By Hindy Pearson
I truly enjoy writing these monthly articles, sharing my experiences and tips I’ve learned on the journey I take with my senior dogs.
I’m never short of topic ideas, yet this month I was overwhelmed by a number of issues I felt compelled to write about, and I had a hard time narrowing them down to one.
The reason I chose this one over the others, is because of Facebook posts I’ve been reading the past few days. They were written by a woman who had to say goodbye to her best friend, and was having an impossible time coping. She wasn’t confident in the information she had been getting from her vet, and is now agonising over whether she made a mistake by putting her dog down. Based on everything she wrote I believe she made the best decision for her friend, but when you don’t have complete faith in your vet the uncertainly can torment you, as it is her.
Have you guessed my number one secret to caring for a senior dog?
You got it – finding an awesome vet.
Why doesn’t everyone want one?
In the waiting room I can’t help but strike up conversations with other pet parents. Really it’s because I can’t resist interacting with all the adorable cats, dogs and rabbits I meet, but I’m also a curious person and like to hear stories.
I have met a lot of guardians who love their vet, and would never see anyone else unless it was emergency. I’ve also met some who describe their vet as either “okay” or “I don’t really like him/her.” Some don’t even know who their appointment is with!!
If your dog is going for a rabies shot for example, then I can understand seeing “whoever.” If you have a senior dog, particularly one with ongoing health issues, not having one vet in charge of care is, as far as I’m concerned, a huge risk and not one I would ever take. Vets have different opinions and approaches, some are good at what they do and others not so much, so how can an animal be properly cared for by “whoever?”
My experiences with the good, the bad and the downright ugly
I’m afraid my horror stories can fill a book, but I will give you a few brief examples.
When we moved to Florida I had to leave my trustworthy vet behind, and begin the task of finding another. My search took me through 9 vets and while I may be fussy, I can assure you it wasn’t me. Well, let me backtrack. If it sounds right to always recommend the most invasive and expensive tests first, then it was me. What about coming into the exam room while you’re crying your eyes out because you’re about to put your cat to sleep, to collect payment before they do it? Did anyone say blackmail?
Imagine being in a new city, you have no idea where you are in relation to anything else, your cat is diagnosed with cancer and you are handed a card with an oncologist’s name and number on it. You are then told she goes to offices in different cities so call and arrange an appointment. Really? Thanks for the support.
My next vet said one of my cats had a problem with her tongue, when in fact she had cancer.
Another vet panicked during dental surgery and was responsible for the death of my precious puppy mill rescue named Saffy. To this day I have not recovered from that horror.
My current vet is amazing, and I am positive Red would not still be with me if I hadn’t met him. The problems start when he’s away. Three different times over the span off a couple of years Red required veterinary care, and each time she saw a different vet at the practice. Each one also tried to convince me it was time to say goodbye.
When that time comes, and I will know it when it arrives, I will make that decision, as soul destroying as it will be. Each one misdiagnosed her and my dog was, and is, fine.
What about the people who would have trusted them? That scares me and should scare you as well.
My top tips for finding a great vet
I would like for you to be able to say you have a great vet who you trust with your dog’s life, and for that reason I have written down some tips to help you find just that.
Okay, not all of my recommendations worked out too well, but it was a place to start. Ask people you know who take great care of their animals, and you might just find “the one.”
Starting from scratch
Of course if you’re new in town or simply don’t know anyone with a pet, do an internet search for vets in your area. Check out their website, see what services they offer, the qualifications of their vets, office hours and read some reviews if you can find them. Call or drop in to check out the place, and ask to make an appointment to meet the vet.
Take note of the cleanliness of the waiting and exam rooms, not to mention the operating and boarding areas if the tour includes that.
Talk to people in the waiting room and ask which vet they see, and what they think of the practice.
Holistic, traditional or both?
That depends on the type of care you prefer. Holistic looks at the whole being and treats the underlying problem, rather than just masking the symptoms. They use supplements, whole food diets and treatments such as acupuncture. They do prescribe medication when it is deemed to be the best option.
A traditional vet will prescribe medications and prescription diets, and some will be open to supplements and alternatives, while others won’t.
If you’re curious to learn more about how a natural approach can help your senior dog, search for holistic vets in your area. Consultations are usually free and you are under no obligation to become a client. You may want the best of both worlds and decide to go with both “styles” of veterinary care. I do!
Red was on a lot of medication and although they were helping her tremendously, I was concerned with the amount of chemicals her little body had to process over the course of years. My holistic vet has replaced three of those drugs with supplements, created a recipe for a whole foods home cooked diet, and recommended regular acupuncture treatments. I see the difference and I’m very happy with the results.
Attitude towards old dogs
Can you believe I even have to mention this? Sadly there are vets who have a terrible attitude about old dogs, and they don’t hide it. I had that experience when my vet was away, and upon his return I made sure he knew what that staff member’s feelings were.
I highly recommend you have a conversation with any vet you’re considering, so you know you’re on the same page. I’m not talking about heroic measures, as I believe it is cruel to allow an animal to suffer simply because we cannot bear to let them go.
However that’s different from believing life is precious, and old dogs deserve the same care and respect they would give to others.
A “one vet practice” or animal hospital…fully loaded
Don’t be fooled into believing the bigger the practice the better the vet. One man (or woman) operations can be lifesavers, literally, while big practices can lead to heartache and vice versa.
Things to consider include the types of tests that can be performed in house, flexibility (or lack thereof) in terms of policies and procedures, boarding facilities, office hours, preference for a male or female vet, and anything else you feel is important.
Does your vet have to be a world renowned cardiologist and lecturer with 25 years of experience? A year or two out of school? Somewhere in between?
Distance from your home
Be realistic about how far you are willing or able to travel. Do you have the time or inclination to make a long journey in traffic, especially if you’ve been working all day? Factor in your lifestyle and commitments to help you decide.
Some vets have weekend hours, most don’t. Some have early starts and late finishes every day, some once a week, some never. A fantastic vet whose practice is never open during hours you can see him is of no help.
Find out what options they offer when it comes to out of hours emergency care, or if there is a 24 hour emergency hospital in your area.
Continuity of care
Without sounding melodramatic, continuity of care can be the difference between life and death in some cases. My vet is an excellent clinician, a lecturer in cardiology and internal medicine and, most importantly understands the nuances of Red’s condition.
She has several issues and he always does an excellent job of caring for her. When there was no continuity (occasions beyond my control), things could have turned out very differently had I not been as involved in Red’s care as I am, or question as much as I do.
Bedside manner is important to me, both in the professionals I deal with for myself and my animals. I want to feel comfortable during appointments, I want my concerns to be taken seriously and to feel like the vet really cares about the wellbeing of my pets.
How important are boarding facilities if you find a great vet who doesn’t offer that service? There are other options such as family, friends and pet sitters who will stay in your home, or your dog can go to theirs.
If you prefer to board your dog at the vet, be sure to check…
- Cleanliness of the kennels
- How often the dogs go out
- Do they get to play with other dogs?
- Are they in cages or runs?
- The cost and how charges are calculated
- Is there 24/7 staff, or are they alone overnight?
- Is there an extra charge for administering medication?
Sometimes it comes down to trial and error and personal taste
You’ve read about my “trials and errors” but there’s who you “click” with as well. A neighbour of mine uses one of the other vets at the practice I go to, and she can’t say enough wonderful things about her. My husband and I can’t stand her.
My number one secret to caring for a senior dog – conclusion
I have always relied on my vets to help me care for my animals, but never more so than these past few years as I care for my 16 year old named Red. She is the love of my life, and I could never trust that life to just anyone.
Please… if you’re not happy with the vet you chose for whatever reason, move on. If something is bugging you, pay attention to that inner voice. Your dog’s life may depend on it.
This post was written by author Hindy Pearson. She is a long time shelter volunteer, dog trainer, and runs the Saffy Pearson Resource Centre. A mobile centre offering free advice for people who share their lives with cats and dogs. She has a website called Caring For a Senior Dog and thinks the pet stroller is the greatest invention.