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We see a lot of hyperbolic titles these days, and sadly it can affect an otherwise good article before you even begin to read it – your first impression gets in the way. This is certainly the case in a recent article by Dogs Naturally Magazine called “Five Things Your Vet Says That Aren’t True”. While a lot of the article has merit, and I do really like this website and encourage you to read the good points they raise, it is misleading from the start and could put many veterinarians on the defensive – as evidenced by the comments. So in this article I want to present a good way to prepare yourself for a vet visit that may include an important discussion or decision. Instead of heading into the office with five reasons the vet will work against you, take a more productive approach by deciding, and trying, to work with instead of against your vet.

Why is this so important? Articles like the one on Dogs Naturally affect those of us who choose to research and present our findings and concerns to veterinarians in a responsible way. The defensiveness caused by such sentiments affects the open conversations many of us hope to achieve. So with that, here are five ways you can attempt to work with your vets to arrive at a decision concerning your pet. Don’t head in assuming what they will say isn’t true (just like you don’t want them to think what you’re saying isn’t true!) If it comes to a place of “we’re all going to have to agree to disagree”, deal with that when the time comes… not before you head in the exam room door.

How to thoughtfully prepare for your vet visit

Writing titles and articles to gain links and attention doesn’t help you, the reader, much does it. So let’s try to take a thoughtful approach and not assume vets don’t know what they’re doing. So here are a few ideas about how to go into the vet office, perhaps for a routine vaccination or whatever else is on the table, and prepare for what may be an important or difficult discussion.

Note: On the topic of vaccinations, as discussed in the article being discussed in this post, I encourage you to read these quality articles from the research of Doctors Jean Dodds and Ron Schultz (both linked here). If you are tackling this complicated subject, they are two good references to have in your pocket.

1) Arm yourself with research prior to your visit

  • Find quality resources, such as articles by veterinarians (conventional and alternative), scientists, and unbiased studies (this last one is a tough one, I know).
  • Speak to trusted friends, ones where you feel they have taken care to educate themselves on the matter.
  • Look at both sides of the issue, and consider both sides carefully. Don’t write anything off.
  • Make notes about things that you do not understand. Ask your vet.
  • Make notes about the things that you do understand. Share with your vet, and see if they counter any data – make notes if they do, and research further if need be.

This is one special caution: take caution not to “research what you want to hear” or “interpret data” in this manner. I have to tell myself that many times, as I don’t want to take the risk of injecting my dogs with anything if I don’t have to. I always want to take the natural approach, but sometimes it isn’t the best route. Remember to look at all sides before arriving at a conclusion.

2) Consider the risk to benefit ratio for your pet

When doing your research, make notes about the risks and benefits of any one treatment (or vaccine, and so on). You may want to divide these into two columns, to make an easier assessment about which is greater: the risk, or the benefit to your dog.

Take this to your visit, and get the input from your vet. Discuss which side they think is greater to help make a decision about treatment.

3) Prepare questions and data points for the vet in advance

As a result of “1” and “2” you should have a solid collection of information to take to your visit. Make an easy list to refer to containing questions, separate from the data you collected (which you should also take along). I don’t know about you, but I always get a bit nervous because I do not know how to anticipate the reaction of some vets – even ones that I know have a similar viewpoint to my own. Having everything organized and written down in advance really seems to help.

Ask your vet to comment on the data points, and ask for their input on your questions. Write notes. Except in urgent situations, I personally like to take my time to make a decision. I like to research authoritative resources, and if possible speak to multiple vets (although I do understand this is a luxury).

Do understand that some vets don’t like to be questioned (and you may need to consider other options if this is the case), but many are open as long as you approach them with respect. It goes both ways! Many vets will want to work with you, and will be patient in answering your questions and provide further information.

Also know that some vets may not agree with the resources you have produced, and many vets hate “those who google”, but stand firm in your right to research and grow your knowledge. Just remember to do so from reputable resources (other vets, scientific papers, and reliable anecdotal evidence). Ask them to help you interpret the information, and ask for their help in making a decision. If you want, then take their information, and research further before arriving at a decision. You often don’t need to make it in the exam room unless it’s an urgent situation.

4) Work with your vet with a level-headed approach, but make the final decision

Know that your pet is your responsibility, not that of your vet. The standard and type of your pet’s care is up to you. But do take that responsibility very seriously, and carefully consider your approach to a vet visit. Stay open minded, and open to a vet’s knowledge and background – even though there is bias and opinion involved at times, as mentioned in the Dogs Naturally article, there is also a lot of education and hard work. You don’t have to agree, but it doesn’t help anyone if both sides write each other off without a productive conversation. After all, you’re paying for the visit and probably chose to see the vet due to their expertise and the needs of your pet! Respect on both sides goes a long way towards productivity, and a positive result.

You might not end up agreeing with your vet, but you will have the confidence in knowing you did the best you could with reputable information you collected and discussed at the time.

5) Instill trust in professionals during an emergency

I’ve been in the ER a few times with one of my dogs, when you (typically) don’t have the option to choose who will work on your pet. It’s incredibly stressful, not just for your pet and you but everyone involved. If you can, try to place trust in the professionals caring for your pet at this time. I know it’s hard, and yes do try to advocate for them as much as you can, but this is the time to “let go” a bit and let the emergency care professionals do their job to save your pet. From an efficiency and time standpoint, there is a benefit to quick decision making when time is of the essence.

An open mind with quality data goes a long way

In summary, don’t only rely on the internet, and definitely bring in a professional to help you decide about the best course of treatment. Find the highest quality resources you can, and build your own knowledge base. But don’t work against your vet, or some vets may become defensive or find the approach disrespectful. This could put you in a very difficult position if you do not have any other options for veterinary care. Try to work with your vet to gain additional knowledge, and work with them in a respectful way to arrive at your final decision.

Check out the Thursday Bark And Bytes Blog Hop hosted by 2 Brown Dawgs and Heart Like A Dog. Enter here!

About Author

Jen deHaan is graphic designer, small business owner, and dog person living in Bay Area, California. Jen enjoys learning about dog training and behavior, and has taken several courses and seminars since 2010. She also contributes articles to leading websites, such as Victoria Stilwell's Positively . It all started with a great dog called Mikey (aka "dude"), loved and lost but remembered forever. Jen also runs a freelance business focusing on graphic, web, and UI design at FoundPixel, and a small business creating hand crafted dog products at Stylish Canine.

  • Excellent suggestions, especially not working against your vet. Too many people seem to have an adversarial relationship with their vet which I do not understand.

    To my mind when it comes to medical topics the internet is not always your friend. I think Dogs Naturally has an agenda and so any valid points they may have in their articles are lost on me. I can never cut through the agenda.

    That is not to say that I do not ask questions of my vet when he or she makes a recommendation. It is no different than questions I might ask my own doctor when she recommends a particular treatment. I ask questions and listen to answers. I love my vet because the clinic sees a lot of animals on any given day so the vets are experienced and will share what they are seeing. Some of that goes to vaccines and heartworm and flea and tick treatments.

    Finally, I am not on the anti-vaccine bandwagon. I am old enough to remember when dogs routinely died from certain diseases because there was no vaccine. It was truly heartbreaking. I also remember a time a few years ago when some dogs contracted diseases they had been vaccinated for as pups but had missed re-vaccination over the years.

    Thanks so much for joining the hop!

    • I hear you about that agenda. I think the site has really changed in the past while, to the point I’m also not sure what to think anymore either.

      Such a good point about being able to take advantage of what the vets see. It really hit home when Mort went through his bowel perforation. I had read on so many sites (including Dogs Naturally recently!) about how perforation never happens with raw food… but there we were, with it happening. The vets were surprised as well, given it is rare, but it’s something they would see that would contradict many websites and hopefully then share with clients. Something I really wish I knew before starting to feed raw bones – not sure I would have stopped, but I would have been aware of the risk and symptoms.

      Anyway – love your hop and thanks for coming by!

  • jana rade

    It’s so simple … If you don’t like you vet, find another one. It is true that not all vets were created equal. It is important to find one that is good. When you find one, work WITH them. I couldn’t agree more with that.

    • We’re still searching for a super good fit (the vet we’d love to see isn’t taking new clients) – and considering a super long drive to our former vet who is far away now! But until then we’ll evaluate using the tactics here I guess :)

  • Thanks for the thoughtful, well balanced post about this topic. There’s a lot of information these days on the internet that influences dog owners which may or may not be helpful or healthy for a dog. There are also many vets out there practicing for profit over the health of pets. This is great advice about finding the middle ground, doing your own research and using some common sense when discussing your pet’s health with your vet. Thanks for giving your perspective, I’ll be sharing this.

  • I see that the DNM post has divided the blogging community a bit! I follow the site but lately their articles have just been making me mad. I’m killing my dogs with kibble, killing them with vaccines and killing them with peanut butter. I do tend to take a conservative approach to vaccines but I think the backlash against them entirely is dangerous. Yes, my vet may want me to vaccinate more often than I feel comfortable with and they might carry Hills and Purina in their lobby, but they are still the one who went to vet school, not me. I depend on my vet to help me make medical decisions for my animals and I agree with other commenters that it’s so important to find one that you can have a good relationship with.

  • This is a great post.

    I’m a big fan of DNM, but that’s because I get great ideas on things that will benefit our dogs, but I don’t stop with DNM. Instead, I see what they have to say and then weigh it against what I know about our dogs and I do more homework. The post about the peanut butter was just strange and out of left field, so I chose to treat that as a “thanks for sharing” type of post.

    When it comes to our relationship with our vets, I read this post with 1 vet in mind. I think most vets are great and are doing the best with the information they have and they are open to discussing our concerns about their care. The one vet who wasn’t was a monster. He recommended surgery for a dog who didn’t need it. He misdiagnosed our puppy, leading us to wait longer to get her care (because we stupidly trusted him) and she died later – I don’t blame the vet, but it soured me towards vets. I have a laundry list of horrible experiences with this vet until one day I realized that I could leave. Stupid
    that I didn’t realize that right away, but I thought “he’s the expert, he has
    the degree, who am I to question him?”

    This is the same vet who let Blue die in the back of our neighbor’s car, because he wasn’t sure if we’d pay the bill.

    Since then, I’ve met many great vets who have taught me a lot about our dogs, welcome open discussions, and are happy to educate me and help
    me be a better dog owner. But that’s not all vets. I’ve heard from several who
    disagree with raw feeding and other things I write about – I’ve stopped having discussions with them, because mutual respect is important. But before that comes trust and for a long time, I didn’t trust vets until I found a few who showed me that not all vets are in it for the money.

    Thanks for reminding us to have a discussion with our vet (or at least try to open that door).