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Ten Commandments of Veterinary Office Visits
Become an advocate for your dog


How much easier it would be if vets had Dr. Dolittle’s ability to talk to the animals—when we took our pups in for a check-up, they could speak for themselves. Since that’s not the case, our dogs rely on us to act as their advocates in the exam room. In Dr. Nancy Kay’s ground-breaking book, Speaking for Spot, she provides us with the tools we need to do just that, relayed clearly and with gentle humor. We’re pleased to offer our readers a sample.

Here are 10 tried-and-true secrets to making every visit to your dog’s veterinarian exceptional for you and the entire office staff. They also directly benefit your dog’s health—and nothing is more important than that.

I: Thou shalt push thy veterinarian off her pedestal.
Much to my supervisor’s chagrin, I adamantly refuse to wear a white lab coat. I agree that it would keep my clothing clean and help me stand out as a doctor, but I shun it because I believe it hinders relaxed, open conversation with my clients. (I don’t think dogs are crazy about white coats either.) I’m referring to what is known as the “white coat intimidation factor,” a phenomenon that gives the doctor an air of authority and superiority. When she is on such a “pedestal,” two-way communication flounders. Medical advocacy requires active client participation, and a client who is intimidated does not feel comfortable voicing an opinion.

In most cases, the pedestal on which a veterinarian resides is a figment of the client’s imagination. I’m delighted that the profession is viewed favorably, but vets truly don’t deserve any extra helpings of adulation. So, before you arrive at the veterinary clinic, prepare yourself to “push” the vet off her pedestal. Remember, this is a simple mind-over-matter endeavor. And if your vet clings fast to her pedestal, consider choosing a different teammate!

II: Thou shalt be present.
A face-to-face conversation with your vet is invariably more valuable than connecting later via phone or email. Actually being there allows you to view X-rays and see how to administer medication. And don’t forget, given the choice, 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. Unless you’ve had recent discussions with your veterinarian to arrange a procedure, if at all possible, avoid simply dropping your dog off at the veterinary hospital in the morning before you go to work or school. If this is truly necessary, consider arranging a discharge appointment, during which time you and your veterinarian can talk about your dog face-to-face.

When a dog is experiencing significant symptoms or is sick, it helps to have all the decision-makers present at the time of the office visit. If this is difficult to arrange, the person present should take notes, and even consider tape-recording the conversation with the vet. This is useful, since details inevitably get lost in translation—especially when traveling from spouse to spouse! Consider bringing the kids along (unless they will create a significant distraction), as they can be wonderfully uninhibited sources of information and keen observers of their dog’s habits.

Lastly, turn your cell phone off before entering the exam room. A client who answers a call while I am discussing her dog’s health isn’t truly “there” with me.

III: Thou shalt let the staff know if thy dog is aggressive.
All dogs are capable of unpredictable behavior. A savvy veterinary staff can usually peg an aggressive pooch within seconds of meeting him. Occasionally, one surprises us and bites—either a member of the staff or the client. Everyone feels terrible, but it’s made far worse when we learn that the client knew it could happen, but failed to warn us.

I clearly recall a nasty bite to my hand with no warning glare or growl to clue me in. As I stood by the sink washing my wound and muttering under my breath, the client had the audacity to inform me that the same thing had happened to the last veterinarian they had seen! I momentarily fantasized about biting her, but showed tremendous restraint.



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Submitted by bruce | November 23 2009 |

3 years ago in 2006,i took my dog 14 year old lab mix tiger to the vet because she was having stiffness and trouble moving around.the vet told me about this supposed wonder drug called rimadyl..she was prescribed chewable 100 mg tablets..within 2 days it was like she was a brand new dog.running,jumping off the 3 ft high wood deck in the backyard,i was elated.little did i know of the horror to come.on the day of her last dose 3 weeks later,she got up in the morning and started projectile vomiting yellow stuff out of her mouth 3 feet across the room.after working in nursing homes for 15 years,i knew what that yellow was,it had a smell to it..it was bile....i rushed her to the vet,only to be told half an hour later that"im sorry there is nothing we could do"...i left her at the vet that night not believing that a dog that was fine just the day before could possibly be dying this fast..how is that possible? when i went back the next morning i saw that they had put her in a holding cage on a cold concrete floor all night..i was doubly mortified..the vet wanted to put her down right then and there..i said no way,and took her home.the vet gave me 4 painkilling injections that would kill her,"the infamous put to sleep drug"..i took her home and the rest of the day and night put drops of water in her mouth..she kept trying to get out of the house and was smacking into walls and furniture and falling down and crying like ive never heard her do before..i raced around to every vet in town with her and not one vet would do a damn thing about her because she already had a vet who refused to do anything for her..i took her back home and laid her on my bed and i knew what i had to do..i had to give her the injections that would kill my buddy tiger..it was one of the hardest things i ever had to do..by this time she was spewing blood out of her mouth..i gave her 2 of the injections in her i.v. line that was still in her paw.within 45 seconds,her eyes rolled up in her head,her respirations sank to 4 breaths per minute and her heart rate flew up to 200+ beats per minute...within 2 minutes she was gone..my buddy of 14 years who honestly never had a health problem was dead..i spent all my money at the vet..i didnt even have $200 for cremation or $2-$300 for a necropsy (dog autopsy)..i had to take her to the local pound who took her stiff rigor mortis body away in a wheelbarrow to dump her in the dumpster like a piece of trash...a horrible horrible way for my friend of all those years to die..all because i wanted to help her arthritis..of course the vet says "it couldnt have been the rimadyl",it does not do that...i even called the maker pfizer i think and their vet dr.lavin said "there is no way it was the rimadyl"..mind you,this is a dog that had absolutely no problems until that time and the required blood tests she took when she was prescribed the rimadyl showed everything was fine...i punched in rimadyl on the computer when i got home and was shocked to see many websites devoted to rimadyl poisining in dogs..almost every story was an exact replica of what tiger and i went through,terrible stories from anguished "parents" like myself..the drug company has even had many class action lawsuits from pet owners about this exact same thing and has paid out millions ..if only i looked up rimadyl online before i gave her that garbage..i even contacted a animal lawyer who told me that "because i did not do a necropsy and she was "so old",that there will never be a way to prove it,so i have no case...i just wanted all you pet owners out there to know what i went through so you'll be informed and wont have to go through the agony of what she went through..thank you for letting me tell my story..i'll always love you my little tiger girl...

Submitted by Deborah | December 8 2009 |

I strongly concur to heed Bruce's warning. It WAS the rimadyl. I know I would still have my good Aidan, my beloved greyhound, if I hadn't been quite naive about rimadyl.
I just didn't question vets back then, nor treatments. Now, I do.
This was a very good article, by the way.
And, Bruce, your Tiger is included in my prayers tonight for the dearly departed, and for the ease and healing of your heart.
Believe me, Tiger forgives you. You did your best, with what you knew, at that time. Do forgive yourself.

Submitted by hal | November 21 2011 |

Our old greyhound(12 yrs) was a little off, and the day we took her to the vet, she seemed better, before and after the visit.. The vet suspected something spinal, and prescribed Rimadyl. Within one day, after the second dose, she has stopped eating, drinks LOTS of water, had her first ever accident in the house, has a "drunken" walk, and is very lethargic. We are afraid we're losing her, and have stopped the Rimadyl.

Submitted by Judy | October 22 2013 |

A couple of years ago, a vet prescribed Rimadyl for my collie after her c-section (she was nursing 6 puppies). After the second dose, her rear was essentially paralyzed. I immediately took her off the Rimadyl and called the vet. They said it wasn't the Rimadyl, and I should bring her in so they could run tests. I said I found paraplegia as a potential side effect of Rimadyl, and since the puppies were only 24 hours old and I was sure it was the Rimadyl, I said I would wait to see if the symptoms disappeared after the Rimadyl wore off and if they didn't, I would bring her in. Twelve hours after stopping the Rimadyl, she was back to normal. I would NEVER use Rimadyl for a dog unless the only alternative was euthanasia.

Submitted by a vet tetch | December 9 2009 |

Im sorry to hear of your loss but not all dogs on rimadly have the same tale. Rimadly isn't a wonder drug. It's an anti inflammatory. And rimadly is the only kind out there. There are a few other brands. Did you by chance give your dog otc meds like ibprofin or asparin? These kind of meds are ment for people, NOT PETS! If a dog is givin these meds in any amount, it can cause stomach ulcers and GI bledding. Then if you were to take your pet to the vet because its getting older, or hurt itself and needs some help chances are they will prescribe rimadly or another kind of anti inflammatory. Rimadly on top of OTC anti inflamatories can kill your pet. If you don't tell your vet what your pet has been given, then it's not her fault. Most vets will also do blood test before prescribing these type of meds especially if they are an older dog or have other problems. And don't belive everything you read on the internet. It the internet duh!!! Of course your going to find both good and bad opinions for everything.

Submitted by Iskoop | December 17 2009 |

Dogs do not projectile vomit they have to use their intercostal muscles to vomit, they do not have the strength in these muscles to expel vomit with force. Humans only projectile vomit following head injury.

Submitted by Laura | February 22 2010 |

I disagree. I've been right by my dogs side while he has projectile vomited. There's no mistaking that a dog is capable of it.

Submitted by Debbie | April 8 2010 |

My late Sheltie, Sunny, was 7 years old and had hardly been sick a day in her life. Suddenly she became deathly ill with severe vomiting and dehydration. I rushed her to the vet and found out she was in liver failure. She spent nine days in intensive care and lost 25 percent of her body weight. My vet had no idea why this perfectly healthy dog had gotten so sick, and she wasn't sure if Sunny would survive. Fortunately, the liver can regenerate itself. After being ill for a month, Sunny began to get better. She made a complete recovery and lived to be almost 14. But for about two years, the cause of her illness was a mystery to me. Then I happened to read an article about Rimadyl, and I remembered that one week before Sunny got sick, I had taken her to the vet for a limp. The vet thought it was probably a pulled muscle and had prescribed Rimadyl. I was never told about the possibility that this drug can destroy a dog's liver. Now that I know this, I tell every veterinarian that Rimadyl must NEVER be given to any of my dogs. Have them write it on your dog's chart as an allergy, even if you don't know whether your dog is sensitive to Rimadyl. This drug is so deadly, even just a couple of doses can kill. Don't risk it!

Submitted by Anonymous | May 12 2011 |

My nine year old lab mix has been on Rimadyl for over three years now. I only give it to her if she is experiencing pain from being over active. I read up on this drug before ever giving it to her. It keeps her mobile and active when otherwise she is in pain. The option was surgery which wasn't an option as she won't die from a sore hip! I give it sparingly and with concern and watch her closely. I am sorry for your loss.

Submitted by Laura | September 13 2014 |

Dear Bruce, I am so sorry for what you and Tiger went through.....and shame on the vet. Just know your dog knew you loved her....you did all that you could do. Again, I am so sorry this happened to you. Your story teaches all of us that we really need to look stuff up on the internet and education ourselves because vets and doctors are not always forthright or educated themselves and they even ignore stuff that they don't want to believe. I wish the best and I hope you can bring yourself to being a good mom to another wonderful pet. God Bless.

Submitted by michelle | January 29 2010 |

i just found a puppy and kept her but i dont have a job how do i give her her shots that she needs?

Submitted by Anonymous | July 23 2011 |

If you don't have a job you can't afford to keep the puppy. Consider fostering him or her until you can find him or her a good home.

If you insist on keeping the puppy, you can get basic shots pretty cheap at some of the larger pet store chains. Or, you might want to call a local animal shelter to ask for assistance.

Best Friends Animal Sanctuary has a forum board where you can post questions. You can also call them and ask them for the names of good sources for free or cheap assistance.

Thank you for helping this puppy.

Submitted by Concerned Student | February 23 2011 |

Bruce, one question: How on earth was your veterinarian able to send you home with a barbiturate overdose? Are you aware that it was illegal for you to have such a drug in your possession?

Submitted by Anonymous | May 13 2011 |

Regarding staff: there is another vet at my vet clinic whom I dislike and refuse to have my dogs attended to by her. I had never met this vet prior to seeing her with my dog when my regular vet was not in. This vet was rough with my 8.5 male ShihTzu who had an eye infection. I told her that I didn't think she needed to be so rough with this very sweet dog who was scared.

My remarks to this vet upset her and she left the room and said I could come back when my regular vet was back. My reg vet was in China on vac for 2 weeks! I ended up having to take my dog to another vet clinic.
So, there are circumstances where the staff needs to be more professional and doesn't always deserve respect, in my opinion.

Submitted by sal | August 6 2011 |

I am looking for any information that could lead me in the direction of assistance in helping me give my dog life. He has to have surgery, $2000.00+ surgery for angioplasty. Or as they say, "ballooning: He has pulmonary stenosis. It is very serious and he needs surgery yesterday.He has tricuspid regurgitation also.
He is 4 years old and the most wonderful friend in the world. I have been taking him to his own vet, and also the MSU in Lansing MI. That is where he needs to go to have the surgery. They say it would give hm a normal life or extend his life. Otherwise he will probably not live very long . I have exhausted all the monies I can. I am single and my son and granddaughter live with me. I am the support for all of us.
I am a nurse and I work as a supervisor for American Red Cross. I have tried to get insurance on him and of course he has a pre-existing condition so no one will touch him. I do not have credit at this time so I can not get a loan. I am in college and I struggle for finances for college.
I am not asking for a free ride. I am asking if there is foundations out that contribute to surgeries that can help me. Please if you know of any assistance, can you let me know immediately.
Thank you for any support.
Sal Wilson

Submitted by Carol Bradstreet | August 12 2011 |

There are different foundations out there who can help you. Do a Google search.

Secondly, establish a 'chip in' account. This is an independent site that will take Pay Pal and credit card donations from friends, family, and strangers who will help you.

Get the word out! Use social media to talk about your cause and don't be shy about asking for help. Use Facebook, My Space, Twitter, etc. to get the word out, and mention your chip in account link.

If you need help, there is a lady in Canada, two of her three dogs have serious cancer issues and she has a Facebook page called "help save Zen". She cannot help you monetarily, but I'm sure she would help you with information and hints to make your dog's surgery successful.

I know what you're going through.....my dog just had $7k worth of specialty vet care for cancer. Happily, there's now no sign of disease.

Please follow up and let us how your fur kid is doing. I'm on Facebook if you need to talk to anyone.

Submitted by Anonymous | May 4 2012 |

We have our dog on rimadyl. We are aware of the risks. But that is the last thing we can do for her. She has hip dysplasia, subluxation petella,arthris, and now cushings disease. The rimadyl helps her. Her liver is failing, we have her tested every 6 months. But she is still somewhat active for a 9 year old lab. We had her on aspirin for awhile until she was being dosed too much for pain. We give her one rimadyl a day. Surgery isnt an option due to cost and we chose to do no steriods or opiates. We know we will eventually lose our girl. But we are doing everything we can. We have dealth with this since she was 4 years old. Not all dogs get ill and die soon after given rimadyl.

Submitted by Anonymous | August 25 2012 |

I have never found a doctor that really cares a out animals or people. It's always how

Much money they can make off of you in your time of sorrow! Sad but true.

Submitted by Jennifer | May 18 2014 |

I have to emphatically disagree. I have had exceptionally caring, intelligent, empathic vets and I've had vets who were condescending, rushed, too rough with my companion dogs, and dismissive of me. On the occasion when I don't like the treatment of the vet I've hired, I either end the visit immediately or don't go back (always letting him or her know why I won't be returning). If I need to find a new vet, I always make an appointment so I can meet the vet, ask basic questions, evaluate the cleanliness of the waiting room, exam room, restroom, etc., and see how friendly and accessible the staff is before bringing my dogs in. If I'm not comfortable during this initial meeting I continue to look until I'm find a good fit. It's so important to find a good match before you're facing an emergency. The excellent vets I've had have far out-weighed the bad ones. Four years ago I had to have my 15 1/2-year-old yellow lab, Tara, euthanized and last month, Nikka, my 17-year-old husky needed to be euthanized. They had excellent care from their vet for years and when it came time to make the saddest decisions of my life, the vet helped me with great sensitivity, giving me the information I needed, yet knowing it was my decision. Both Tara and Nikka died peacefully in my arms, and although I know it was very sad for the vet, she was not intrusive, leaving the house quietly. I was not charged for the house calls, even though in Nikka's case the vet was on vacation and made a special trip. It's important to remember that a good working relationship needs time to develop between the vet and your companion animal as well as with you. It's sad that you have not been able to find a vet who you feel cares about animals, but please do not brush them all with the same broad brush. Over-generalizations are rarely helpful. Good luck to you and your animals.

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