As a vet, there is little I love more than an honest pet owner.
No, really. I love it when you guys are honest with me. It makes life a whole lot easier.
Whether it’s straight up admitting that your dog is here this morning because he stole your hash brownies and is now quite extraordinarily stoned, or (when faced with an admittedly spine chilling bill for dental work) sheepishly divulging that you have in fact never brushed your cat’s teeth (well, what did you expect?)
Some owner confessions provide a reliable source of entertainment in my occasionally rather tedious day-to-day existence as a veterinary surgeon. Others just help me do my job better.
In either case, I will always rate you significantly higher as a human being (and as a pet owner) if you bite the bullet and spill the beans.
So; if you’ve ever wondered what your vet is really thinking when you share your deepest, darkest pet parenting secrets with him or her, please – let me enlighten you.
1. “I’ve Never Brushed My Cat’s Teeth.”
Can I just start by saying that I have a cat, and some weeks I am equally guilty of this sin (although we do try.)
Cleaning Ernie’s teeth daily is a bloody nightmare sometimes, and I have seriously considered the possibility that he has borderline personality disorder at this point, such is the magnitude of his mood swings.
There are days when it’s a doddle, especially if I’ve managed to creep up on him when he’s in sleepy loaf of bread mode. But just as frequent are the days when it requires both my partner and I, ten minutes of coaxing, a costly number of Dreamies (he turns his nose up at the more economical fake-Dreamie brands) and I still exit the battlefield with claw marks down both forearms.
So, whilst I will always recommend daily toothbrushing for pets where possible, I am realistic about the fact that this isn’t always realistic. Whilst some animals (dogs especially) seem to accept daily dental care as easily as a game of fetch, others will never take to it.
And honestly, when you tell me you just can’t get Fluffy or Kiki to play along, a small part of me is relieved that I’m not the only one who finds it tough. I’m a vet, after all, not an animal hypnotist. There’s no secret formula for making toothbrush-time easy.
Side tangent: on the flip side of the coin, and to give you all something to aim for; I do have one pet owner who routinely shows me videos of her brushing her labrador’s teeth with a colgate electric toothbrush “for two minutes twice a day, right after I do my own!”.
His gorgeous, grinning Labrador face stoically accepting his incredibly hygienic fate has got to be literally one of the best things I’ve ever seen.
2. “My Dog Ate My Stash.”
I love it when pet owners admit this to me, for one reason and one reason only: it makes treating their pet infinitely easier (and has a much better chance of a good outcome) then when owners instead choose to play the infuriatingly more cryptic “I don’t know what he ate” game.
I have played this game time and again. I have never lost. And it follows a similar pattern every time:
Dog owner: “My dog has eaten something. I don’t know what he has eaten. I think he has eaten [cocaine/marijuana/MDMA/ket/acid/other recreational drug].”
Me, interested purely in treating your dog to the best of my abilities, and not giving a rat’s ass about your personal life because I am not the police: “Oh, really? And exactly how much [cocaine/marijuana/MDMA/ket/acid/other recreational drug] do you think he has eaten?”
Dog owner, after being repeatedly reassured over several valuable minutes that nobody is interested in grassing on him: “I obviously can’t know for sure because it’s totally not mine but…[a little under a gram/two hash brownies each the size of a rice crispy cake/enough to be tripping absolute balls]”.
Me: “I see. And when do you believe this might have occurred?”
Dog owner, finally relaxing a little after at least ten minutes now of feigning ignorance: “about thirty minutes ago.”
Great! We’ve now reached a point where I know what your dog has eaten, how much, and when. Now I can start to actually help him or her!
Of course, because every minute counts in a toxicity case, it’s always better that you just straight up tell us what’s gone down. We’ll love you for it, and in some cases that crucial honesty might just save your pet’s life.
3. “Be Careful, He’s An Absolute Savage.”
I cannot put into words my gratitude when a pet owner (be it dog or cat) supports my desire to stay attached to my hands/arms/face.
Indeed, the greatest gift you can bestow upon your vet if you are the proud owner of a savage beastie is to arrive in their consult room with said beastie already muzzled.
Sadly, I am friends with three individual veterinarians and two individual veterinary nurses who have sustained significant injuries (including injuries requiring facial reconstructive surgery) at the paws (or teeth) of dogs or cats whose owners did not provide any warning that their pet was not likely to be amenable to examination.
What’s worse, in all five of these cases the owners admitted after the fact that they knew their animal had aggressive tendencies, but they were either embarrassed to admit it, or simply felt that the vet or nurse should have been able to mind-read their pet and avoid injury via presumably supernatural mechanisms.
So, let me be clear: whilst all veterinary professionals do receive some training with regards to canine and feline body language, this is a complex area and there will always be subtle nuances, as well as pets who give little or no warning.
We are no more privy to your pet’s innermost thoughts or intentions than you are. In fact, we know your pet significantly less well than you.
So please, give us a flying start in terms of avoiding injury. We’ll love you for it.
4. “She Won’t Eat Dog/Cat Food.”
Whilst I’m sure your pet appreciates the mind boggling degree of effort that goes into creating her organic, home-cooked meat and three veg (with a sprinkling of chia seed) three times daily, and as much as I hate to be the one to break it to you: I’m afraid you’re almost certainly not feeding her a balanced diet, if you’re DIY’ing things.
The stark truth is that getting things just so in terms of providing the perfect nutritional balance for your pet is difficult. That’s why commercial food companies employ intimidatingly smart nutritional scientists to formulate their mass-produced pet foods for them; they need to be sure that food has appropriate levels of protein, carbohydrates, fats, and a scarily wide and complicated variety of individual vitamins and minerals.
It’s a science, ladies and gents. It really isn’t something that should be attempted at home (without the input of an accredited veterinary nutritionist, at least).
As for cats, very little will dismay your vet more than the admission that he or she “only eats tuna”. Have you ever heard of mercury poisoning? No? Might be a good time to google it, in that case.
And a final note: unless there is a medical reason for your pet to be experiencing a reduced appetite, he or she will eat dog/cat food, if you remove all the other options and stick to your guns.
In fact, in the few heartbreakingly sad cruelty and neglect cases I’ve seen where dogs truly are starved to death, at postmortem they tend to have anything and everything in their stomachs: plastic, wood, metal…they’ll eat anything before they starve.
So, believe me…once he or she is hungry enough, and realises you aren’t going to cave and provide chicken rigatoni as an alternative, that tin of Chappie won’t be looking quite so bad to your pet, after all.
And don’t even get me started on raw meat diets (the subject of my dissertation, by the way); interested in my thoughts on these? Then you should head this way.
5. “I’d Like Your Opinion On This Supplement/Herbal Remedy/Raw Food Diet.”
At first glance this question seems innocent enough, and you might be wondering where the confession part is.
Well, let me tell you. The confession is the part that’s been left unspoken, because frequently the full story is actually: “I’d like your opinion on this supplement/herbal remedy/raw food diet that I’ve already spent a bunch on money on, and will be giving my dog daily even if you tell me it’ll make him grow horns and start farting poisonous gasses.”
Or worse, in some cases: “I’d like your opinion on this supplement/herbal remedy/raw food diet but only if it agrees with mine.”
Honestly? If you aren’t prepared to take my professional medical advice on board and potentially act upon it, then why are you asking?
To save some time, here is a summary of my opinion on some of the most commonly requested topics:
Green lipped muscle – yes.
Salmon oil – yes, at appropriate doses (you can totally overdose your dog on the fat-soluble vitamin E this contains, if you’re too enthusiastic with it).
Turmeric – yes, so long as you don’t mind the fact that your dog will smell of curry at all times.
Apple cider vinegar – no.
Garlic – NO.
Raw food diets – possibly the biggest no of all, and if you want to know why, you should head over to the previously linked blog post.
6. “Of Course I Love My Children, But [Django/Honey/Mr Chips] Is My Favourite.”
I probably get this one about once a month, on average, and it never ceases to make me smile…mostly because this is exactly the sort of parent I know I would make!
Dads of course tend to take it one step further, and follow up by asking me if I can prescribe anything to “chill out” their newly crotchety/volatile/explosive teenager.
Sometimes I’m not entirely convinced that it’s a joke.
What’s perhaps most amusing to me about this particular confession is that half of the time it is said whilst the pet owner’s human offspring stands begrudgingly by in the consult room, earpods in situ, furiously texting on the latest iphone, blissfully unaware of the conversation happening around them.
It’s comedy gold, I’m telling you. It makes my day.
Another side tangent: Incidentally, if this sounds like you, you’ll definitely want to check out the following blog post… shameless plug…
7. “I Can’t Afford That Treatment Option…What Else Can We Do?”
This is perhaps more important and worthy of inclusion than any of the other confessions listed in this blog post.
Just so you all know: I will only ever applaud you, if you are upfront about your finances in my consult room, and I truly do believe that most vets out there feel the same way, with the most wholesome of intentions.
I get that this is the real world, guys. I grew up with a single parent, who was almost exclusively jobless, struggled with substance abuse amongst other mental health issues, and was reliant on a combination of state benefits and handouts from better-off family members to get by.
Could we have afforded an MRI scan, if one of our dogs got sick?
So, am I about to start judging you if you tell me the treatment plan I’ve proposed is not a viable option?
Of course I’m not.
I’m going to come up with a plan B for you.
And then a plan C, D and E.
Heck, we’ll rifle through the entire alphabet, if necessary.
What’s infinitely more heartbreaking to me is where a pet owner feels they can’t tell me (for whatever reason) that they cannot afford a treatment plan. This tends to end badly, in one of two ways:
a) You end up in a horrible, unsustainable financial situation because we’ve unknowingly spent all of your money on gold standard treatment that you felt you had to pretend you could afford, or
b) You book your pet in for that costly blood test, ultrasound scan or surgery that we discussed, and then never show up; not because you don’t want to, but because it’s more than you can afford…meaning your pet goes without any treatment.
Much better to tell me upfront if plan A is not financially viable, so that we can work something else out that’s more realistic for you.
Thanks for sticking around! Where would you like to go next?