Breaking Up Is Hard to Do: A 7-Step Program for Divorcing Your Vet

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As with everything in life, there’s a right way and a wrong way to go about things. I mean, you’d never think to find the right veterinarian for your pets without a well-planned, strategic approach, right?

So, too, does the divorce between a vet and her client demand some simple etiquette that all amicable defectors, geographical relocators and disgruntled parties would do well to observe.

Here’s the dilemma: Maybe you’ve been with your vet for years, but sometimes you get the feeling that your pet may benefit from a change, especially now that your dog has kidney disease or your cat has diabetes.

Or perhaps you’ve come to realize that you and your vet really aren’t as like-minded as you once thought. Maybe you’ve always known that the mojo wasn’t there, but you just never got up the nerve to break up — or never had a good enough reason to move on.

In any case, there are some key features in this fraught landscape for you to consider as you seek greener pastures for your pet’s health-care needs.

1. Decision Time

This is the second column in a two-part series about breaking up with your vet. My first post detailed many of the criteria you might need to decide that splitting up is the best way to get the exact kind of veterinary care that works for you and your pet.

2. How to Say Goodbye

If you’ve been with your veterinarian for a long time, you may feel obligated to let him or her know that you’re moving on. If you’re on good terms, explaining in person or writing a nice letter may be the thing to do — but not always. For example, if you think that you’ll likely never see your vet casually or socially ever again, sometimes it’s OK to spare everyone the stress. If you have a major grievance, however, it’s probably your obligation to step up and explain things in person or in writing.

3. When to Talk Things Out

Remember what your mother told you: “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” After all, explanations, exhortations and confessions that aren’t going to change the course of human events should probably die on your tongue before they make it out of your mouth. If you have something constructive to say, I’d like to think that the vet would appreciate your honest assessment of her deficiencies.

4. All in the Family

Let’s say that you really want to try out a young, new vet in the practice, but you’re worried that you’ll offend your longtimer. Please remember that the reason your vet hired this young buck (or doe) is because he wants you to establish new relationships with trusted veterinarians. If you must say something, compliment your longtime vet on her choice of excellent colleagues.

If you’re just trying out all the vets in a practice to see who fits best, that’s almost always OK with us. Contrary to popular client belief, we’re not as sensitive about these things as you may think. The reason we practice together is because we trust one another and have learned to share well.

5. Ask for Medical Records

Saying goodbye is often hampered by one crucial thing: access to your medical records. In my experience, clients are so sensitive about not wanting to offend their past vet that they sometimes refuse to request records altogether, preferring that the new vet call for the records or that we “start over” with a whole new series of diagnostic tests, no matter the cost.

In terms of the latter, this all-too-common approach is typically not what’s best for your pet — having past records and X-rays handy usually means that your pet gets the best care possible.

I recommend that you always keep a copy of your pet’s medical records. Not only is this crucial should you travel with your pet or should she suffer an emergency after-hours, but it also means that you have the option of a second opinion at the ready. Many of my clients request copies of their records after every visit, or they frequent hospitals that offer portals.

The only caveat I'd add is that physical X-rays are not technically part of your medical records. We are required by law to keep them on file, which means they are not transferable from vet to vet, except when we know they'll be returned. Copies can be made, however, and digital X-rays can always be copied to a CD.

6. Don't Burn Bridges

Recognize that your change may not prove to be as productive as you'd hoped. You may feel the need to come back to the fold after a few months or years. It’s true that sometimes you don’t know what you have until you lose it. That’s why I always recommend that you leave any situation with a minimum of negativity.

7. Keep Your Eyes on the Prize

It’s all about getting what’s best for your pet. You shouldn’t feel that any one person stands in the way of your pet’s best interests. Be positive. Be honest. And don’t be a wuss. Do what you need to do on behalf of your pet. Vet egos are not so delicate — no, really.


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