Being a pet wellness advocate means taking responsibility for the health and well-being of your pet by learning specific techniques on how to prevent certain diseases and behaviour problems before they become a real issue.
The concept of Pet Wellness Advocate was something I dreamed of almost 30 years ago when I firsvt got into practice. Although I was excited about diagnosing diseases, treating animals, and making them feel better, I always had this nagging feeling inside of me. What if I could prevent these diseases from happening in the first place? I promised myself that I would hone my skills in preventing diseases rather than just looking at treatment from that day forward.
As an owner, you can take the lead in advocating for your pet’s care. By taking the initiative, you are the voice for your animal companion. Here are two essential steps with which you can begin.
I always knew how important a pet’s history is, which is why I ask my clients so many upfront questions about their pets. In the past year and a half, that conviction has grown stronger. That is when I started my telemedicine practice, which is essentially medicine done over the phone or via video call. As a veterinarian, I can learn a lot by speaking with the owner and visually examining the pet via video. Unfortunately, I can’t touch the pet, which is one of the obvious downsides of telemedicine.
That being said, getting a good and thorough history of the pet can give me tremendous insights where a complete physical examination isn’t 100% necessary. A perfect example of the magic of telemedicine is dealing with pet behaviour problems because I don’t need to touch the dog or cat to diagnose or treat a behaviour problem. All that is required is an accurate pet history. What does a pet history have to do with you? Actually, it has everything to do with you because you know your pet better than anyone else, and only you can share your pet’s history with your veterinarian. That’s how crucial you are in preventing and diagnosing a disease in your pet.
I’ve always been frustrated watching some people put the care of their pet entirely in the hands of their veterinarians, almost blindly, if I may be so bold. At first, it makes sense – they are the experts, aren’t they?
Let’s dig a little deeper together into this matter.
It is reasonable to assume that not all professionals within the same field have the same set of skills. Veterinarians are no different.
When I owned my practice, I was busy working in the isolation of my own facility. I had no idea how other clinics operated. I assumed that all veterinarians were equal in skillset and how we practiced. It wasn’t until a few years ago, when I started working for a global animal health company and started visiting hundreds of practices all over Canada, that I witnessed two notable things. The first was that veterinarians are lovely people, and most of them want what is best for their pets. The second was significant differences in how veterinarians practice, what their clinics looked like, what equipment they used, and even differences in their personalities.
You don’t need to become a medical expert yourself. Still, it is essential that you, as a consumer can make an informed decision about what you want from your veterinarian. I will help you in your journey to becoming a pet wellness advocate by outlining some criteria you should consider when looking for your veterinarian or communicating with your current veterinarian.
The first noteworthy difference in veterinarians is the level of experience they have. Some advantages and disadvantages may already seem obvious when pitting experience against the unseasoned. New graduates fresh out of vet school usually know the latest drugs and the latest technologies, which is quite impressive. However, the significant disadvantage is that they are slightly green regarding skill level. A veterinarian who has been in practice for several years arguably has a higher level of diagnostics and treatment options and surgical skills.
Nevertheless, I will say that having a lot of experience isn’t always an asset. For the experience to be an asset, you must be willing to grow, which means you have to be willing to change. This takes us to the second criteria.
Most people are resistant to change, and veterinarians are no different. Here is a true-life example to illustrate what I’m talking about.
When I first graduated from veterinary college, I used this suture material to stitch up animals on the inside. It was a braided material, making it easy to tie knots. After using it for almost 15 years, I was very comfortable with the material and the technique. It was then that a new suture material brand appeared on the market. It was designed to be a lot less inflammatory to the tissues because it was a single filament instead of being braided. The problem was that it was a lot harder to tie the knots. Essentially, it meant learning a new skill to use this new product. As an early adopter of new technologies, I decided to use the new material in my practice. With time, I got to be just as good at using the new suture material as the old one. However, some professionals still use the older type of suture material to this day. It still works but with potentially more swelling after surgery. It is important that you are aware that there are minor advancements a veterinarian can take that can make significant changes in your pet’s well-being.
That leads us to look at the differences in a veterinarian’s philosophy or, if you will, the “how.” First, some veterinarians practice entirely Western medicine. Then some practice holistic, natural, or Eastern medicine. To round it out, there are people like me that fall somewhere in between.
Drugs are the cornerstone of Western medicine, and when used appropriately, they are faster and stronger than anything I could ever find with natural medicine. In some instances, such as type one diabetes, they can literally save lives. Drugs are thoroughly tested and proven. If your dog has osteoarthritis and you give him/her a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug, their lameness will likely improve. But the flip side to that coin is that most, if not all drugs, have side effects. One could also argue that the side effects are worse than the disease itself. Certain chemotherapy drugs come to mind in this scenario.
On the other hand, natural medicines are not as fast or potent as most drugs, but they tend to have fewer side effects and improved potency over time if used appropriately. So aside from the side effects, it sounds like drugs are the clear winner here. Well, not always, and here’s why.
A perfect example to illustrate my point is osteoarthritis, something that every dog and cat eventually will get. In a Western medicine scenario, you would bring your older dog or your older cat to your veterinarian with a complaint of lameness. Then your veterinarian would examine your dog or cat and likely recommend X-rays of the offending limb. In this scenario, the X-ray will show that your pet has osteoarthritis, a type of arthritis that older pets typically get. Then they may or may not recommend blood work. And then put your dog or cat on a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug, which helps relieve inflammation and pain. Unfortunately, arthritis doesn’t get better. It only gets worse, which means there’s a good likelihood that your pet will be on this drug for life or until some of the side effects that this drug can cause start to show up. At that point, your veterinarian may be forced to turn to a natural alternative, which will not work nearly as fast as the drug but has a lot fewer side effects.
Since natural medicines typically take a little longer to work than drugs, most natural practitioners want to think about things in a preventative way. In other words, get your pet on these natural anti-inflammatories early in the disease process – and that’s where you, as a pet wellness advocate, come into the picture. This is where you start paying attention to the earliest signs of osteoarthritis. It might look something like your dog taking an extra second to get up from a lying position or your cat being tentative before jumping on the chair. Maybe they are just a little slower going up the stairs. We can start them on natural anti-inflammatory products before showing any actual lameness signs.
My philosophy is to champion both natural medicine and Western medicine. We start an animal on a natural product with very few side effects while also having a potent non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug in our back pocket that we can use to help alleviate pain if needed in the future.
Another difference you will find between veterinarians is in their personalities. Sometimes you connect with a professional and feel comfortable asking them questions and understanding their treatment plan. However, don’t just blindly trust them with the care of your pet. At the end of the day, you just want to make sure that you find someone who is kind, compassionate, and empathetic. And not just for you, but also for your pet.
I trust by now that you have already grasped the importance of being a pet wellness advocate and have gained a few tips that will help you in your next steps. Choosing the right vet as your teammate for the care of your animal companion and providing them with valuable information they can’t get in the exam room are two of the most important steps you can take.
I want to encourage you all from this day forward to keep a log of everything that your pet does that’s not typical. The next time you go to your veterinarian, take that book with you and let them know everything that is happening with your pet.
Suppose your vet says that it is all normal? Great news! But what if it is abnormal? Then you were the one who was able to catch something early before it became a real problem. Be the hero your pet deserves!