Talking About the Future with Your Vet.

WMNube BlkWhtAre you happy with your veterinarian? It’s the question I ask when a client loses a horse or has a long-term issue. I’m not sure it’s important that they actually have the best vet in the world, but it is important that they think they do. The reason to talk about it now is obvious; there may not be time later.

Acknowledged, vets have a very hard job. It’s an expensive education, long hours in lousy conditions, and some level of constant danger. Add to that a high level of life-or-death stress. If all of that isn’t enough, the occupation calls for good communication skills with humans and animals. And even then sometimes it still all comes down to luck in the end. Veterinary medicine is as much an art as a science.

Lots of us wanted to become vets at some point in our youth, and most of us came to our senses. I usually think vets are saints, just on general principle. But our animals are family members, so it isn’t that easy.

Last winter one of my dogs had an eye condition that required a specialist. The prognosis was complicated. We were several visits and a few hundred dollars into the process. My dog had four different medications, administered three times a day, with ten minutes between each medication. It added up to two and a half hours of medicating a day. Okay, it could be worse. On top of that, the vet’s manner was a bit stilted. We didn’t need to be friends, but my dog was uncomfortable with him. On one visit, the vet abruptly grabbed my dog’s face, and sure enough, my dog nipped at him. I asked that my dog be muzzled, hoping to mitigate the increasing stress on all sides.

Then I asked for the prognosis. It was chronic. “Try hard with the medication,” he said, “because if it doesn’t work the next step is surgery and the surgery rarely works.” That didn’t sound good; my dog’s condition wasn’t improving and his easy-going temperament was turning dark. And if the possible surgery rarely works, why would we even consider it?

I asked the vet to slow down during one visit, my dog was cowering, but the vet snapped at me. Again, he doesn’t know me; we don’t have to be friends. Later I asked if there was some point when removing the eye would be considered. It seemed to me like the treatment was starting to be a bigger issue to my dog than the initial ailment. “I won’t talk about that,” he said.

I assured him that I did need to know–for financial reasons as well as quality of life questions. “Well, I can’t help you with that,” he said as the door closed behind him. I paid one more staggering bill, and heaved a sigh once we were in the truck. We both felt a bit roughed up; what would these visits be like a year from now? I’m an experienced owner and I don’t need hand-holding but this was starting to feel adversarial. I felt cornered and I wasn’t the one having things poked into my eye. Is this the meaning of purgatory?

The moment stood in stark contrast to a similar process with a different vet for another dog. There were monthly visits for years, a blood draw every time, and my dog couldn’t wait to get in the door. One day I initiated the hard talk; I asked what to look for as things progressed. She spent twenty minutes detailing possibilities that we would weigh as time went on. Quality of life mattered to her as much as it did to my dog. I left heartbroken, but also knowledgeable.

It’s almost unfair to vets, after all they have to accomplish to even be standing in an exam room, that horsemanship (or the dog or human equivalent) matters… but it does. Perhaps even more so for animals; their sensual perception is so much keener than ours that they’re hardly ever fooled.

If you are like me, you have a few vets on your contact list. Okay, I have eighteen vets in my phone, including specialists. I don’t want to marry any of them, but I have more respect for some than others.

Lately, I find myself scrutinizing the list a bit more closely. I have a dog who’s thirteen, a twenty-one-year-old llama, and my Grandfather Horse is a very frail thirty. At this point, I have survived the loss of beloved animals on a fairly routine basis. I’m not being callous, just realistic–losing them never gets easier emotionally, but trusting the vet is essential.

Last month we had the routine spring barn call for the horses. A few of them have sordid histories with humans, and as we enter the first run, I remind the vet to go slow. It’s a conversation that we’ve had before. He remembers how it started with this horse and as I hold the horse gently, breathing deep, the shot’s given with no fuss. Two horses later, the process has changed. He does the “good” horses differently; the vet tech is braced holding the halter. It’s a gradual change–almost passive. Then the donkey gets shoved into a fence panel, as my vet explains to me that they should give to pressure. It’s more thoughtless than cruel but my farrier will pay the price for this rudeness at his next trim. And I might know something more about giving to pressure than my vet thinks I do. Finally, my young mare–who has ground-tied for two years of weekly shots for her stifle–is running backward across the pen with the vet tech dangling from her halter.

I understand both sides; I want to be reasonable. How many times have I gone back to re-train softness and trust with an animal after a fearful vet experience? How many times do I ask my animals to make up for the shortcomings of humans?

Am I over-reacting? It was only spring shots but I know how it goes. Eventually it always ends up being life or death.

Anna Blake, Infinity Farm.


Anna Blake

0 thoughts on “Talking About the Future with Your Vet.”

  1. People call it “over reacting” when they get called on their poop. Naturally folks don’t like being confronted with their unreasonable behavior when it’s easier for the other fellow to accommodate their lack of personal development. Please don’t short change yourself on being truthful for the sake of sparing someone a lesson. Granted those vets didn’t call you in to their office for personal development but shouldn’t truth be mutual?

  2. It’s my primary goal to get good care and I don’t want to constantly remind a vet that I’m a professional trainer. It’s that underlying resistance that wear me down. Seems I have more patience with horses. Thanks, Joan.

  3. I’ve experienced that on an animal level (Vet) as well as human (Doctors). You know your animals best. If something isn’t working, move on. Trust your gut. Don’t put up with shit you don’t have to. With eye specialists it’s tough; they are some of the most arrogant professionals and they are few and far between. (Both human and animal) They kind of have you between a rock and a hard place. Having spent several years treating acute glaucoma in two herding dogs … I’d never do that again. Too costly, too traumatic (for them and me) and the outcome is ALWAYS the same: they lose the eye(s). Believe me, removing the eyes was a piece of cake compared to all the nonsense I put us though thinking I was doing the right thing. (We lost 3 out of 4 eyes and the only reason we didn’t lose the 4th eye was because the dog died quite young of liver disease. The other dog lived to be 13 and got along great with no vision.) So trust your gut and fire the ones who don’t fit your expectation of appropriate bedside manner.

    • I appreciate the experience you share here, Cheryl. Too many times, as science marches on, the patient’s experience is second to medical progress. It’s funny… with this dog, I had his teeth cleaned and the eye issue resolved… in the end, I thought one of the prescription drops were the problem. So it goes, we all have to be amateur vets.

  4. Don; put up with rudeness from any so-called professional. If their patience is wearing thin because there are a lot of animals or they have a busy day and they’re in hurry, then call the session short and send them on their way. It’s not worth it to keep having to retrain something that they messed up. The “mistake” took seconds; the retrain can take hours or days. It’s simply not worth it. There are vets I simply won’t have on my place and some I won’t go to again.

    Hang in there with your way and your ethics. Send them packing.

    • Thanks, Laurie. I’m not afraid to move on. I’ve had vets who are wonders. My equine dentist can have half his arm down the donkey’s throat and Edgar just loves him. I’m sad that pros like that dentist are few and far between.

      • I so agree with Laurie and Anna here. A little story because I can’t resist. Years ago I used to have a man come out to do our horse’s teeth. First time he arrived he was not what I expected. Picture Mickey Rooney in The Black Stallion. Turns out he was quite a character and knew his business very well. He was personally responsible for taking care of the Budweiser Clydesdales for many, many years. (Lots of great stories there!) He was semi-retired and never in a hurry with anything. I learned so much just by watching his mannerisms around our young and nervous Arabs. Patience paid off in spades and every trip got easier and easier. He never used any kind of restraint or sedation. Sadly, the old timer died very suddenly one fall and the next spring I had to find someone new. The woman I hired was great. Very personable, patient and kind. We really hit it off. That fall I lost my old mare and come the next spring, I had a new, much younger model. Things didn’t go so well and I could tell my hire was rushing and not doing a thorough job. But I still really liked her and she did fine with the other horses, so I kept her on. The next year it was more of the same, only her frustration hit the wall and she started talking about having the vet come to sedate my horse. Um, no. Thing is, if I’d never been exposed to a different approach I might not have known it could be done if the job wasn’t rushed. I struggled over my dilemma, but I eventually found someone else and let her go. The new hire? Just like the old guy …. lots of patience, no restraints, plenty of success. I count myself lucky that I had the opportunity to see firsthand how a class act truly works. Others might not be that lucky, but they can always trust their gut. No matter how invested you are in someone, if it doesn’t look or feel right then it’s time to switch things up. If the person has any integrity you can always go back. If not? No great loss.

        • Cheryl, thank you for this. It’s kind of how it happens that you end up with an unnecessary fight, IN HINDSIGHT.It might take a year to even it back out. In my situation, I just want the same care he gives the “bad” horse for all my horses… Thanks for sharing. Slow is the fastest way, every time. 🙂

  5. I have only had more positive be experiences than that, fortunately. The one time I thought a small animal vet was a little “short”, his advice and treatment were still good, but I have not gone back to him. I really value my inner communication with my cats and horses. I do spring shots, etc, but I often go holistic with other treatments, especially for cats, as I think there are often natural remedies that work well and have fewer side effects than chemicals/drugs/synthetics and are also far less expensive. Sorry you have had less-than-positive experiences. I am not being callous, I live in a different country, yet with humor I add that you should vet your vet. With light and love trust your intuition and knowledge of your animals and also feel ok to vet your vet. The vet may have expert knowledge, but he/she is working for you at the time and being paid by you. Oh, yes, some people are just immature and have hard edges also. With light and love.

    • Thanks, Jane. At this point I have quit a few vets… As a equine professional, I hope that I might help them improve rather than fire one after another… but sometimes I just give up. Agreed about the holistic treatments…and doing the most I can. In the US, rabies has to be vet acknowledged, and we’ve have rabies close in the area.That’s how this pickle started!

  6. I am lucky to have both a canine and equine vet who are wonderful with the animals. My GSD is wary around strangers anyway, and I can’t image how terrified he would be of the vet’s office if I didn’t have my Mr. Wonderful going slowly, calmly and making him feel ok. Likewise, I use my current equine vet because one of the horses picked him. Horse hated all vets (esp. ones holding needles), but met my current one (Mr. Wonderful #2) and said, “Yup, this one is okay.” I listened to my horse and stopped using the other one.

  7. How frustrating. It is part of a vet’s job (IMO) to be able to handle it if a patient gets overwhelmed and acts out. Trying to do it by force is NEVER the answer, like you said, it just leaves emotional baggage on that animal that the next handler has to deal with. Vets also have pharmaceutical options for dealing with anxious patients that farriers aren’t privy to. I am sooo lucky as I’ve managed to assemble a wonderful team that gets along with my gang without any issues.

  8. You can’t imagine how much more complicated this gets when you are MARRIED to the vet. (For the record, we married right after graduating from college and I put him through vet school.)

  9. All of the above are such great comments & true! I was so fortunate to have a horse vet that could be described as Mr. Wonderful AND every associate of his was the same. Took time to explain & time to do what needed to be done. NEVER used force! My present dog vet and her associates are super – all female practice. But my choc.lab mix was brought here (NY) from an Alabama kill shelter by a local rescue. When she & another rescue dog were taken to a local vet for spaying & heartworm testing – the gal at the rescue said “never again” would she take any of her rescues there – very brusque treatment for 2 animals that had been very very abused. Frankly, I had used this same vet for my old choc lab mix and Cougar was fine with it. But he was a very confident dog who had always had a loving caring family (before me).

    • Great comment, Maggie. Yes, what works for one might not be the same for another. Sometimes that’s how we get in trouble and it isn’t immediately obvious. And then sometimes the vet or the animal is having a bad day and we all need to take a breath.

  10. Oh boy, this is a huge issue for me. If a Vet does not accept what I tell them about my horses, donkeys, dogs, cats and chickens (yes chickens) and respond and act accordingly, they are not my Vet any longer. I have been very blessed since many years ago, to have since had excellent, caring, and receptive Vets, who do not, if at all possible, force my animals past their comfort zones. No one wins that battle, and the next round is always tougher.

    As frustrating and maddening as it is when they are brusk and lack ‘bedside manner’, there DO remain many good ones out there, case in point: We just had my Old Feller up to the Woodside Veterinary Hospital, in Ashland, VA for cancer surgery, and for a man I have never met, the Vet listened to me about what my old guy has dealt with in his long life, PTSD, Ulcers, Cribbing, etc. And he was able to change the procedure to put the least amount of stress on him. I cannot say enough good stuff about him!

    • As a trainer, I have to stay aware and give my best focus every horse. The same is true for vets, and it can be exhausting. So it goes. Love to hear about your good example… I really do believe most hope to do that well! Thanks, Margaret.

  11. like so many things in life, it comes down the relationship you have with your vet(s). Being treated as a partner in the care of my animals, helps me understand and share in the risks. When the partnership ends, the relationship needs to end, at least for me.

  12. I am so so grateful for the vet recommendation for high plains. I’ve seen nearly every vet on the staff there and they were all absolutely wonderful. I’m glad I had them dealing with my medical mystery of a cat and during the last few month’s of my dog’s life. I often find myself wishing my human doctors were anything close to as good!

    • High Plains is heaven, all right. I’m glad you agree. And don’t start with me on human doctors. I haven’t gone twice to the same doctor since my perfect doctor moved away 8 years ago.

  13. Lovely Anna. When Chloe went to the vet Ariel worked for, her instructions for other vet techs were “go slowly.

  14. I’ve been going to the same vet for decades. He’s taken care of all my dogs and they all were comfortable with him and his staff. There was only one substitute who seemed to find answering any questions annoying and who would not take the time to calm the dog before trying to examine him – that person wasn’t there long and every client was sent a note apologizing for the substitue’s behavior. I have no complaints, my vet is a good man, deeply cares about the animals he treats and their owners. I dread the day he decides to retire (although his son is in training and much like his father in his approach to patients and owners). I’ve had to use a specialist once or twice but mostly I’ve had healthy dogs that live long, happy lives. I started at a different vet years ago and after two visits knew there was no way I wanted to take any dog I had there again. I know just how important that communication is between the vet, owner and animal.

  15. I just changed farriers due to the last 3 trims have gotten progressively worse to the point I feel both my horse and mini are lame. Vet agreed. I’m not a farrier and can only say what I am seeing, but this was not going well. And I realized he was not going to take any input from me. So that was the end. We moved here 3 years ago and I so miss my old equine health practitioners. I knew they were wonderful but had no idea how hard they would be to replace upon moving a couple of counties away. I’m also having problems locating good hay. I have had 3 different hay suppliers so far. But the feet are way too important. I love my new vet. He now has me brushing my horse’s teeth. Both are having gum issues for different reasons. Jade is old and Squash is a mini with an over crowded mouth. I’m holding my judgement on the new farrier. I love her and she took her time and explained everything. But both required some pretty drastic trimming. I do have hope and she was very patient with them. It is not easy trimming little feet while practically standing on your head. My horses were on their best behavior which may mean they liked her.

    I’m so sorry about the spring shots event. I had a vet for a short period of time who I liked very much. But other people at the barn I boarded at said if he had to come at the end of the day I would not like him so much. Apparently he was not well and was not a happy camper at the end of the day. Somehow I always managed to have early appointments with him. And he loved my Toby. Toby was a charmer. It should not require that a horse be something other than who he or she is to get good attention. And everyone deserves patience and compassion. I think because my horses were pretty easy to handle and they are barefoot, my old farrier felt he could do a quick and shoddy job on them. Not fair. I pay the same as everyone else. And he was almost twice as expensive as the new farrier. Hopefully it is a win win. I hope you have good luck as well. And you and your animals certainly deserve more respect. And so do I and mine.

    • Farriers too, you’re right. And that is serious damage that can be done be shoddy work. Thanks for reminding me how much I love my farrier, especially considering the shy rescue horses I have had here for training over the years. And I’m so glad you’re back on track. Thanks for commenting, Judy.

    • Silly me. I was hoping to be part of the change. (and to be clear, none of the treatment rose to the level of cruelty.) But maybe in the end, you’re right. If so, it’s sad… Thanks, Christine.

  16. Here’s a positive note. My mare has always sought to annihilate anyone who tried to administer an intranasal vaccine. By “always” I mean since the very first attempt. She is sixteen. We switched vets for spring shots this year and the intranasal flu vaccine went in without any protest whatsoever. I wasn’t there so I can’t say what was different, but the barn manager was blown away by how easy it was this time.

  17. I had heard from others how great my farrier was but didn’t realize how great til he injured his back and was laid up for several months. He sent a substitute to keep us going while he was healing. On the first visit, this guy showed up with music blaring off his truck, earplugs in his ears, etc., and proceeded to trim/shoe my guys as kind of an after-thought to why he was at my barn. When he showed up for the next visit, before he could get out of his truck — and this is no lie — my Houdini Thoroughbred proceeded to let himself out of his stall and then let the other 2 out of theirs and they took off to the far side of the paddock! You can imagine how glad I was to get my original farrier back. This TB has also done similarly with dentists and vets who have come a’ knocking. He has also let himself into the barn for those practitioners he approves of. I approve of them, too, so it’s a win-win.
    That said, I agree we don’t have to love our farriers, vets and dentists as long as they do right by our animals; and when they do, you end up loving them for that.

  18. Enjoyed the post and the comments… and it reminds me that we need to choose our own human health care providers who will honor our wishes and wisdom when we are, as you wrote, approaching the matter of life and death. .. and BTW, I have been completely awed by what my natural equine dentist can accomplish with my horses, and he is all about SLOW, and in fact, counsels me often to give a new horse much much time. He works as if his time is limitless, and I notice how horses AND people just lean TOWARD and fall into that spaciousness he creates. The feeling of SPACIOUSNESS is a critical barometer for me.

  19. I LOVE my vet but sometimes the techs need a little reminder. For spring shots, I brought my boy in, put him in the cross-ties, and stayed ready with my lead for actual shot time. The tech comes over and throws a lead on with a nose chain, presumably “to control him if he flips out at the shots”. I don’t know what happened in my boy’s past with a nose chain, but he flipped out alright- the moment that chain went on. Head way up, whites of the eyes showing, threatening to rear in the cross ties. I immediately clipped on my own lead and brought his nose down, unhooked the chain, and talked low and calm- within seconds he was well on his way to being relaxed again. I politely asked the tech to please ask permission before using a chain on my horse- not every horse needs it, and force is rarely the answer. I wonder how many horses that’s happened with, and just reaffirmed her belief that the chain was absolutely required to control them.

    • Exactly, and then it would make sense for her to start defensively with each horse… Since writing this blog, I have been thinking of techs a lot. Part of their job is to protect the vet, but more than once I’ve seen them create something that they then have to defend against… just like the chain. Oy. Perceptive comment, thank you.

  20. No you are not over reacting. I am currently dealing with my 16 yo gelding who started having problems getting up. My vet informed me none of us get out of this alive. Gee didn’t know what a surprise ! He immediately wrote off the symptoms as arthritis. I took him to another vet. His first comment, “What a beautiful boy” great start. Confirmed my worries it is neurological so yes I’m getting to know a lot of vets at the moment due to my “beautiful boy” who is giving me gray hair! Best of luck to you

    • Oh, better luck to you and your beautiful boy. Times like this good care matters twice as much. Thanks, Terry, and give him a scratch and my best wishes…

  21. Thank you for sharing this. I agree with you wholeheartedly on not subjecting your animals to a vet they can’t relax with … not to mention a person with whom you yourself aren’t entirely uncomfortable. It used to be that vet’s were sort of like gods; they didn’t need good communication skills because they were treating animals. Now however, there are lots of vets out there and we should all require – for the sake of our animals – that the veterinarian we trust (and pay) be compassionate and understanding in addition to knowledgeable. They don’t have to agree with us but it’s fair to expect compassion and understanding. Even in rural areas … maybe especially in rural areas.

    • Lots of professionals were gods before the internet. Clients are better informed than before, as well, and we aren’t so easy to talk down to… I think it is another stress to the communication challenges. You make a really good point. Thank you.

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