Bits of Veterinary Wisdom

After almost 40 years of veterinary practice, I often think about some of the basic tips that would make having a pet less expensive and more enjoyable.  Minor and even major health problems seem to be so common and can destroy the bond we have with these wonderful creatures.  So from time to time I’d like to give you some insider tips of veterinary wisdom.

See something, Do something.  There is a campaign called SSDS (find it online). It is all about cancer and cancer in our pets is four times more common that in people.  The concept is simple, both you and your veterinarian should Do Something when you See a lump or bump.  More often than you would expect this could be cancer and if caught early you have options.  So doing something usually means having an exam and probably a biopsy or x-ray taken.  I hope you would do the same for your own body.

Better to be a few days too early, than a minute too late.  This is a common saying in veterinary hospice.  Choosing a time for euthanasia is very very hard.  But when you know it is inevitable, it is better to be a few days to early, than a moment too late.  The goal is to prevent suffering!

Seeing a veterinarian is like joining a club…just join the right club!  Your veterinarian knows you and your pets and will help you when you most need it.  Trying to begin a new relationship in an urgent situation is not the best.  But do your best to choose the best, cheaper is not always the best.  Look at their Google Reviews, their clinic, their dress, their manner and explanations.  Does it sound like they have been reading and studying the latest, not just the same ole thing that’s been said for 20 years.  Be choosy and you’ll spend less in the long run.

Do something early – if you suspect a problem is brewing, don’t wait until past mid-night to find help.  Frankly it is natural to think problems will improve by themselves, after all “all our dogs did fine without all this stuff when I was a kid”.  But I’ve seen so many issues turn horribly bad and even fatal by waiting.  Once you have the relationship with a good veterinarian, they might just take your call and ease your concern, or tell you to get in soon.  It is nice to have that professional judgement when you are a bit panicked.

Direct the care a little.  If you know you have very limited funds, let the veterinarian know.  If you spend $200 on lab work, then have no money left for treatment that does no one any good.  Even though that is the proper way to do things.  But, talk with your veterinarian about your budget and see if they will work with you on a practical approach – even though it may not be their first choice. I’d rather see you get some care, than run out of funds and get no care.

The Big Box Vet Clinics are a problem.  Visually they are meant to market to our minds and appear to be grand and professional and appealing.  However, that is not how medicine is practiced.  It is the individual doctor and the capabilities of a clinic or hospital that determines if you get good care, correct answers and proper solutions.  The big box vet facilities, in my experience, are problems.  They are run by a corporation far far away.  The doctors must do what the corporate computer tells them to do and that often means more expensive tests and vaccines than your pet needs. I’ve seen countless invoices, I know this is true. Also, communicating with them is difficult, and even as a fellow veterinarian trying to get answers, I’ve had real problems here.  Staff can be aloof, even downright arrogant and cold.  Clearly this is a case by case issue they have, as I have met several very nice staff and doctors at these clinics, but it is often not the case.  When an employee is working for a faceless big business, the nice personal touch and compassion seems to suffer.

The doctors also may have precious little experience,  but even in the case of a good doctor who knows they need to do things right, we find that these little clinics stuck in the back of a huge store are not equipped like most modern veterinary hospitals, hence you don’t get what your pet should have.  This topic probably deserves its own space, but I just want to caution you, I am very concerned about what I’ve seen.

Buying a yearly health maintenance plan is generally not a good idea.  The reason they are pushed is to keep you coming back, and you will feel obligated to do that even when you find out the clinic is on the wrong path, making mistakes or you need a second opinion.  I’ve even seen issues with pet owners not being able to cancel or get refunds in a clear case of mal-practice or in the event of the death of a pet.  I’d stay away from these plans.

Always ask for details about the drugs you are given, and get a copy of your lab results and x-rays.  You never know when you will need a second opinion or have an emergency and without these essential things another doctor will be very handicapped.  With email and smart phones, you can easily have your clinic send you x-rays and lab results then store them on your phone.  Make a pet medical file to show anyone, anytime.  I do this for my own health.  After 15 years of battling spine disease and 6 surgeries, I keep special letters of explanation, a strange ECG, and radiographs on my cell phone in case I end up in the ER and the doctor needs to see my unusual heartbeat, or see all the hardware in my spine.


Dr. Jim Humphries has been a veterinarian for 40 years and provides hospice and end of life care for pets in the Colorado Springs area.  He has served in the US Army Veterinary Corps, and as the veterinarian at CBS News and CNN. He is a consultant for several veterinary pharmaceutical companies. In addition to practice, he also serves as a Visiting Professor at the College of Veterinary Medicine at Texas A&M