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Thursday, September 22, 2016

Out Of Whack Priorities

Some pet owners have their priorities all mixed up.  It's something that really bothers those of us in this profession because it often means that the pet loses out.
Recent case in point....
We had a dog brought in because the owner was worried about vomiting for a few days.  We didn't have any available appointments but wanted to make sure the pet was okay so the client agreed to drop it off.  When she did she asked how long it would take because she had a grooming appointment for him.
Really?  You brought your dog in for vomiting and you're more worried about his haircut?  He might have pancreatitis, a toxin, an intestinal foreign body, or something else bad and you are more interested in him getting his bath and trim on time?

This happens more frequently than those outside of the profession might realize.  And it often revolves around grooming.  Often we'll see a pet for a rabies vaccine only because the previous one had expired and the grooming facility required it.  Otherwise the client would have never brought their pet in!  I have also seen many cases where we do the rabies vaccine and the owner declines all other vaccines, heartworm testing and prevention, and any other preventative care.  Why do they refuse these necessary preventative services?  Because they can't afford it.  Why can't they afford it?  Because they need the money to get their dog groomed.

So basically they're saying that they can't afford a $40 test and $35 prevention against a common and life-threatening disease, but they can afford $60 or more to get their dog a bath, haircut, and cute little bows. 


This frustrates the heck out of us in this field.  We are worried about preventing serious diseases or diagnosing and treating health issues, and this is our primary focus.  For some clients they could care less about the health risks to their dog and put the priority on them looking pretty and smelling nice.  Frankly, I'd rather see a stinky, dirty dog who is current on vaccines and heartworm prevention than one with the perfect haircut who barely has his rabies vaccine up to date.

I'm really glad that clients like this are the minority of our caseload, and most people do a great job of putting the focus for their pets on the important things.  Most of my clientele are great people who listen to our recommendations (for the most part).  But I don't think I'll ever be comfortable with the ones who put their priorities for their pets in the wrong order.


  1. As usual, I totally agree with your post and your point of view. And all other things being equal, a vet appointment (especially for a problem) should always trump a grooming appointment, for sure!

    BUUUUUT, as the mom of a Yorkie (as you probably well know, a breed that needs regular grooming) perhaps I can shed some light from the pet parents' perspective.

    First of all, we as pet parents aren't typically aware of all the possible potentially dangerous reasons for something say, like throwing up, which often (at least in my experience of having one dog and 2 long haired cats) is pretty common and means very little. My vet has even told me, "If you have cats, you have puke!" Now certainly it's my job to watch for changes and be aware of new symptoms, etc., that may signal that there's a problem, but that's not my point here.

    What we as pet parents ARE keenly aware of, though, is that those darn grooming appointments are like gold! Some groomers have waiting lists just to make an appointment, most groomers at least have long wait times, appointments are scheduled weeks or yes months in advance, and often we can and will be charged if an appointment is canceled "last minute"! Believe me, until I had a Yorkie, I had no idea of all of this, but it is the reality in many places. In other words, I should have been a dog groomer, LOL!

    So that means if my dog is throwing up (or otherwise has a problem but not what seems to me to be an imminently serious one), and I call for a vet appointment, and it's the same day/time as that long awaited, highly coveted and much needed grooming appointment, I may well ask for a different (vet) appointment time!

    So, SOME (although admittedly not all!) of what you described in your post above may well have nothing to do with priorities -- or finances. The reality is (right or wrong, fair or unfair, ridiculous or not!) that many times, vet appointments are simply easier to get than grooming appointments.

    1. Thanks for sharing the other side of things, Lynn! I think it comes down to communication, with the pet owner listening to the vet when a medical recommendation might trump grooming or take the money needed for grooming.

  2. Yes, absolutely! Because as always, with listening comes understanding.
    Thanks again for your excellent blog!

  3. The pet parent could have been asking how long it would take because she needed to know if she had to cancel the grooming appointment. Because sometimes, we can get charged for the missed grooming appointment, just like vets charge extra for coming in their office without an appointment. Sometimes you think your dog has a serious problem and it turns out to be nothing.

    I have to disagree with your assumption that money was an issue here. I don't know where you practice but here - the vets rape you over in costs! I adopted a dog with ear infections. We brought him to the vet for the first time. He needed 1 shot, blood test, heartworm & flea and tick preventative, and stuff to clean his ears. This was no $150 wasn't even a $250 visit, it cost me $775 dollars! EVERY time I go to the vet, and my dogs are healthy, it cost me no less than $350 each. EACH! And of course there are always the "teeth cleaning" up sells. My one little rescue had anal gland problems - I thought I was going to have to sell my lungs to pay for his vet bills!

    I'm paying through my bloody teeth for their yearly check-ups and my dogs are rarely sick. My boy dog, the one who we rescued, he's going in to be neutered in November and get his teeth cleaned. Want to know how much that's going to cost me? $2,500. Two thousand five hundred dollars!!!! (AND yes, we have to get these two groomed every 6 weeks - $65-$80 each depending on if they need their anal glands expressed.) Do you know how I afford this? The rug in my house is 25 years old, my couch in my living room is broken and torn, and my home is in need of repair, and I haven't been on any type of vacation in 15 years. MY DOGS COME FIRST! I can choose to care for my dogs or fix my house and go on vacation...I choose my dogs. I will always choose my dog's well being over anything else.

    Give your clients a break. If you want to get angry over angry with the folks who throw their animals in the street like they're garbage. You're worried about "preventing serious diseases or diagnosing and treating health issues," and I'm worried about how I'm going to pay you for it.

    Boy, I gotta say, this particular post really pulled on my short hairs.

  4. First, I would really look around at comparable veterinary costs, making sure to look at direct comparisons (spays that include the same list of services, and so on). My practice is pretty middle-of-the road cost-wise, so your visit would to me would have been closer to $340-350 (averaging $41 office visit, $40 heartworm test, $25 vaccine, $160 full blood panel, $18 ear cleaner, and $60 topical flea/tick preventative). But much of that depends on what "blood test", which preventative, and so on. For dental cleanings we charge $250 for a routine, simple cleaning (including pre-anesthetic blood tests, IV fluids, multiple monitoring equipment, etc). If we added dental x-rays it would be $180, antibiotics would be around $20-30 (if even indicated), and extractions of bad teeth range from $30-150 per tooth. I can do a complicated intestinal surgery for half of what that vet charged you for a dental cleaning. However, I'd want to know an itemized list of what was in that $2500, as well as the region you're in. Costs in California are going to be quite a bit more than costs here in Georgia. Personally I would call around to other vets with an itemized list of services and see if that is comparable for your area, or if your vet is particularly high. Also, I would NOT recommend doing a dental cleaning and neuter in the same procedure. There is a much higher risk of infection because the dental cleaning will release bacteria into the blood and air which could contaminate the neuter surgery.

    As far as your last paragraph ("I'm worried about how I'm going to pay your for it"), we're actually worried about the same thing. You may have missed my point in the post. I would rather a client spent the $65-80 on heartworm prevention than getting a grooming and expressing anal sacs. It's frustrating to us in veterinary medicine when we see clients making a decision to spend money on the appearance of their pet rather than on preventing potentially deadly diseases FOR THE SAME COST. Does that make sense?

    Also remember that a big point of my blog has always been showing people a side of veterinary medicine that they typically don't see....the candid views of the vet. I think it helps people understand why we make certain recommendations, and what things clients can do better to care for their pets. This post was exactly along those lines. It also opens a good dialogue for mutual understanding, as perfectly shown by Lynn's original comment.

  5. Okay, I'm keen to share a unique perspective. I'm a certified professional groomer and trainer. I hold a diploma in nursing and I happen to be pre-vet at the moment.

    I see exactly what you are saying and I can't dispute the urgency of an animal needing veterinary care. I believe veterinary appointments should take priority over grooming appointments in many cases - especially when it comes to vague symptoms which may be indicative of a serious health issue.

    I have local vets refer pet parents to me for grooming frequently. My peculiar combination of education and skill has me spotting issues which require veterinary attention on a near daily basis. Vets love me for sending so much business their way and they return the favor.

    Sometimes grooming really does need to come first. I just want to share another side of this situation. Let's say the owner suspects there may be something up with ol' Sport but they aren't quite sure. It's really hard for you as the Dog-tor to examine Sport if you can't see anything but a walking pile of matted fur.

    So Sport's owner realizes I have one opening for grooming over the next two weeks and you have ten spots to choose from. As long as Sport is eating/drinking/peeing/pooping relatively normally, I'd have to vote for grooming first.

    So I shave Sport as that was my only option. I find multiple skin ulcerations. I find they're horribly infected. So infected I find maggots. So horribly, disgustingly infected and maggot infested that Sport also has secondary infections from chewing. Those matted bits are painful and itchy anyway.

    With all that gone, mom/dad takes Sport to see you and you decide to keep him as he's at risk of septicemia among a whole plethora of other issues you urgently need to tend to. Now, I don't care to assume you are as lax as some vets we have here, but some vets here would have just brushed the owners off and sent Sport home - let's say Sport is 11 years old after all.

    Another scenario: Maybe this has happened in the past with this pet and it was nothing to worry about. Maybe it even happened with a pet prior who presented the same. Maybe the owner just doesn't realize no matter which way we cut it.

    Scenario #3: Maybe the owner knows she's going to get hit with a $50 missed appointment/cancellation fee and suspects she will need that money to pay you. Maybe she is trying to see if her groomer will excuse her this time.

    Scenario #4: Maybe her groomer does what I do - I will go out of my way to try to move appointments around if the vet can squeeze a pet in. She might have had her groomer call and say her 3pm client is willing to switch - can she make 3pm instead of 11am?

    I can think of dozens of scenarios that I've personally experienced. This is why I like to have a relationship with my local vets. I love having a dialogue going. I don't mind being flexible if I can help the dog get treated, create business for the vet, and still be able to have that income so I can continue to buy the 26 cups of dog food our house goes through each day.

    Either way, I appreciate your frustrations. Soon, they will be my own. Opening up the dialogue is truly critical. I prefer to direct my clients to ask pointed questions or relay my findings exactly as I shared them. Sometimes I even write notes for owners to pass along. Everything from proliferate Candida to concerns over rejecting sutures in dogs less than 7 days post op to malignancies. You name it - I've probably listed it in a note or text to show the vet.

    IMO - If I were in your shoes, I'd do two things. The first being to explain exactly how serious a symptom just might be. Secondly, I Would see why they're asking in relation to the grooming. If they're worried about a fee you could easily write them a note to excuse them due to extenuating circumstances - urgent care required. That is often enough for any groomer to waive the fee and put them at the top of the cancellation list :)


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