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2. Pet owner attitude. We naturally believe that others see the world (including pets) as we do. In my experience, however, there are enormous differences in how people view companion animals. I see dog owners who have never let their pet inside the house, and others who have given up sleeping in their beds so that their dogs will be more comfortable there. I know cat owners who have not traveled in years because of concerns about a pet in fragile health, and I know cat owners who think that life-prolonging medications are “unnatural.”
I make it a point not to judge people as “good” or “bad” pet owners, because everyone has different experiences, philosophies and deep-seated beliefs about life, death and animals.
I see so much variation, in fact, that it is nearly impossible for me to anticipate how people will feel about a given treatment plan until we discuss it. I discussthe most aggressive treatment options not because I want to shame anyone into taking every measure possible or to get as much money as I can from them. I discuss these options because I never know how a pet owner will view such options, and I learned a long time ago that making assumptions about people is a good way to end up looking foolish.
3. My responsibility to pets. As a veterinarian, it’s my job to take the best care possible of each pet. In order to do that, I need to talk to pet owners about the full range of medical care options, including those with the best chance of success. That doesn’t mean every owner has to agree to the most aggressive course. It just means I have to be honest in explaining what I believe the best choices are. It’s my job to make a pet better as quickly and painlessly as possible.
So yes, I always want to provide the best care I can, with the best outcome possible. But as veterinarians, if our goal is the long-term health of pets, then we need to do what we can with the resources people have. That means doctors and pet owners need to create effective medical treatment plans together. To be a meaningful part of this process, pet owners should take an active role: Read up on topics of concern, bring lists of questions, listen intently and ask for clarification when needed. Understanding your options, and the benefits and drawbacks among them, is important.
When it comes to the veterinarian’s role in controlling the cost of medical care, there’s no clear-cut answer. Unfortunately, we doctors can’t change the cost of medicine, and some treatments require quite a financial stretch on the part of the pet owner (while others ultimately may turn out to be simply unaffordable). But it would be wise for doctors and pet owners to take all factors into consideration together when making decisions like these. Honest input from all sides goes a long way toward crafting the best — and yes, most realistically affordable — treatment plan possible.
Read more articles by Dr. Andy Roark.
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