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Monday, February 1, 2010

A Veterinarian's Reponsibility

Let's say that I'm presented with a very sick dog that needs extensive lab tests and hospitalization.  However, the client has just been laid off and will have difficulty affording the needed tests and treatment.  In a situation like that, do I focus on the needs of the pet, or do I try to protect the client's pocketbook?

This is a common situation that all vets are faced with.  It can create problems as the clients argue that they don't have the money and we argue that the pet really needs these services.  Since we can't force the client to do what we recommend, the pet may end up going without the care it should have.  Yes, there are subtleties in many of these situations, and you can't pigeon-hole all of them.  But in the end the dilemma is who should the veterinarian look out for most:  the pet, the client, or themselves.

Which brings up my latest poll.  I asked "What do you think is a veterinarian's primary responsibility."  Here are the results.
Look out for the best interests of the pet: 92% (53 votes)
Look out for the best interests of the client:  5% (3 votes)
Look out for their own best interests:  1% (1 vote)

Personally I would fall into the category of looking out for the pet.  Unfortunately sometimes the pet's best interests are in conflict with the client's, which causes problems when the client can't do what is really needed.  And in those situations veterinarians have to keep in mind what is really best for those pets.  This may mean that a pet needs to have certain diagnostic tests before starting treatment, even if the client doesn't want to do it.  It may mean that the best antibiotic for the pet isn't the cheapest.  It may mean that the pet needs chronic medications, or a complex surgery.

Now before someone says "well, if you're looking out for the interests of the pet, then you should just do the treatment and reduce the cost," let me remind you that veterinarians have a business to run.  They have families to support.  And they make a fraction of what most people think they do.  If vets are continually discounting or giving away services, they will go out of business, not be able to support their families, and pet owners won't have options for treatment.  Also, in the majority of the cases the vet knows better than the client what is really medically necessary (yes, again there are those out there who can bring up examples otherwise....we've already gone through that discussion and it's pretty clear that it's the minority of situations).

It's pretty clear that the vast majority of people think that a vet's responsibility is to the pet, not to the client.


  1. A vets responsibility is toward the pet. I sometimes question some of these fees, not with my regular vet but with ones I had to visit in an emergency but they were probably right.

  2. If it was me, I would like to know the best option, and would appreciate knowing the cheaper alternative, and long-term outlook.

  3. I would actually agree with you, anonymous. A vet shouldn't automatically look to raise the bill as high as they can. If there is a cheaper but equally viable alternative, then this should be explained and explored. However, if that's not possible, the vet needs to recommend what's truly best for the pet, independent of cost. Just today I had a little chihuahua puppy that tore the ACL ligament in its knee, and needs $900-1100 worth of surgery. There really isn't a cheaper but equally as good option.


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