“I will not hospitalize my dog,” I said adamantly.
Her face flushed, and she met my response with quiet frustration.
She wanted me to leave my dog in her care, and I had flatly refused.
Working to maintain her composure, she proceeded to explain to me the severity of my dog’s condition. She discussed with me the results of the blood panel she had run, and held up X-rays which told us that my dog suffered from “gas bloat” and that her Vena Cava was greatly depressed due to the pressure from her swollen stomach. My dog’s condition was life threatening, and the vet was recommending immediate treatment and hospitalization.
I acknowledged her attempts at convincing me to leave my dog, but as she argued her case, I heard her words through a filter.
“She’s critical,” she said, as my mind drifted back to the moment when the vet tech attempted to drag the 120 lb dog to the back by a slip lead around her throat; the moment my dog was nearly choked out as the tech pulled, knowing full well she was unable to walk; the moment that two of us had to step in to carry my dog to the back, despite the constant arguments that came from the callous employee.
“I will not hospitalize my dog,” I repeated as the doctor paused, awaiting my response after her dramatic appeal to my conscience. But a guilt trip wouldn’t work. Not this time.
“Ok,” she said. “I’ll prepare an estimate for both hospitalization and outpatient treatment.” And before I could argue, she exited the room.
I was exasperated with the woman’s pushiness and complete disregard for the fact that I had repeatedly declined hospitalization. I was unhappy with the care my dog had received thus far, and, confident she would be more comfortable on her own bed, I wanted to take her home. This was my dog, and ultimately, this was my choice.
You see, this wasn’t the first time we had been in this situation. And this wasn’t the first vet who had treated us poorly when we refused their recommendation.
In fact, my dog had a medical history. And we didn’t get her to age 13 (she’s a Great Dane) without knowing a thing or two about her care and what is best for her.
Kira suffered from a condition that caused her to periodically regurgitate her food or water, and aspirate the material into her lungs. When this happened, she required immediate medical intervention with fluids and antibiotics. Every time I took her into a new vet, I was met with the same guilt trip when I refused hospitalization. In fact, at times, I was quite literally met with threats that if I took my dog home with me, I’d surely kill her.
But she always recovered. And if you ever saw this giant chicken of a dog at the vet, you’d understand why whenever I felt like I was able to manage her care at home, I’d promptly assume the risks and minimize her time at the vet. Fueled by past experiences, I knew that the stress she would feel if I left her in a critical state at a vet’s office without me there to hold her paw would surely be the end of her.
Moments after the vet left the room, another tech entered, ready to present me with my estimate. He was pleasant, kind, and had a sense of humor. I liked him. And, while I understood why they chose him, I felt bad he was the one tasked with the job of getting customers to agree to clean out their pockets to save their beloved pets.
He presented me with the estimate for hospitalization. The figures printed on the stark white paper were vague and offered no insight into the treatment plan whatsoever. While I knew I was going to decline the estimate, I needed to fully understand their “ideal” plan of treatment, so I asked him to spell out each line item in detail.
I asked what “Laboratory Fees” meant. I wanted to know what tests they wanted to run and why. I asked what “Medications” meant, as I wanted to know what they planned to dispense and how. I wanted to know exactly what they planned to do and why it couldn’t be done at home. I then respectfully and kindly declined the estimate and informed him once again that I would not be hospitalizing my dog.
He did not have with him an estimate for outpatient therapy, like the vet had promised. Perhaps she thought I would feel enough guilt by now that I’d agree to subjecting my dog to the overbearing and unnecessary treatment. Perhaps she didn’t want to give me another option. Perhaps she had a quota to meet. Whatever the reason, my frustration mounted as I had to wait another 10 minutes for a second estimate, and my critically ill dog had to wait another 10 minutes for treatment.
The second estimate was equally vague. Again, I had the tech spell out each line item, and again, I found myself striking items from the list. But this one didn’t include hospitalization. And since all of the medications were to be given orally, and the only real reason they wanted to keep her was so that she could “stay on fluids and be monitored throughout the course of the night”, I knew I would be taking her home. She would be more comfortable there, and I could monitor her just as well, if not better than the callous techs at the vet hospital who thought it perfectly acceptable to drag dogs who couldn’t walk around by their necks. (Yes, I am STILL upset about that).
As I signed the second estimate, I noted the items I disagreed with, specifically the bloodwork that they had already run without my permission and that I wouldn’t have agreed to in the first place. The tech then informed me that the doctor wanted to speak with me again about my decision.
At this point, I was downright infuriated with the woman. Not only had the care I had witnessed my dog receive thus far left me with a very strong feeling of distrust, but I had told her multiple times I would not be hospitalizing my dog. Why wouldn’t she leave it alone?
She entered the room again. She was missing the clipboard this time, and as she bounced in, she reminded me of an elementary school straight A student proudly marching up to the teacher to tattle on one of her classmates.
We talked for quite sometime.
She cautioned me repeatedly that my dog could die if I took her home, and I explained that I would take my chances and that I thought she was better off with me.
“She could continue to decline…” she told me.
“Is she declining now?” I asked.
“No,” was the answer. She was stabilized. The vet simply wanted to keep her under her “watchful eye” in case anything were to change.
“If I were to leave her, would you administer medications orally or intravenously?” I asked.
“Orally,” was the answer. Something I could easily accomplish at home.
It was becoming more apparent with every word she uttered that I could easily manage my dog’s care at home and that, while I understood that an emergency could arise over the course of the night, I was 5 minutes from the hospital and I could bring her back.
My dog survived the night. In fact, she thrived.
The next evening at about 6pm, the phone rang. It was the emergency vet calling to check on my dog.
At first, her call seemed innocent.
She asked me how Kira was feeling, slightly subduing my irritation with her and her clinic as I became convinced she was genuinely concerned for my dog’s well being.
In fact, that morning, my dog had visited our family vet where we developed a treatment plan that had my dog showing drastic improvements. The woman on the phone listened to our good news for a brief moment. She then cut me off, stopping me mid-sentence and crushing my enthusiasm with her latest theory. She informed me that she had sent my X-rays out for a second opinion and that there was a concern that my dog suffered from Mesenteric Torsion. She then urged me to get to my vet immediately for X-rays and to prepare for surgery.
But my vet was closed, as most vets are after 6pm. So inevitably, I’d have to return to the emergency vet, had her words concerned me enough to take action. Why had she waited until so late in the day? To ensure that my family vet was closed when she called? Given our interaction the night before, I found myself questioning her intentions at every turn.
I hung up the phone, my irritation peaking all over again. My dog is a 13 year old Great Dane with heart issues. Even I, with my limited veterinary knowledge, knew that she would likely never survive a surgery.
But once again, the emergency vet had planted a seed of self doubt.
Immediately, I began to research. In these instances, Google is my friend. I had never heard of Mesenteric Torsion so I wanted to know what the fuss was about, and I wanted to prepare myself if this was in fact a valid diagnosis.
Moments into my research, the phone rang again. This time, it was my family vet, calling after hours to check in on Kira. Her tone was sincere, and she legitimately wanted to know how my dog was doing.
I unloaded the latest news on her, barely letting her get a word in edgewise, emotionally explaining the emergency vet’s concerns and blasting her with a thousand questions.
“Meagan… ” she stopped me as I spoke, her voice calm and unwavering.
“If she had Mesenteric Torsion, she wouldn’t be improving,” she continued. “I really don’t think that’s what we are dealing with.”
I breathed a sigh of relief as she instantly soothed my worry, and I hung up the phone, confident once again in the treatment plan we had developed.
The Vets Know Best….Right?
Just like any profession, there are good vets and there are not so good vets. Having raised and trained dogs for nearly two decades, I can tell you without a doubt that the not so good vets outweigh the great ones by a landslide. The sad part about this is that, wittingly or unwittingly, veterinarians prey on the love that dog owners feel for their K9 family members. They understand that these four legged creatures have our hearts, leaving our decision making capabilities clouded by emotions.
Couple that with the fact that they are the “experts”, and we find ourselves signing away our paychecks in an effort to do what they tell us is best for our dogs.
But the question remains… Is it really what’s best?
Sometimes hospitalization may not be the best call. Sometimes it’s your only hope. Sometimes surgery is your only option. And sometimes it’s just plain unnecessary.
At the end of the day, you know your dog better than anyone. Vets included. If you feel strongly about something, speak up and don’t be afraid to go against the grain, no matter how much resistance you are met with.
Here are my recommendations:
- Speak Up – If you don’t know what an item is on an estimate, ask. If you don’t know what a test is for, make the vet explain it to you. Take a deep breath, and get your wits about you so that you can be informed when you make your decisions. Remember, these vets work for you so don’t let them rush you through the process.
- Is It Necessary? – When a vet prescribes a medication or decides to run a specific test, ask yourself these questions:
- Is this test or medication necessary?
- How will it improve my dog’s condition? How will it help?
- Will knowing the results of this test change my course of treatment?
- Will my dog’s condition worsen without it?
- When All Else Fails, Google It! – I’m a big advocate for knowing about every pill that enters your dog’s system and for understanding test results inside and out. For this reason, I strongly recommend doing your research. While the plethora of information available online can be overwhelming and can leave you self diagnosing your pet with anything and everything, I’d still encourage you to use the net to get informed. As you do, simply look up the facts so you can have an educated discussion with your vet. Understand the medications and test results, but don’t start jumping to conclusions until you’ve had a chance to talk it over with an expert.
- Don’t Be Afraid To Say “No” – Again, you know your dog better than anyone. Don’t let vets, or anyone for that matter, guilt you into doing something you aren’t comfortable with. It’s your dog and your choice.
- Build Your Team – Find a vet who you trust, a vet who listens and isn’t threatened when you ask questions. Align yourself with experts who will keep you informed and will listen when you advocate for your dog, and don’t be afraid to lean on them if an emergency strikes.
I knew my dog would be stressed at the hospital. I knew she would be happier at home. As she is older now, I am preparing myself (as best I can) for the fact that one day she won’t recover. When I take her home, I know I am taking a risk. But it’s a risk I am willing to take to ensure she has the best possible care in a loving place where she is comfortable.
Today, my dog is well. She is still a 13 year old Great Dane, but thanks to Google, OCD research by a worried dog mom, and a family vet who views our treatment protocol as a team effort as opposed to a guilt-inducing dictatorship designed only to empty my wallet, we’ve come to a diagnosis and developed a plan that has her improving daily and enjoying excellent quality of life.
At the end of the day, it isn’t okay for a vet to make you feel guilty for advocating for your dog. It’s unacceptable for them to treat you with anything but respect when you make a decision, even if it goes against what they are recommending. And it’s never okay for them to question your judgement. Remember, it’s your dog, and it’s your choice. You are your dog’s greatest advocate. Not the vet whose paychecks you write.