Worried pet owners in waiting room

Wherever I go it seems I am almost always talking about pet health. And I am often struck by the difference between what concerns me as a veterinarian and what concerns pet owners. So I polled my colleagues about what issues pet owners worry about more than they should and what issues pet owners worry about less than they should. This week, I’ll take a look at what pet owners are over-thinking; next week, I’ll talk about where you should be focusing your worry energy.

My goal here is not to chastise or lecture anyone. Rather, I hope to help pet owners allocate their resources — energy, time and money — in ways that are more productive when it comes to the health of their pets. And, of course, I hope it triggers discussion, so please weigh in with your thoughts in the comments.

So what do pet owners worry about too much? Here are the topics that almost every one of my veterinary colleagues named.


Though no medical procedure is without risk, anesthesia has a high rate of safety, especially with pre-op screening to spot health problems that need to be addressed and proper protocols during surgical procedures, including heated pads, IV lines and monitoring by a specially trained veterinary technician. Despite the advancements in safety, pet owners routinely turn down important care for their pets, such as dental care, or choose substandard options such as cosmetic no-anesthesia teeth cleaning because of their fears of anesthetizing their pets. Such decisions can reduce a pet’s quality of life or actually shorten his life.

If you’re worried about anesthesia, discuss your concerns with your veterinarian, but don’t use your fear as a reason to deny your pet care that can truly make his life better. And do your part to help your veterinarian by following advice to the letter when it comes to withholding food and, in some cases, water beforehand.

Pain Medications

The increased management of pain is one of the more significant developments in my 30-plus years of practicing veterinary medicine. I can’t really fault pet owners for being hesitant to give their pets pain medication, though, since when I was in veterinary school the common view was that pain in pets was often a good thing, since it kept animals from moving around and reinjuring themselves. That’s not the thinking any longer. We now know that controlling pain in pets is not only kinder but also helps reduce stress so healing is faster. Modern pain management is an important part of surgical procedures these days, and it’s also used to improve the lives of older pets with osteoarthritis and even dying pets who can live well for weeks and even months after a terminal diagnosis with good pain control.

Your veterinarian may suggest ongoing screening to be sure your pet is tolerating the medications and will rely on you to check in with problems at home, such as vomiting. But don’t let your pet suffer with pain. It’s just cruel.


Nutrition isn’t exactly something that pet owners worry about too much — instead, pet owners in general worry about the wrong things when it comes to nutrition. No matter your budget or where you like to shop — pet supply store, supermarket, etc. — your veterinarian can help you choose a good food for your pet. Dogs have very flexible needs when it comes to eating, and I honestly can’t think of how a dog with access to any commercially available product today is going to die of malnutrition. Cats have more precise nutritional needs, but they’re nothing your veterinarian can’t help you sort out with a minimum of fuss.

And that’s the deal: I personally don’t believe you need to worry about finding a good food for your pet. There are lots and lots of good options, at every price point, in every kind of retailer, and even if you want to prepare food from scratch, that’s possible too with veterinary advice. Ask your veterinarian to help you with all of it.

What aren’t pet owners worrying about enough? Read: What Should Pet Owners Worry About? Preventive Pet Care 

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