Vet Talk

If You Have to Ask...

We want to hide from potential bad news

November 30, 2015 (published)

As the person responsible for posting the comments submitted on the VetzInsight articles, I occasionally notice certain trends – people wanting to share their stories, a disproportionate use of the words “fur baby,” and often, pleas for help.

“I took my pet to the vet for X, he is on medication Y, but now he is doing Z, and I’m worried. What should I do?"

“My goldfish has been vomiting for a week. What do I do?”

“My kangaroo has a swollen paw and I read on the Internet/the guy at the pet store said….What do I do?” As I’m mentally banging my head against the desk, I try to put myself into the writer’s shoes: scared, worried about money, worried about the pet, wanting an easy answer that will alleviate those fears, hoping that someone, anyone, will say “It’ll be fine. Don’t worry. It’s nothing.”

I get it. Trust me. When my sink backs up, I try to come up with almost any answer that doesn’t involve the plumber. When my car was overheating after two miles, I STILL tried to find answers that didn’t involve taking it to the mechanic.

Why? It isn’t just the cost or the inconvenience. It’s the anxiety of having one’s fears validated.

What if the plumber says I need a new sink, or that I have done something to jam up the plumbing?

What if my car needs a new engine, and it’s all my fault for ignoring that light?

There is something final in calling in the expert. It’s like opening Schrödinger's box. You’re gonna know whether that metaphorical cat is alive or dead. (Real cats and dogs are much more complicated.)

As much as we like answers, we also want to hide from potential bad news. Somewhere in our heads, we associate the experts – the doctor, the dentist, the plumber, the mechanic, the veterinarian – with Bad News.

Checking in with the pet store clerk, your cousin who has dogs, the kind/faceless Internet person, or Dr. Google has the benefit of maybe providing some answer without being the Final Word.

You know I’m going to give you the downside now, right?

Of the people listed above, none has the same medical training or knowledge of your animal as your veterinarian.

The clerk at the pet store may have a wonderful knowledge of the products they carry, but he/she didn’t go to school for six to eight years to be trained in the diagnosis and treatment of animal illnesses. This isn’t a slight. My first job in high school was as a pharmacy clerk. I was competent at my job. I wasn’t qualified to tell people how to treat their colds, aches, or boils.

The cousin who has dogs is no more a veterinarian than I (mother of three children) am a pediatrician.

And that brings me back to the kind/faceless Internet person and my internal headdesking at the beginning.

Many veterinarians write for pet information sites and the temptation to offer advice is strong.  It’s what we were trained to do. However, beyond general things like tricks to get your cat to eat, reassurance that your vet did prescribe the right meds, or verification that "yep, that sounds like a sick llama" we can only say, “Call your veterinarian.”

Even with full veterinary training, without seeing, touching, listening to, and yes, smelling (I draw the line at taste) your pet, we can’t know what is going on. In fact, most of us are forbidden by our state practice acts  to diagnose or treat any patient without comprehensive and current knowledge of that patient.

Meanwhile, just like delaying taking my car to the mechanic increased the space-time rift in my radiator, the longer you put off doing the thing that voice deep inside you says is right, the sicker your pet will get.

So if you have to ask, “What should I do?” the answer is actually pretty simple.

“Call your veterinarian.”

1 Comment

Teri and her Cats
January 2, 2016

How did I not know about VetzInsight before today, when I googled 'Can acute kidney failure happen when a cat throws a clot'? Your posts are educational, funny and just what I needed! Oh, I don't like carbs much, but then I am a cat servant.

VIN News Service commentaries are opinion pieces presenting insights, personal experiences and/or perspectives on topical issues by members of the veterinary community. To submit a commentary for consideration, email

Information and opinions expressed in letters to the editor are those of the author and are independent of the VIN News Service. Letters may be edited for style. We do not verify their content for accuracy.