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Friday, August 24, 2012

Who Do You Believe? Part 2: Vet vs. ?

Yesterday I talked about the medical aspect of Laura's post and today I want to talk about the rest of it.  Here's a repeat of her email to me.

I recently rescued a 9 year old chihuahua. He only has 2 bottom fang teeth remaining and they are rotten and loose. He has been to several vets with varying opinions of treatment. I was told to leave the teeth because the jaw will completely breakdown without the teeth there to anchor the jaw. I was told by another vet that if I leave the teeth they will make the jaw infected. The rescue group I adopted the dog from says leave the teeth in because the jaw will break if the teeth are pulled. I'm not sure if this is a question futon website but I would really like some feedback, option and/or experiences with this type of situation.

People come to a vet because they want help and advice for their pets.  You might be surprised how many times they DON'T believe us.  Breeders, groomers, pet store employees, shelter workers, and just about anyone who works with animals will have an opinion.  But you have to look at the education, background, and training of the people you listen to.  

A veterinarian has many years of intense, comprehensive training in anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, parasitology, infectious disease, and surgery.  In order to keep our license we are required to do continuing education training every year, keeping up to date on the latest developments in the field.  Most vets read several professional journals every month.  We see things every day that most people won't see in a year, or even in their lifetime.

So please tell me how all of that pales in comparison to someone who's main qualification is having bred dogs for a few decades.

Yes, it's a fact that many people will believe their dog's breeder over the vet.  Or in Laura's case possibly the shelter worker.  I've seen people ignore a vet's advice because the clerk in the pet store told them something different.  In many of these cases there is no arrogance or ill-intent on the part of the person giving the advice.  They are saying what they honestly believe.  But I've also seen many people (and breeders are a high percentage of this) who honestly believe that they know better than a doctor.  They try to convince you that the vet is full of crap and is only trying to make money, yet they have no training or education whatsoever in immunology, medicine, or anything else.  They may have read something on a web site or forum from like-minded people and don't actually have any real evidence.

So please, when you have conflicting opinions look not only at the motivation of the person giving advice, but their background and experience as well.  In 9 out of 10 cases the vet is going to be the one with the more solid facts.

Now all of this becomes more difficult when you have vets who differ in opinion, as Laura had happen.  I've often said that if you put five vets in a room and ask about a specific topic you'll get at least six different opinions.  There is rarely a 100% consensus in medicine.  Our opinions are going to be based on where we received our training, which lectures we've attended after graduating, which articles we have read, and so on.  It's sometimes difficult even for us to make sense of what we should do and recommend when specialists differ on a diagnosis or treatment. This can be confusing to clients and I've been in the position of giving different advice than the last vet they saw.  This is never intentional on my part and I'm very careful to never disparage my colleagues to a client.  Rather it's simply a difference of opinion.  I even have differences with my associate doctor!  Thankfully they are minor and we otherwise have similar practice philosophies.

So what does a client do?  If you're uncertain, ask for details and reasons.  I've always felt that if I'm going to have an opinion I should be able to justify it.  I don't like hearing "because" as an answer to my questions, and I don't like giving it as an answer.  Have your doctor explain in as much detail as you can understand and need, and if they can't give adequate answers you should consider getting another opinion.  In the end, though, you'll have to make up your own mind.  I feel that a vet's job is not to make a decision for you, but to give you the information so that you can make your own decision.

Laura, I hope some of this may have helped your situation!