I recently read an article that said that visits to the vet are down 26% since 2006. In part, this is due to the recession – people skimp on preventative care in order to cut down on their monthly bills. But this significant decline is also attributed to the rise in online information available to pet owners – more pet parents are taking matters into their own hands when it comes to diagnosing and treating their animals’ ailments.
This may sound strange coming from someone who runs a canine cancer and health information website…but to me, these numbers are depressing, and downright scary!
First of all, the idea that preventative care is a waste of money is horribly inaccurate. Although I do believe that pet owners are much more likely to identify a problem with their dog through regular observation and daily care than their vet can in annual, or semi-annual visits, there’s just no substitute for those regular check-ups when it comes to identifying things that aren’t yet obvious. Regular blood panels, fecal tests, weight checks and a physical exam by an experienced veterinarian can identify small changes early and can prompt important conversations with the vet that can help you prevent a larger (and much more expensive) problem from developing in down the road. The truth is that none of us are perfect pet parents and sometimes familiarity can breed blindness when it comes to seeing subtle changes in your pet’s health or demeanor.
I remember when Georgia was first diagnosed with cancer. It was such a shock and seemed to come out of the blue. But once she hit her stride during chemotherapy, put on a few pounds and regained her energy, we suddenly realized that she had actually shown signs of her illness before it was diagnosed. When we looked at pictures from just before the time of her diagnosis, you could see that something wasn’t right. But that was only in retrospect. At the time, she was as beautiful and healthy in our eyes as she had always been. Sometimes an objective opinion is important.
These preventative checkups are also an important part of building a strong relationship with your vet, which becomes especially important in times of crisis, when a serious illness or injury does occur. You want to know and trust the medical professionals you’re working with. And you want your vet to really know you and your dog so they can offer you the best support and advice possible.
Which leads me to the other issue – relying on the internet for your pet’s health care.
I’ll be the first to admit that online pet health information is a godsend. I’m still amazed at how much more information is available online today than back in 2005 when I found myself sitting at the computer all night long trying to learn about canine lymphoma and chemotherapy for dogs. It’s an entirely new world for pet owners, and you can find detailed (and reliable) information on virtually any pet health issue on the internet now. Plus, you don’t have to stop with just the “official” information provided by the experts. You can also find pet owner comments, stories, reviews and advice to help guide you as you make decisions about your pet’s health. But should that ever take the place of visiting the vet? NO!!
The benefit of all of this online information is not to REPLACE your vet – it’s to help you be an active partner WITH your vet. So you can have better questions to ask and have more in depth conversations with them about how to manage your dog’s health issues and most importantly, MAINTAIN their good health. Online information is helpful because you don’t have to feel that you are relying exclusively on one person’s opinions for all of the answers – instead, you can work effectively with your vet to be the best advocate possible for your dog – balancing your values and your intimate knowledge of your dog with their expertise and knowledge of veterinary medicine.
No vet is perfect, and just like in any profession, they are continually learning and adapting as new information becomes available and as experience teaches them how to do their job more effectively. And if you become an educated, open minded pet owner, you may not always agree with your vet’s initial suggestions (and they may not always agree with yours either!). But don’t make the mistake of discounting their years of training and experience – listen to their ideas, ask them questions and be an active player on your dog’s health care team.
The knowledge you gain from online research can help you to earn respect when discussing complex issues, and may even give you the opportunity to teach your vet something new every now and then, but no amount of online research should replace this critical part of your dog’s health care. It’s easy to do a lot of focused research online and fool yourself into thinking that you are an expert in the subject matter – but don’t make the mistake of becoming overconfident. If your vet does recommend something that doesn’t sound right to you or is contrary to what you’ve read online, don’t assume they’re wrong. Find out what their rationale is, understand all of the factors they are considering, and respect that they usually know what they are doing and have valid reasons for the recommendations they make. That doesn’t mean you have to follow their advice blindly, but together, as a team, you should be able to make the best possible decisions regarding your dog’s care and find a happy medium where everyone is on board with the plan.
Okay, I’d be lying if I said that every vet in the country is comfortable with this new generation of informed and self-educated pet owners. Unfortunately, some still like to live in an ivory tower and see their word as gospel. But that’s the minority. Most vets are caring, compassionate and dedicated professionals who truly want your pet to live a long, healthy and happy life, just as you do. So if you don’t currently have the right vet to meet your needs, find one that does, and build a strong relationship with them. Take the time to find one that you trust and one that you are comfortable taking your dog to regularly, and that will listen to your concerns and respect your place on the team.
The old adage, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” applies to veterinary care too. So don’t forget the vet by skimping on checkups and relying on the internet alone to manage your dog’s health. In times of illness, your veterinarian can be one of your best allies, and is critical to your dog’s wellbeing. So take the time to build this relationship through regular visits and respectful dialogue.
Your pet will thank you for it.