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
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?
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.”
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.
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.
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 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.
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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.