Recently while organizing a lecture in an airport, a fellow traveler surmised my profession by sneaking a glimpse at the Microsoft Powerpoint™ slides on which I was working. She was clearly intrigued, and began asking a lot of questions about my job and veterinary medicine in general. One question struck me:
Do pet owners ever do anything that frustrates you?
I love my job. I love partnering with pet parents. I love helping them help their fur babies. So how does one even begin to tactfully answer this question? The truth is yes, some pet parents have idiosyncrasies I find both intriguing and taxing at times. This week in the spirit of full disclosure, I share some of them with you. Happy reading (I hope…)!
Etiquette Point #1: Be present
If your pet requires veterinary medical attention, you should be the one to bring him/her to the hospital. Your own parent, sibling, dog walker, or housekeeper should not be the one who brings your fur baby to the animal clinic for evaluation. Frustrating communication issues inevitably arise when a friend unfamiliar with your pet’s medical history presents your fur baby for an illness.
Would you send your sick son or daughter to the pediatrician with a baby sitter? Of course not! The same should be true of your pet. The person who knows your pet best – in other words, you – should be the one who brings your pet to hospital for evaluation. Besides remember your pet would much prefer to be with you too!
Etiquette Point #2: Be punctual
Arriving late to a consultation with a veterinarian is exquisitely exasperating. Have you ever been to a veterinary hospital for an appointment only to have to wait several minutes beyond your scheduled time? For the vast majority of those instances you can thank another pet parent for your visit not running on time. Another family’s tardiness can easily and completely throw a veterinarian’s schedule into relative chaos. I guarantee the entire medical team is working diligently to get back on track. As veterinarians, we really don’t like to make people wait unnecessarily. A pet parent arriving on time for a consultation is a very important step in ensuring his/her fur baby receives timely veterinary medical care.
Etiquette Point #3: Be nice
There is no doubt a trip to the veterinary hospital with a sick pet is stressful. Yet for reasons that boggle the mind, that stress occasionally turns people into insufferable beings. Fear and anxiety are powerful emotions, and many folks simply don’t know how to cope with them. As a result, these people often are verbally (and occasionally physically) abusive, rudely abrasive, and behave with a seething sense of entitlement. I guarantee this is not helpful. Not. At. All.
Your pet’s medical team has one goal: to provide your pet the best possible veterinary medical care. These teams work tirelessly to make your pet feel better, to keep you informed every step of the way, and to maximize the likelihood of your pet making a complete recovery. Antagonizing team members through unjustifiable cussing, ridiculous posturing and/or verbal (and physical) threats does nothing to help your pet’s healthcare team achieve its central goal.
Etiquette Point #4: Be off the grid
One of the more bothersome habits of some pet parents is their willingness to answer their mobile phones in the middle of consultations. Cellular signals rarely interfere with medical equipment, but this is the universal reason given because it’s relatively difficult to tactfully tell folks,
“You’re being rude and making my ability to help your pet more difficult!”
Answering your mobile phone in the exam room in simply discourteous. A veterinarian can’t obtain a complete patient history if you’re on the phone. Taking a call in the middle of a veterinarian’s explanation of a complicated disease process is entirely distracting, and prevents pet parents from actually internalizing anything the veterinarian is saying to them. Please remember a consultation with a veterinarian is not of unlimited length. If a pet parent elects to use his/her allocated time on the phone instead of with the veterinarian, certainly that is her/her choice. Yet I would argue it’s not in the best interest of the sick pet, and time would be more wisely spent communicating and partnering with the veterinarian about his/her plan for making your pet well again!
The take-away message about etiquette in the hospital…
Effective communication in the exam room is absolutely essential for maximizing the likelihood of a positive outcome from a pet’s illness. As veterinarians we have a responsibility to speak openly with pet parents, explaining for understanding and empowering families with information. Pet parents should be prepared to partner with veterinarians, actively listening to diagnostic and therapeutic recommendations without distractions.
To find a board-certified veterinary internal medicine specialist, please visit the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine.
To find a board-certified veterinary emergency and critical care specialist, please visit the American College of Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care.
Wishing you wet-nosed kisses,