Pet parents pop the question to me multiple times per day. Unfortunately each time I can never answer them the way the want me to do so. Invariably I feel guilty when I give them my answer, but I know my response is the only fair one to give.
Of course I’m not being asked by the parents of my patients to marry them. But these folks are posing to me perhaps the most common question veterinarians are asked:
What you would do if it was your pet?
Perhaps most frequently pet parents ask this question of emergency veterinarians and board-certified veterinary specialists. Raise your hand if you’ve asked your pet’s veterinarian this question. If you’re honest, I bet the vast majority of you have. That’s OK. Such an inquiry is completely logical. However it also isn’t a fair question to ask your pet’s veterinarian. Indeed most veterinary schools and colleges teach students to never answer this question. Why?
Why it’s not a fair question…
While posing such a query is natural, veterinarians just can’t answer this question for families. Rather than curtly saying don’t ask us, below I’ve tried to explain why we won’t so you can better understand the situation from a veterinarian’s perspective.
Our financial situations are different:
Veterinarians are generally not appropriately compensated for our education (that is on par with or exceeds that of our human colleagues), our unwavering dedication to our patients, and our commitment to excellence in animal welfare. Believe it or not, we don’t have money burning holes in our pockets. Indeed given our level of education we are among the lowest compensated healthcare professionals on the planet. I mention this so you don’t think our fiscal circumstances are different simply because we’re making money hand over fist. That just isn’t true. At. All.
Rather as a benefit of employment, many veterinarians receive discounted medical and surgical services. Such perks certainly aren’t unique to the veterinary profession; indeed many businesses offer them to their team members. Google employees receive free food and drinks, massages and yoga, and impressive maternity/paternity time. Scripps Health offers its workforce tuition reimbursement, concierge services, and pet insurance. One of the bonuses of our employment as veterinarians is a reduced cost of healthcare services for our own fur babies.
Our personal values may be different:
I can’t begin to count the number of times I’ve heard “it’s just a dog” or “it’s only a cat” from animal owners residing in both metropolitan and rural regions of our country. While this sentiment may be true for these individuals, it certainly isn’t true for me or for most veterinarians around the world. For the vast majority of pet parents who seek consultation with a board-certified veterinary specialist, a dog or cat is not simply a four-legged creature taking up space in their residence or that has a specific job to do; rather these animals are considered family members, fur babies, and fur kids. Some people can’t have or choose not to have children, and for some of them, dogs and cats are welcomed with opened arms into their homes to help satisfy natural maternal and paternal instincts.
Each family’s situation and values are obviously different. They have to do what they believe it best for them, and as a veterinarian, I must respect their decision even if I don’t necessarily agree with it. However this is also one of the reasons I can’t answer them when they pop the question because telling a veterinarian your dog is “just a dog” or your cat is “only a cat” elicits entirely different feelings.
You know your pet best:
Pet parents have an unmistakably special bond with their fur kids. It’s this very connection that serves as the foundation for all of the parental instincts and intuitions that come with owning a pet. In other words, no one knows your pet better than you, and we, as veterinarians, definitely understand and respect this unique relationship.
Your pet’s healthcare team can (and should) explain medical and surgical issues to you, as well as provide specific recommendations, to help you make decisions. Yet only you can be the one to make the ultimate choice because you (and only you) have all of the information needed to make the best decision for your pet.
What you should expect…
Now you know some of the major reasons a veterinarian simply can’t answer the all-too-common question “What would you do if it was your pet?” Yet you still need some guidance to help you make healthcare decisions for your fur baby. Before you end your consultation with your pet’s veterinarian and before you make a decision, be sure you have the answers to these four important questions:
- What is my pet’s diagnosis (or with what disease does the veterinarian think my pet is living)?
- What are the veterinarian’s recommendations for my pet’s testing or treatments?
- What are the risks and anticipated outcomes of the recommendations?
- What type of follow-up is required if you heed the recommendations?
Please remember recommendations and options are not the same thing. To read more about this important difference, please click here. Always ensure you know what the veterinarian recommends!
The take-away message about popping the question…
While you may be tempted to ask your family veterinarian or a board-certified veterinary specialist the “what would you do” question, doing so will invariably lead to disappointment. Veterinarians can’t and won’t answer your query the way you want them to do so. Each family is different with unique financial situations and distinct values that influence the decision making process for a pet’s healthcare. Veterinarians will provide specific recommendations to you, but you ultimately must make the final decision.
To find board-certified veterinary emergency and critical care specialist, please visit the American College of Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care.
To find a board-certified veterinary internal medicine specialist, please visit the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine.
Wishing you wet-nosed kisses,