How Not To Be A Dick At The Vet Hospital

My dad is fond of saying “Not all pet owners are crazy, but all crazy people have pets.” Truer words never spoken.
Publish date:
February 12, 2013
pets, how not to be a dick, veterinarian, vets

Being raised by two veterinarians made for a very warped childhood. Most of my formative years were spent gazing at the innards of cats and dogs while Mom or Dad removed, stapled or otherwise rearranged internal organs. I used to take naps inside of kennels with the patients. I have no real concept of what polite dinner conversation is.

I always thought I would be a vet, until I worked at a vet hospital. Working at one and hanging out with your parents at one are very different things. Sometimes it is just one big kitten parade, but sometimes my mom has a Facebook status like this:

“I have seen 5 patients tonight and all 5 are now deceased. The worst night ever."

My mother has been a veterinarian longer than I have been alive (she graduated pregnant with me) and an emergency vet for over a decade, but even she has a hard time with this much death in one night.

Things like that status help remind me that I did make the right decision, career-wise.

Another reason I would not be a great vet: I am not great with owners, or “pet parents.” My dad is fond of saying “Not all pet owners are crazy, but all crazy people have pets.” Truer words never spoken. Usually, these crazy clients just make for a good story.

One time, a client took her dead dog home and prayed over it for three days, thinking it would rise again. This same lady had previously explained to my father that all her dogs were sweet and wouldn’t bite because they “knew Jesus.”

One time, a lady told my mom that she wanted her dog’s penis to be completely removed during neutering, because it was visible to her daughter. Except she didn’t say “penis,” she said “princess.”

One time, a man told me he wanted to get his dog the distemper vaccine, because Fluffy had been kind of a jerk recently.

My parents have a lot of funny stories. But, they also have some stories about people just being assholes. So I asked them (and all of my other vet-friends) to provide me with some helpful hints on how to not be a dick at your local vet hospital. My mom even wrote her own blog about it.

1. Don’t Lie.

I lie to my doctors all the time. I lie to my dentist about flossing, I lie to my MD about how much I drink, and if I had an OB/GYN, I’m pretty sure I would lie to her, too. I would mostly embellish for her though; my sexual history is the most boring sexual history of all the sexual histories.

But, I don’t lie to my vet. Mostly because she is my mom and can tell if I’m lying, but also because it would suck if something happened to Angie because I was too embarrassed to admit that I occasionally let her drink beer with me.

If your dog ate your pot, it is really important that you tell the doctor that your dog ate your pot. THC is toxic to dogs. If your dog ate any prescription medication (legally obtained or otherwise), tell your vet. If your dog ate a condom that SOMEHOW has peanut butter inside it, tell your vet. Vets are also bound by doctor-patient confidentiality, so they’re not going to narc on you. They will report abuse however, such as people drugging their pets to “see what would happen.” Don’t do that.

Don’t lie about non-drug factors either. If you feed your pet human food, don’t say you only feed them IAMs. If you haven’t applied your flea prevention or heartworm prevention in a year, don’t say it’s been a month. Giving heartworm medication over heartworms can kill your pet, so it’s important that a heartworm test be done if you’ve fallen behind on the medication.

2. Follow instructions.

There was once a dog with two broken legs. My dad applied splints to each leg and told the owner to keep the dog confined and as stationary and dry as possible. The next week he went back to that same farm for a call and, as he so eloquently put it, “God damn if the dog didn’t chase my truck up the driveway... with splinted legs.”

Medical instructions are not suggestions. They are given from a place of medical knowledge. The above is an extreme example, but all instructions are important. Administer medications as directed and when directed and KEEP THE CONE OF SHAME ON.

Also, if you do have to go to an emergency clinic: GO TO YOUR FOLLOW-UP WITH YOUR REGULAR VET.

3. Pick One Point of Contact.

Your vet usually has several cases going at once and does not have the time to explain one set of findings to five different people. Pick one person for the vet to talk to and do not ask them to call your husband/wife/mom/breeder to re-explain themselves.

4. Treat your vet like a doctor.

Don’t tell my parents I admitted they are real doctors. My dad tried to suture me once and I had to be all “You’re not a real doctor,” but they are. The most disrespectful thing you can say to your vet is “But, I read on the Internet…” or “My breeder told me you would say that but…” We all read things on the Internet. You can read things I wrote on the Internet, proving that you should probably not get your facts from the Internet.

If you are concerned about vaccines: Ask your vet as many questions as you need to feel comfortable. Not all are legally required, and a good veterinarian should be able to tell which ones are needed for your pet’s lifestyle.

There is a reason they spent a quarter million dollars on their education, and that is so they can save the lives of sweet little animals.

5. Don’t try to emotionally bribe them.

I used to get really hurt when people would insinuate (or flat out accuse) my parents or the vets I worked for of being in it for the money. As I mentioned earlier, the average vet student graduates with a quarter million dollars of debt. Buying your own practice is another quarter million. The median income for this profession is 65K.

Surgeries for pets are expensive, but so are surgeries for people. Telling the vet they are effectively killing Princess Fluffy Face because you can’t afford treatment is a real dick move. Owning an animal is a financial responsibility. If you can’t afford to feed, vaccinate, and treat the ailments of your pet, you should not have one.

Expect to spend money. An office visit may be $50, but that only serves to identify the problem. Don’t expect a cheap home remedy for severe dermatitis.

But, if you are up-front about how much money you can spend (and we all get in tight spots) your vet can work with you and will know to focus on the treatment aspect of things. To quote my mother, “X-rays are not therapeutic.”

6. Don’t show up 10 minutes until closing.

Yes, hospitals are open until they are closed, but if your dog has been puking since 10 AM, don’t wait until 5:30 PM to come in. If something becomes apparent at 5:30 PM, it might be best to go to your emergency clinic. I would recommend getting to the vet at least 30 minutes prior to closing. Several of my vet friends have babies (furry and otherwise) they would like to get home to.

These are some of most common gripes, but the most important thing to remember is this:

Ninety percent of veterinarians are veterinarians because they feel they have a calling. I know enough of these people to know that they are not in it for the money. They are not in it for the hours. They are not in it for the heartbreak. They legitimately love animals.

My dad could care less about your baby, but he will talk to your puppy (not you, just the puppy) for an hour if you let him. I strongly suspect that he only visits me to visit Angie. He likes going to work, most vets I know do, and if they don’t it’s not because of Fluffy. It is because of Fluffy’s mom.