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Thursday, January 26, 2012

Coming In To Ignore Us

You vets out there will be very familiar with this scenario.  A client calls up and makes an appointment because their pet is sick.  They show up at the right time and we do our exam.  A problem is noted (maybe serious, maybe simple) and we begin to talk about what we need to do to diagnose and/or treat the issue.  A treatment plan is worked up and then presented to the client.  For whatever reason the client declines everything on the plan and leaves without doing anything at all.

For the non-vets reading this, you'd be surprised how often this happens.  The client spends their time and money on the office visit, we spend our time trying to make the best recommendation for the pet, and then the client doesn't follow anything we want to do.  It's a source of great frustration for most veterinarians.

Now I completely understand that some clients simply don't have the funds to do hundreds of dollars of services every time, and am sympathetic to this plight.  Those aren't the clients I'm talking about.  Those clients will usually say that they can't afford something, and then we do the best we can to work within their budget and find a solution that is affordable yet still medically appropriate.  Just yesterday I had one of each situation.

The first was a client who brought in a cat with a wound on its tail.  When I saw him the wound was relatively minor, but did need antibiotics.  During the exam I also noted a lot of debris in the ears, and strongly suspected ear mites.  Additionally, the cat went outside, had never been vaccinated (at eight months old), and wasn't neutered.  I worked up an estimate for antibiotics, an ear swab, ear mite medications, vaccines, and a feline leukemia test.  The client said no to everything and took the cat home.

The other case was a localized dermatitis.  The client was honest that he really didn't have much money.  I looked at the dog, suspected that we were dealing with a local contact allergy, and prescribed some topical medication.  Normally I would have wanted to do more, but we were at least doing some treatment, the client's budget wasn't broken, and he was aware of what might need to be done in the future.

Here are some hints for anyone taking their pet to the vet, especially if you have financial issues.

First of all, expect the visit to cost more than the office visit.  Vets will have an office visit charge that covers the cost of the time, exam, and expertese.  Anything else will be extra.  And believe me, most of the time when you have a health concern with your pet we will want to do diagnostic tests and some form of treatment.  This is about good medicine, not the money; but it costs money to do good medicine.  Most of us routinely forget our crystal balls and magic wands at home, so we need to do more to figure things out.   Don't expect us to be able to determine what is wrong and treat your pet only from an exam.  Plan for extra costs.

Second, if you have money limitations, be honest with us.  Talk to us.  Most vets will do the best they can to work with you on prioritizing treatments.  For example, in the above case of the cat, I would have wanted to concentrate on the wound first, then get the cat back in a week or two to update vaccines, and lastly work on the ear mites.  Yes, it's better for the cat to do it all at once, but we know this can't always happen.  Most vets will tell you that we do need to do everything on the estimate, but we REALLY need to do x, y, and z items before the rest.  We can consider splitting some things up over several weeks, coinciding with someone's paycheck.  But also realize that sometimes we really, really need to do what we recommend.

And of course all of this goes back to something I've talked about before, but haven't brought up recently.  Have an emergency fund for your pets!  Set aside several hundred dollars (or Euros, Pounds, Pesos, etc.) in an account that you use only for animal care.  Such a savings account will enable you to do at least some things for your pet when money is tight.


  1. Chris, I'm sensing some frustration in your last couple of posts. Maybe an anonymous email to veterinarians behaving badly would help?

  2. Just the normal amount of frustration. :) And I've only posted twice this month about this kind of topic, so hopefully I'm not coming across as too upset at the clients.

  3. I think it is a privilege to own a pet, not a right that everyone has. People should really think about the cost and time commitment of owning a pet before getting one.

  4. I love when they have a whole laundry lists of complaints during a "wellness" exam but then don't want to address them if it costs any money. Suddenly they become not a big deal.

  5. I just read this article

    Pretty scary what some owners are willing to do in order to avoid a trip to the vet. I had one friend that told me her son used to stitch their dog up after it would get into fights by using a needle and thread - no anesthetic and no sterilization.

    I am a conscientious dog owner and cannot fathom inflicting more harm on an animal that is already sick or uncomfortable - just to save a few bucks.

  6. at the same time we as clients have to question what really goes on behind vets closed doors! I just took my 9 yr old boston in for a "routine" ultra sound only to have her come home in such pain I had to take her to emergency that night for pain meds and now her stomach is black and blue from all the bruises. What really happens back there? Abuse? accidentally dropped her and of course NO ONE admits anything. I have lost all trust in vets cause this is not the first time, but this is the first time to such a horrbile degree !!

  7. Deb, I'm sorry that you had such an experience. It wasn't the reason I posted as I was more talking about people not following recommendations when they specifically came in for advice from us.

    I can assure you that your experiences are the exception and not the rule. I would advise you to go to the practice owner or manager with your concerns. When we take pets into the back it's normally because our equipment is back there, and there can be some liability issues with owners being in a treatment area.


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