Vet Talk

A Veterinarian's Medical Advice for Humans

To take care of your pets in a crisis, you have to take care of yourself

April 25, 2016 (published)

sleeping red couch BigStock

Photo courtesy of BigStock

One of the basic tenets of veterinary medicine is encapsulated in this commandment that all veterinarians live by (or should, anyway): Thou Shalt Not Treat Humans. I am an animal doctor, and a human, but I am not a human doctor. My patients have fur, paws, claws, scales, gills and sometimes a trunk, but they NEVER have a mortgage, daddy issues, a checkbook, or a penchant for hyperbole. I don’t do people.

Despite this, and in clear violation of my veterinary oath to relieve (only!) animal suffering, I still get people – actual human people – who seek out medical treatment from me about their own selves. From me. An animal doctor.

“Hey, I know you’re a vet, but I have this rash...”

“Hey, vet friend/cousin/neighbor/Uber passenger, my doctor says I got the ‘beetus (diabetes, for those of you who don’t follow Wilford Brimley on Twitter) and I’m a wonderin’ if I should take alla those horse pills he’s ascribin.’”

I don’t treat people. I mean, except for my kids when they have a fever or a scrape, but if one of my kids got the ‘beetus, they’d be seeing their pediatrician, not me.

So I limit all of my human medical interventions to Band-Aids and liquid Motrin. That’s it.


I do give human medical advice to some people, a carefully selected group of people: freaked out pet owners.

As an ER vet, one of the most common kinds of folks I deal with at work is the variant of Homo sapiens known to anthropologists as Homo sapiens ungluedicus – people who are so upset at their pet’s medical status that baseline human functions and decision-making ability goes out the window. I can’t blame them; when my pets have taken ill, I’m often in the same boat. It’s only natural.

Those folks usually get my medical advice for themselves. It’s dead simple:

Get rest, get food, go home.

When your pet takes ill, it’s easy to get so stressed that you forget to eat. You forget to sleep (or can’t) and lots of owners spend hours and hours at the veterinary hospital, or worse, they want to stay the night at the hospital. Not only is this not usually allowed by most hospitals, it’s a bad idea because that precious sleep helps you keep your wits about you in a crisis, which is when you need it most. You should be in your very own bed in your very own bedroom, not some pleather couch under buzzing fluorescent lights.

In order to take care of your pets in a crisis, you have to take care of yourself. Lots of people don’t get this, and I think some even feel like the sacrifice and suffering (“Look at me, I’m a mess! I stayed up all night worrying! I only ate a Triscuit!”) somehow makes them better pet owners. It doesn’t: a good pet owner is one who sets the stage for a smooth medical journey, and that takes someone who has their wits about them.

Sleep deprivation, poor (or no) food and stress all conspire to make you punchy and foggy-headed. They make you make bad decisions, or unable to make any decision at all, which is sometimes worse. It’s hard to think straight and be level headed on a diet of gas station hot dogs and YooHoo, and your pet is counting on you to make decisions about his care. And I’m counting on you, too: in most cases, that crisis time is right when I need you to be clear-headed and able to make decisions.

Get rest, get food, go home.

You may have read Michael Pollan’s Food Rules:  eat food, not too much, mostly plants  (rules that I often can’t manage to follow – damn you, Funyuns!) So let’s call this Dr. Tony’s Pet Rules. Just don’t confuse the two sets of rules (“Let’s see, was it eat home, not too, that’s not right...”)

Try and live by them, and your next pet medical crisis will go smoother for everyone.

Now, about that rash: go see your physician. 

1 Comment

May 20, 2016

This is sooo true! Thank you for noting this. My 17+ old baby kitty has been diagnosed with diabetes for 2 year now. Having to be timely with insulin shots and feedings etc...I, just this past 6 months, close my bedroom door at night so I can get sleep. For 16 + years she would sleep with me wake me...but the play worth it at the time. Now having to be on time with a required 6:00am insulin injections...I have to take command of some sleep so I can care for her for the next 18 hours. I miss the snuggles but I also need to be responsible, as she depends on me now more than ever.

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