I did not mention, because it’s tricky to bring up without blaming innocent people. It’s the deterioration of the relationship between vets and pet owners.

The Power Of The Web

The problem as we see it is one of expectations, and it’s the result of a positive change. In only the past few years, vets are noticing that clients are coming to us increasingly well-informed. Something appears to have happened to web search to make it more relevant.

Here’s the issue: your dog or cat has one condition out of a thousand common, and a million rare ones. If you get your search right, you can easily and quickly read more deeply on this specialist subject than your veterinarian will ever have the time to do.

Vets In The 90s

When I graduated in 1994, life was simpler. What we learnt came out of textbooks and journals, which were inaccessible to pet owners. The internet was just a baby learning its first steps.

This was undoubtedly worse for pets. Vets were not as accountable, and standards varied greatly from clinic to clinic. Some I worked in were as good as any today, and some were frankly diabolical.

For any decent vet though, it was great. We were the font of all knowledge, and we had free rein to treat animals the way we felt best. Clients needed and respected us in a way we don’t see much any more. And if we weren’t always perfect, it was rarely noticed.

Vets Now

So imagine you are a new or recent graduate in 2021. You’re still learning, but as long as you get enough time you can do a good job. However, now you’re expected to advise people who come in better informed than you are.

Not only are they able to measure your advice against their pre-reading, but they can also compare the treatment plan to what other people say, plenty of which will be contradictory. And you don’t yet know which bits of all the knowledge are reasonable not to know.

Are these clients patient? Are they understanding? Most are, but certainly not all. And as anyone knows who works with people, it only takes a few to spoil it for everyone.

Where It Leads Us

The problem is that it is almost certainly adding to work dissatisfaction for many veterinarians, especially younger ones. You may know everything there is to know about a disease, but you still need a vet to guide you on its best management. If they keep leaving the profession the way they are now, availability of veterinarians goes down.

So what am I saying here? That we need to be treating each other with a bit more humanity. Owners need to understand that their vets are human beings, not computers.

It’s in the interests of all of us.

The Consequences

With the working conditions that young vets face, the only thing keeping them in the job is their work satisfaction. If we start making a song and dance about every small thing, we are going to lose them, and that ruins it for everybody.

This is not an argument for not holding vets to account for major mistakes. But even here, handling them badly can be career-ending or worse. Most vets care deeply about what they do, especially poor outcomes that they feel responsible for.

Blame or punishment might feel like the natural response. However, you will usually find that inviting an open conversation leads not only to better practical solutions but also genuine healing for everyone.

It’s A Partnership

The truth is that we need each other. As much as vets need your trust, they could also benefit from what you’ve learned. You can help by doing it as respectfully as you can; perhaps by trying to picture yourself in the same position. And there’s always a chance that what you’ve read is only part of the story, or not relevant to Australia.

Personally, I’m quite comfortable not holding as much information in my brain as the sum total of all the internet-connected devices on the planet. I just hope that you are too. Because this situation is here to stay, and it could be yet another nail in the coffin of accessible vet care.

Have something to add? Comments are welcome below and will appear within 24 hours.
By Andrew Spanner BVSc(Hons) MVetStud, a vet in Adelaide, Australia.


One Reply to “Had A Bad Vet Experience? Please Read This”

  1. Fidget is an indoor only large, long hair tabby torte and has been in my care at home 18 years. She was a cat adoption at 12 weeks of age from a veterinary hospital. Apart from my daughter who left home at 21 years, I’ve never lived with any other human or animal that long and I live and work from home.

    The only time she has been ill was after a 2 night stay at a vet clinic cattery here in Melbourne, in 2009. She contracted an upper respiratory infection that was going through their clinic. She fully recovered. I was shocked even then that the vet wanted me to pay for the visit and treatment required after they sent her home. They didn’t mention she was sick. I had to pay for the medication after querying why I had to pay an appointment fee.

    Now at 17 1/2 years she was required after a routine injection and check up to have a mass in her mouth and surgery was needed to test it. They removed 2 canine teeth as well. The diagnostic vet dr led me to believe she’d do the surgery however it was another vet Dr that did. Which irked me when I made the appointment as no one told me.

    Test results were positive for aggressive cancer. No hope for her survival and would be 1 month most likely before she would pass. 4 mils daily of miloxicam but from September 2021-May 2022 she is still very much happily living out her days. They insisted I bring her in before further meds prescribed. They did not tell me however this was a legal requirement. Had they told me this I would not have queried it. I would have done as requested,

    However, this basic piece of information was not mentioned and I went into a query which led to the receptionist not liking that which led to an argument with the head vet that misled me in the first instance about herself doing the surgery. She accused me of yelling at the receptionist and I did not. I was insisting on the medication for my cat without having to bring her in. There are a number of clear reasons why, to me, I shouldn’t have to.

    The treatment by receptionist was unacceptable imo. And the veterinary doctor bullied me. I agreed to a home visit in 6 days time and she gave me only enough medication for that. She also told me to find another vet if I don’t like it. Which was so incredibly rude. My kitty requires 6 wet meals per day to feel satisfied as she mostly eats the gravy or jelly. And extra care and attention on demand. I also have an 8 year old feral/stray indoors since 2016 that took 1 year separation to integrate with Fidget. There was also a more compliant surrogate Russian blue mum. The Russian Blue, a runt of the breeder’s litter, was 15 when they discovered cancerous masses on her throat.
    She was in palliative care at home for 7 months in 2018. When Tinky stopped eating, two lovely souls came and euthanised her at home and arranged for private creamation and memorial urn with poppy seeds in case I wanted to keep her ashes in a planter. I plan to bury them all together one day as they have been an huge part of my life. It was heartbreaking losing Tinky. I cried for a year and still dream about her.

    Vets are now major franchises and in my experience have not been adequately trained in how to interact professionally, full stop.

    So now I have had to explain this to a new vet who knew to mention the 6 month legal requirement for vets to see the kitty no matter what is happening or they will not supply palliative medication.

    The new vet called the old vet immediately to have her files sent by email.

    I really had to go to another vet based on how they managed my query and their treatment of my kitty. I was humiliated and was informed how hard Covid has been on young veterinarian staff. They need to also have literature about this at appointment time. The new vet Dr informed me on the phone about this. That we can not query anything with anyone but the vet in an appointment.

    It could have been avoided with that simple piece of information about legal requirements.

    Thanks for letting me comment.

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