How to Vet Your Vet – Choosing the Right Vet for You and Your Pet
When I was growing up in India, before swallowing any medicine I would recite the ancient Sanskrit prayer Vaidhyo Narayano Harihi. This translates as ‘The doctor is God himself’, but in context it means when the body is diseased, the medicine is like healing holy water and the doctor is God himself. It represents the faith one has in the goodness of the medicine taken and the trust in the doctor who prescribed it. Healing is bound to follow.
It can also mean that if you have no faith in your vet or doctor you will subconsciously delay or even stop healing. This is precisely why you need to find the right vet for your pet. Your pet’s wellbeing can only be ensured if there is a trustworthy partnership between you, your pet and your vet. When it comes to your health, or that of your pet, you need to consider your level of commitment, your economic circumstances and your belief system.
The fact that you are reading this book means you are very likely to be a proactive pet guardian who wants to have an active input in your pet’s healthcare. While most vets will be happy to listen to your point of view, some will misconstrue this as a challenge to their authority and resent it. Others can be dogmatic and conventional, or simply do not have the time or the patience to consider that there are other options.
I believe that becoming a doctor for humans or animals should be a calling or a vocation rather than a career. You need to be able to care, to empathize, to understand and to strive to relieve pain and suffering with knowledge, expertise and compassion. The majority of vets and doctors start out with honest intentions, and most of them continue to have those ideals, but unfortunately there are quite a few who succumb to other practice pressures – such as financial targets and drug company incentives – and lose sight of their true mission.
WHY VETERINARY CARE CAN BE EXPENSIVE
Integrity and honesty are two very important qualities you need to look for in both your doctor and your vet. It is sad that many vets today have forgotten that ours is a service profession and instead treat it just as a lucrative business. Veterinarians are given monthly financial targets by their practice managers, which they are under pressure to meet. This is more common in the large practices owned by corporate companies.
These vets are forced to act like salespeople and hard-sell commercial diets that have better profit margins for the practice; they also carry out unnecessary blood tests, X-rays and scans and even perform unnecessary surgical procedures to meet their targets.
I strongly disagree with this and am proud never to have succumbed to this sort of pressure. I have always acted with honesty and integrity. This especially seems to be a big problem for young, inexperienced vets who are forced into this by their practices.
Many end up losing their jobs if they do not meet their targets. It must be soul-destroying to work under these conditions. No wonder there is such a high rate of suicide and drop-out in the veterinary profession, especially among new graduates.
Most young vets have spent at least six years studying and have invested a lot of money (thousands of pounds or dollars) to qualify. They have put in several years of hard work, from school to university level, to follow their dream of becoming a veterinarian. If their job is at risk because they are not financially minded, they have no choice but to give in and let their conscience take a back seat. It is a general misconception that veterinarians are highly paid: their income is not in the same league as doctors or dentists.
However, none of this justifies bad practice. I have heard from other vets that some practices make a point of finding out how much the pet’s insurance will cover and make sure to use it all up, leaving no money for future emergencies or treatment. I find this shocking and unethical. As an experienced vet, I can usually tell what the problem is just by obtaining a good history and performing a clinical exam.
To confirm my diagnosis, I may decide on some blood tests or perform some imaging, such as X-rays. Most of the time, this is adequate. Yes, technology has advanced a lot and it is wonderful that we have a lot of equipment that can help, but we have to be judicious in its use. It is wrong to perform every possible test under the sun to confirm something that you already know.
In conventional veterinary medicine, most of the expense today is due to the investigation or the process of diagnosis, rather than the actual treatment. This is all very well if you, the pet guardians, have an infinite amount of money to spend, but when finances are tight this can be crippling. On the flip side, we veterinarians find it quite puzzling that many pet owners seem just to acquire pets without considering their financial or health circumstances.
I love animals very much. But I am not irresponsible and I do not condone collecting a large number of them when you cannot afford to feed them or spend time with them, or even give them veterinary attention when they are ill. Your pets are your responsibility and it is unfair to blame veterinarians or the cost of living or society if you are not able to provide for them. Please consider this before getting another pet.
If your pet is referred to a teaching or a university hospital, the staff there have to perform many tests and follow strict protocols as they need to publish research data and teach vet students, so be prepared for an expensive work-up. In routine practice, I know that it is possible to diagnose most conditions and treat them without extensive and expensive investigations. Some vets are scared to do this because their clients then accuse them of not being thorough or performing enough tests or scans.
You need to make your requirements clear and be open with your vet. If you are not happy, feel bullied, or feel that nothing is working, communicate this to your vet or change your vet. If you want ‘instant’ solutions to your pet’s health problems, your vet will be forced to inject steroids or resort to other quick methods that will help in the short term but leave your pet with long-term problems. So, essentially, the choice is yours. Listen to your gut feeling and always get a second opinion if you are not happy.
VETTING YOUR VET CHECKLIST
Here is a useful checklist to help you choose your vet:
- Make sure your main conventional or integrative veterinarian is as near as possible in the event of an emergency.
- If it is not an emergency, then be prepared to travel with your pet if you trust a particular vet, in order to get correct, honest care.
- Find out if your local vet will do house visits if you are unable to transport your pet.
- Check that your veterinary practice is reasonably priced for your needs. The cheapest practice is not necessarily bad, nor is an expensive one guaranteed to be good. The price generally reflects the practice location rather than the quality of veterinary care.
- Make sure that the vaccination protocol of the practice is tailor-made to suit your pet’s lifestyle.
- Ensure the practice has adequate, modern equipment, expertise and good inpatient care.
- Choose a vet who is open-minded, approachable and happy to explain the reasoning behind a test – and also how the test will affect the treatment options for your pet.
- Make sure your regular vet is willing to refer you to both conventional specialists like oncologists and orthopaedic surgeons, and other holistic vets or therapists if necessary.
- Do not be bullied by your vet into buying commercial diets, unless they are prescription diets essential for serious health conditions.
- Ensure your vet is open-minded and happy for you to home-cook or buy natural diets or try raw food diets, as long as it suits your pet’s health.
- If you are holistically minded then do try and find a holistic vet.
- Finally, make sure YOU and YOUR PET like YOUR VET.
I believe that holistic integrated veterinary care will become the norm in the near future. More and more vets and pet guardians want a well-rounded approach. There is no doubt that conventional veterinary medicine is excellent and a must for emergencies, serious injuries and acute conditions but this Western approach does not seem to work for long-standing or chronic conditions.
In a 10–15 minute appointment, it is perfectly possible for a conventional veterinarian to diagnose and treat most symptoms, but not enough to look at the problem in a holistic way. There is just not enough time to get the full picture of your pet’s emotional and physical problems.
I believe that to effectively prevent and maintain a pet in good holistic health, it is important to get to know you and your pet – including your pet’s personality, lifestyle, diet and health condition. A good one-hour consultation with a holistic integrated vet can be life-changing for your pet.
I strongly recommend that you find a holistic integrative vet who can provide the best of both worlds. If this is not possible, then look for a holistic vet who will refer you to a conventional one when your pet needs it. Otherwise find an open-minded conventional vet who will refer you to a holistic vet or a trained complementary veterinary therapist if necessary. Together we can work miracles and help your pet heal.