Unfortunately just like there are not so great professionals in any given industry, there are veterinarians who are not so great veterinarians. Making this clear, this article is not to bash the professional veterinary industry but to bring awareness to animal advocacy and what to consider and look for in selecting and working with a veterinarian who is worth their weight in gold. This posts purpose is to highlight things you can do as a pet parent and qualities I have appreciated in vets that I love working with.
Prior to starting Parkside Farm and re-starting our pygmy goat herd, I was no stranger to working with veterinarians for our other pets that included cats and dogs. We have had our share of not so great veterinarians and terrific veterinarians. First and foremost, your pet no matter what species it may be is your responsibility. Its care and well being falls to you. You are responsible for selecting their "physician" and are the liaison between the animal and its health care.
It's important to remember that you are your animals voice. Your pet cannot speak and you know your animal better than anyone else. You also have experience being around your pet day and night. You know its habits and its personality and when its not acting like itself. The duty to advocate for your pet in routine and emergency veterinary care falls on you as their owner and fur parent. Owning animals is a big responsibility and they rely on you to make the best decisions on their behalf.
Over the years owning various pets that have had maintenance veterinary care, evasive symptoms and emergency situations, I've learned a thing or two. Veterinary medicine has come a long way in terms of pet advocacy even from traumatic veterinary experience I remember as a young adult. Having walked through pets with rare conditions such as thrombocytopenia and idiopathic epilepsy and having pets go through routine procedures that resulted in unexpected complications, I've learned some valuable lessons that I'd love to pass on to others.
It's important to remember that you are your animals voice.
Here are 3 things to consider when advocating for your pet:
Ask questions: just because a medication or treatment plan is recommended by your veterinarian, it doesn't mean you have to blindly go along with said recommendations. If you have reservations of any kind or something doesn't feel right, do not be afraid to ask questions. Questions can be helpful in clarifying your concerns or taking a look at other medications that would potentially result in less long term side effects or a less invasive procedure.
Get a second opinion: if you feel that there might be a better treatment option for your pet or one that comes with a price you can afford, don't be afraid to get a second and even third opinion. For example, I was quoted a dental cleaning for one of our dogs that would cost between $800 and $1200. I called other veterinary offices in the area and ended up working with another veterinarian I love and had the same procedure done for less than $300.
Customer service: from the moment you call to make an appointment, walk in the door, work with a technician and eventually see the veterinarian, it should be a happy and seamless process. Depending if you're working with a small or large animal veterinary practice, this process will vary, but one of the things you want to look for when advocating for your pet is a great customer service experience. Not being able to get through when you call, not getting timely responses to questions or feeling like just a number can be a frustrating experience.
Here are 3 qualities to look for in selecting a great veterinarian:
A great veterinarian will not mind you asking questions: when it comes to asking questions regarding a recommended treatment plan, a great veterinarian will be patient with you and take the time to answer your questions and concerns without making you feel inferior. A veterinary/ patient relationship is built on trust. If you cannot comfortably ask questions or you are met with hostility or belittlement, you might want to consider taking your pet elsewhere.
A great veterinarian will take responsibility: when something goes amiss and it's on the veterinarians watch, a great veterinarian will make an effort to rectify the situation and not dismiss valid concerns. A great veterinarian isn't above apologizing for making a mistake or working to correct a misdiagnosis or botched surgery. Ghosting and gaslighting unfortunately can happen in veterinary medicine. If this happens to you, don't wait to get your pet the help they need especially if their life is in jeopardy.
A great veterinarian will point you in the right direction: if a great veterinarian is not sure how to treat a particular case, they won't be afraid to let you know. Honesty is better than false hope. Great veterinarians will point you in the right direction, refer you to another veterinarian or specialist, consult with others to find an answer and will work alongside you to ensure you and your pet are well taken care of moving forward. Communication is key just like any other relationship. If you feel you're getting ignored, don't be afraid to voice your concerns.
These are my suggestions for being an advocate for your pet in their veterinary care. It's always great to hear of veterinarians doing amazing things for their patients. If you have a veterinarian and veterinary practice you love, feel free to comment and share what you love most about them. Perhaps you have an advocacy tip you'd like to add in the comments below. I'd love to hear about it. To you and your pets health, safety and well-being. May your four legged, fur, scaled or feathered friends and family members have long and healthy lives.
Nicole Zaagman lives in Byron Center, Michigan with her high-school sweetheart and her four legged family members. Nicole is an accomplished, Christian entrepreneur and children's author, passionate about helping women succeed in life and business through coaching. She travels the state of Michigan visiting senior centers and special events with her pygmy goats through the Jump for JOY Program™ and operates Parkside Farm in Byron Center, Michigan. Nicole is an advocate and ally for agriculture and farm education and started the Farmilies Connect™ initiative to help connect farms and families in Michigan.