Dog Parent Rights at the Veterinary Office

dog kiss

As a dog parent, I feel vulnerable when I enter the veterinary office. As a long-time dog blogger/writer, I am coming clean with you all right now. I am there as my dog’s advocate, but walking through the front doors of the veterinarian’s office, a twinge of vulnerability and anxiety runs through my veins.

Part of it is knowing I am there for a checkup of my dog  (and don’t want anything concerning to show up) and/or because my dog is sick and needs medical treatment. It is in these times that I remind myself that the veterinarian is a human being, just like me, and that we just went to college for different things. He’s on the front lines with pets; I am on the back end of things.

There are things, however, that a dog parent has a right to at the veterinarian. You know that whole patient bill of rights you see at the doctor’s office or at the hospital? There are basic rights that pets and their parents have when associating themselves with a veterinarian. Here’s a rundown:

A Right to the Tour of the Facility

Ask for a tour of the practice if possible. Note that if surgeries are taking place or an emergency is in house, a tour may not always be possible. When booking the first appointment, you can always ask the receptionist to ask the veterinarian ahead of time.

Is the person answering the phone helpful? Do not be offended if you are put on hold or asked to hold for an emergency. Smaller practices may do this, and it is normal to hear, “Can you hold or is this an emergency?”

CLICK THIS: How to Find a Good Veterinarian

dog parent rights

The Right to the Pet’s Medical Records

You, the paying dog parent, have a right to copies of your dog’s medical records. I have every single copy of every test, office note, blood work result, etc since 1993 on my dogs. Why? I keep a log of my dog’s vet visits, a journal if you will. After every visit I log in what happened, what was discussed, and any notes of importance. I couple that with the medical records so I can track things on my own. I also submit the records with my veterinary health insurance claims. I paid for the tests and I want the copies, plain and simple.

Some pet parents I have spoken to over the years are fearful to ask their vet or the receptionist for copies of the pet’s medical records. Conquer that fear fast: Worrying about what he or she will think is wasted time. Having your pets records so you can examine them, have them on hand, and ask any questions is your right.

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) has a whole page on their website about the confidentiality and release of veterinary medical records on their website. Be sure to check out your state’s law on veterinary medical records and their confidentiality.

The Right To Know if The Pet Will Be Alone Overnight

There are myths to what really takes place when you let your pet at the veterinarian for overnight care. Your dog is most often alone overnight unless otherwise specified before you leave your dog in the vet’s care. Many veterinary practices do not have the staff nor budget to have someone present around the clock.

So what is a pet parent to do if your dog must stay overnight at the vet’s office?

CLICK THIS: Who Watches Your Dog Overnight At the Veterinarian?

watches dog overnight

The Right to Get a Prescription Filled Elsewhere

You have several options when your dog needs a prescription medication in the United States. According to the AVMA, you can:

  • Get it from your veterinarian if it is a medication they have in house;
  • Have your veterinarian can write (or call in) a prescription to a local pharmacy that stocks the medication;
  • Have your veterinarian provide a prescription so you can get the medication from an online pharmacy.

I have been in all three situations numerous times. Most times, I like to give the business to my dog’s veterinarian and be done with it. For me, it’s about knowing I got the right medication and it is safe.  If there is a huge price difference and I trust the online pharmacy, I will ask for a prescription. Our current veterinarian will price match for me to avoid the latter, which I appreciate very much.

If your dog’s veterinarian insists you get the medication directly from them, they may be in the wrong. According to the AVMA, some states actually require veterinarians to write prescriptions for clients to have filled elsewhere if requested by the client. Some states do not require this of veterinarians.

The AVMA says, “There are certainly situations where it is in your pet’s best interest to get the medication directly from your veterinarian, and we encourage you to discuss your options with your veterinarian. The AVMA’s Principles of Veterinary Medical Ethics recommends that veterinarians comply with their client’s wishes and provide written prescriptions if the client prefers having the prescription filled elsewhere.”

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Photo courtesy Dr. Laurie Coger.

The Right to Know Your Dog’s Medical Care

I recently changed veterinarians after a great number of years, and it concerned me very much. Like any relationship, it takes time to get to know someone. When that someone holds your beloved dog’s medical care in their hands, doting dog parents get a bit apprehensive, to say the least. I know this much is true.

A good, caring, veterinarian and his or her staff will explain in easy-to-understand terms the state of your dog’s health and any medical tests and procedures. They will also explain treatment options, costs, and make you a part of all decisions, including the right of refusal.

In other words, you are treated with respect and you never feel as if you are not valued as a client.

Dog at the vet
“Can I have a cookie for being a good boy at the vet?”

The Right to Understand Why and Ask if the Dog Goes “In the Back” With the Vet or A Vet Tech

Ack I despise this, but I know sometimes it is necessary. A few friends of mine are veterinary technicians and they tell me time and again that most often, pets behave better when their parents are not present.

Still, I worry. Many years ago, my previous Cocker Spaniel needed emergency care of a luxating patella (her kneecap moved out of place). It was painful and the emergency vet took her from my arms. I just wanted her out of pain and he promised to give her something. He nearly killed her with an inappropriate dosage of a medication she could not take, and he was told this.

Fast forward to present, and there are some things I just don’t ever want to happen again. Still, I must trust in my veterinarian and his team that they are making the right decision in taking my dog from my arms sometimes. For these procedures, they are far and few between but include blood draws, x-rays, and any sort of ear flushing. He isn’t gone long, but dogs cannot tell us what happens in the “back room.”

Dr. Marty Becker writes on his Vetstreet column that many times staff is better able to do their job when not dealing with the pressure or scrutiny of the owner being “right there”.

Also, vets and techs deal with liability should the dog lash out and injure the pet parent in the exam room, so I am sure a law suit is being avoided as well.

Don’t just hand your dog over: Ask why and what is happening. You need to feel comfortable and do what is best for the dog.

Cocker veterinarian

The Right to Switch Vets

If you are totally unhappy with treatment, do not feel that the veterinarian is caring with you or your dog, or perhaps you just want a new veterinarian for one reason or another, then do it. Go with what you believe to be best for your dog. Your dog will sense your anxiety, after all.

medicine versus mom

 

Medicine Vs. Mom

In a continuing effort to bring you the full scope on dog health topics, we occasionally pen a column with our pal, Rachel Sheppard of My Kid Has Paws.  <=== Check out her angle on the topic of rights that pet parents have at the vet, as she will have even more things you have a right to as a dog parent.

Like this article? Check these related pieces out:

How to Divorce Yourself from the Veterinarian

Dangers of Buying Online Dog Medications

QUESTION: Do you have a good relationship with your pet’s vet and feel comfortable with all of the above? Weight in below in the comments.

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Comments

  1. That’s some very awesome information!! I have to say, I have thé best vet in the world! She is so sweet and always takes the time to really listen to your story!

  2. I agree so much with this post and you have opened my eyes to new areas I need to focus on. I get severe anxiety when I walk into the vet just fear of what we will learn, fortunately my vet is very calming of me and my pup. I think “seeing the facilities” also applies to groomers. I had to stop taking my dog to one place because after seeing the back room I was very upset. Thanks for this article

  3. I guess I take for granted that our vet is very open and honest with us about all of the things you mentioned above. In fact, with Zeus being on so many expensive meds in his later years, she encouraged us to get medications elsewhere.

  4. The importance of having a vet that I can trust and feel comfortable enough with to ask any and all questions is of upmost importance to me! Of course it starts at the “front desk”. It’s not enough to have a good vet, you must have an entire office you can trust, like and feel at ease with.
    My vet has never rushed me through a visit. She always takes the time to answer my (sometimes many) questions and makes me feel at ease. And of course, Edie loves her and everyone at the office, so that speaks for itself 😉

  5. This is great information for cat owners, too. We have a great relationship with our vet! They are always so kind and caring, and always explain everything to Mommy. Ih, and we never go “in the back”. Only for xrays.

  6. I just dropped my special needs pup at the vet and I ALWAYS feel that twinge of anxiety. I trust her team of experts but as the mom who has been through everything with her, I cannot help but feel vulnerable and hope I am doing the right thing. Sometimes I can’t help but be Dr. Mom in these situations. This is so important for pet parents to know!! Thanks for the write up!

  7. What a fantastic article which as I’m totally happy with the care my dog gets at the Vets, I never would have thought of. It is absolutely a case of if something does’t feel instinctively right and they are not been totally transparent then change practices. My Vets is a small country practice but they are so good, caring and thorough but I guess not everyone has that experience .

  8. These are all very important rights to know. When I was a vet tech, there were pets that did much better when “mom” wasn’t watching, and others who did better when the owner held them. The vet and staff should be able to tell the difference and work with the individual cases.

  9. While I have a cat rather than a dog, these are all things I feel I should know as well. I never thought to be able to tour the facilities and see what it’s like. You’ve got me thinking.

  10. Thanks for the great post. I know my boy Riedi will act up more if I’m in the room, so when he gets nail trims & anal gland expressed, I actually ask that they take him back so he can’t see me.

    My Margi on the other hand is the opposite. She does better when she can see me. Go figure!

    I am so glad that I have a vet that I really trust. I’ve even come into their office crying before worried about Riedi. After I stopped blubbering, they were able to figure out what was wrong and he was all better that evening!

  11. I love my veterinarian and the entire clinic. Taking them our of my sight to the back is the only thing that I have a problem with and I’ve told them as much. Now, they only take them out when it is absolutely necessary.

  12. I’m always so nervous when I bring Henry to the vet! My vet is wonderful and the staff is very friendly and knowledgeable, but it’s a mom’s nature. I do ask a lot of questions and request records, and they are thankfully very accommodating. Thanks for such great info!

  13. I know I coulf, if I wished, examine our vet recors for each cat we have and, shuld it provie necessary I feel comfortble asking for a second opinion., which we did with Sooty’s lymphoma. I like the idea of a journal for pet health – a great idea.

  14. I never thought about what my rights are at the vet’s office. I will be asking for copies of all the test results from now on. I really like your idea about keeping a journal regarding Dexter’s health.

  15. I always hate when they take my dog “in the back”, I’m afraid they’ll hurt her. I guess it’s necessary sometimes. Thanks for pointing out some of these rights & options, I wasn’t aware of all these.
    Love & biscuits,
    Dogs Luv Us and We Luv Them

  16. Our girl is 13. We have been going to the same vet for years. While I love my vet, I am concerned that they will want to do all kinds of tests on her. She has lived a full and happy life, and we love her very much. We do know that her time with us is growing shorter, and we don’t want any unnecessary testing done. My concern is that our vet may not honor that. :/

  17. I feel very fortunate that I have a great relationship with our vet. It is also the place where I board her, if necessary, and they love on her so much. It makes me feel better whether she’s not feeling well or staying overnight without me.
    Great tips.
    🙂
    Traci

  18. This is an excellent article, thank you for pointing out these rights for pet parents. I’m fortunate to have an excellent veterinarian now. In the past, my dog had a bad experience, with a technician and will not use that practice anymore.

  19. I never have liked it when they took my girls in the back for a test. They’ve explained that it’s easier for some tests when I’m not with them. I’m still not comfortable with it, but I trust my vets.

  20. I wish I had read this back when I was a new dog owner. Our vet at the time (chosen because he was on our block, d’oh!) made me feel ashamed that my pets weren’t in perfect health, ashamed they weren’t purebreds, ashamed to ask questions and he made SO MANY MISTAKES with my pet’s health. Now I’m that obnoxious pet parent who wants to understand EVERYTHING. (But I hope my vet thinks of me as the pet parent who really cares and is willing to pay for a double appointment to make sure all my questions get answered.)

  21. Ok there are so many areas in this post I wish I could slice this up and Tweet all of them to the masses… first, I agree with you. We know our animals best. Period. There are behaviors are things about the dogs that I know better than anyone and I love our vet. We’ve been seeing her for ten+ years and I’m lucky but if I feel like Bruisy needs more of something OR less, I let them know right away. We’re the advocates for our animals. Going in the back is scary for our dogs and cats and pet parents should always ask why… why this and why that. Love this Carol.

  22. Some great information – a few things I might not have thought of. I had a wonderful vet for many years with Nala, Cookie and Isabelle but he was not a good fit with Kilo as Kilo is so reactive. The rescue’s vet is great but an hour away so I am now looking closer to home to find a good one.

  23. Thank you so much for this post. Much like when we, as humans, visit doctors…sometimes we forget or are too afraid to ask certain questions or to assert ourselves. When we are the voice for our companion animals, we need to remember our rights to protect our furry family members. It’s always nice to receive a reminder of ways in which we can be sure the treatment our animals are receiving is the best for their needs.

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