Breaking Up Is Hard to Do: How to Know When You Need a New Vet

Veterinarian and client

It’s uncomfortable. Very uncomfortable. But what’s a pet owner to do when all the signs are there and the last straw hits the camel’s back? Sometimes divorcing your veterinarian is the only way to make you feel better about the quality of your pet’s health care experience.

It’s not necessarily because said veterinarian isn’t smart, thorough or competent. Indeed, the main reason pet owners cite for switching vets isn’t about price, convenience or performance. Rather, it’s more to do with the almighty “click” factor — as in either you do or you don’t.

Although I’m always supportive of anyone who seeks a better relationship with a veterinarian, I’m never too comfortable with new clients who tell me that they’ve just divorced their vets. I hate feeling that I might be responsible for “breaking up” a relationship — even if I’m just the innocent “other woman” who showed up well after the fall.

That’s partly why I counsel these clients to reconsider their decision to terminate a preexisting relationship — even more so if I know that a client's former veterinarian is truly a great one. After all, sometimes the problem is a series of miscommunications, rather than an all-out lack of connection. And great vets who already know your pets well are hard to come by.

Nonetheless, sometimes it’s abundantly clear that the relationship deserves to die. It’s at these times that I have no qualms when it comes to just keeping my mouth shut and accepting the newbie client. So it is that, less than a week after we celebrated the annual Hallmark holiday of romance, I present you with my top 10 reasons for killing the love between you and your veterinarian for good:

1. Obfuscations

Downplaying, minimizing, concealing or otherwise obfuscating relevant details about your pet’s condition or complication — regardless of intentions — is all grounds for a vet divorce.

2. Untoward Practices

Finding out-of-line charges on your bill? Catch wind of who really performed your pet’s surgery? Be fair. Listen to their side. Most cases are innocent, innocuous and not representative of a hospital or a veterinarian’s philosophy of practice. But if it’s a chronic problem, you should probably call it quits.

3. Talking Out of School

Disclosing your pet’s sensitive case to friends and family without your permission can be devastating. I’m so careful about this in my writing: I change names, dates, breeds, gender, everything . . . and that’s only after I get permission. But I still worry — and I have cause to. I’ve crossed the line before, so I’m especially sensitive to this now. Sometimes asking permission is far better than begging for forgiveness later.

4. Too Expensive

It happens to most of us in our pet-owning lives. We all know what we can afford and what we can’t. If you can’t handle the fancy-practice prices, there are ways to find more moderately priced practices that reflect the same values and philosophies. It’s hard work, and you may have to drive further, but this can often be done successfully.

5. Emotional Distress

Plenty of pet people are unable to return to a practice after their animal has been euthanized there. It’s no stretch to say that post-traumatic stress disorder is a very real factor for some owners after they’ve lost pets, and the scene of the crime, as it were, is tough for some to come back to.

6. Does Your Vet Talk Down to You?

Some vets just don’t know you from Adam, so they treat you like a babe in the woods. I know this from my personal experience with human clinicians, and I can’t abide by it. And neither should you. Ask to get the vocab ratcheted up a notch. If a blank stare and more prattle ensues, you know what you have to do.

7. It’s Just Not “Clicking”

Sometimes the mojo just isn’t there.

8. Can You Say That Again, Please?

Veterinarians who don’t explain or elaborate — or who speak exclusively in medicalese — must sometimes be prompted to explain themselves. Sometimes it’s OK (specialists tend to get more of a pass), but if it’s a chronic problem (in spite of your entreaties), and you’re the kind of person who needs to understand the case well, break it off before you get frustrated.

9. Variety in Vet Medicine Is Good

You deserve to be offered a range of options for every condition, from specialist care to less expensive alternatives. If you don’t feel that you’re getting the full range, and that bothers you, you should squeak like a needy wheel. If the lack of alternatives persists, despite your insistence, you need another vet.

10. It Comes Down to Trust

And if it isn't there . . . enough said.

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