Most dog guardians love their vets and, for the most part, the feeling is mutual. After all, we’re working together for a common goal: good health and happiness for our best friends. Most vets accentuate the positive. Dr. Susan Wagner, a veterinary neurologist and author of “Through a Dog’s Ear,” praises the thoughtful generosity of her human clients. “The good ones will even take out checkbooks and pay for a person in need,” she says. “They more than make up for the bad ones.”
Every now and then, however, people make their vets’ lives more difficult. We asked vets to share some of their “pet” peeves, which are rarely about the pet and mostly about, well, us.
Not surprisingly, no-shows, lateness and general rudeness are high on the list. Dr. Nancy Kay, author of “Speaking for Spot,” explains, “Arriving late for appointments is a biggie, especially for new clients who need to fill out paperwork. Our receptionists always advise arriving a bit early but, invariably, some clients arrive late and then wonder why we can’t fit everything we need to do into the office visit that day.”
“We probably average about one missed appointment a day,” says Dr. Arthur Wolfheiler, an Ohio vet. Sometimes clients walk in without an appointment or even bring along an extra pet. Adding insult to injury, they may also try to wiggle out of paying for the additional exam. Dr. Bruce Coston, author of “Ask the Animals,” has had the same experience. “This trashes our schedule and makes other people wait unnecessarily,” he observes.
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A failure to communicate (à la “Cool Hand Luke”) ranks as the biggest peeve inside the exam room. Perhaps from embarrassment, clients may neglect to mention that their dogs are aggressive or particularly nervous in vets’ offices, and some — amazingly — laugh when the dog bites. “Getting bitten or scratched hurts! It’s not funny. That’s why we place muzzles on your fractious pets,” says Dr. Coston.
Dr. Nick Trout, author of “Ever by My Side,” agrees. “No one likes to hear, ‘Oh, I forgot to mention, he tends to bite’ when you are checking to see if you just lost a finger.” The vets suggest that you speak up before the dog bites, and if your dog does bite or scratch, don’t laugh. An apology is in order.
To facilitate communication, remember that you should be doing the talking, not your dog. “Probably one of my biggest peeves,” says Dr. Trout, “is when I’m trying to have a discussion with an owner and their dog refuses to stop barking. The owner seems quite happy to talk over the barking as though only I can hear it.”
All conversation should be directed, of course, to the vet and not to your cell phone. Here’s how Dr. Wolfheiler handles cell-phone rudeness: “When people take a call while I’m examining their dog,” he says, “I start questioning the dog: ‘How’ve you been feeling? Got any complaints?’ I hope the people take the hint.”
Communication problems also arise when a friend or neighbor unfamiliar with the dog’s history brings the pet in for an exam. Dr. Kay lists “Thou shalt be present” as one of her 10 commandments of veterinary visits. “Given the choice,” she writes, “your dog would absolutely, positively want you to be by his side! So do not ask your mother, your brother, your housekeeper, the kid next door or anyone else to pinch-hit for you.”
"And husbands,” Dr. Wolfheiler adds —“98 percent of the time it’s the wife who brings the dog in. The husband often doesn’t have a clue.”
These vexing problems demonstrate the challenge of getting an accurate medical history. Dr. Trout comments, “Obviously, our inability to communicate directly with the patient means we rely on the owner for chronology and detail so we can be methodical and thorough in our examination.” He describes listening in frustration as married couples argue over their dogs’ symptoms and habits.
Finally, we humans sometimes just don’t answer a simple question. “For example,” Dr. Kay explains, “I might ask whether the person has had to fill the water bowl more or less than usual. This should evoke a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ response, followed by an explanation. Instead, I might get a response like, ‘Oh, he’s always loved water,’ or ‘I only give him bottled water.’”
Acquiring information needed to diagnose our dogs’ problems and assess their needs is often the vet’s greatest hurdle. To illustrate, Dr. Wagner relates the following story. A colleague was questioning a client on the phone, trying to discover a cause for his dog’s anemia. Explaining that sometimes a swallowed metal object is the culprit, the vet asked, “Has your dog swallowed anything unusual?” No response. “Maybe a coin?” No dice. Feeling desperate, the vet asked, “Could we take an X-ray?” The guy on the other end suddenly said, “Hold on,” and shouted, “Hey, Ma! When’d he eat the doorknob?”
Dr. Wagner offers this wry piece of advice: if your dog has swallowed a doorknob, you might want to mention it to your vet.