Vet Talk

Through a Veterinarian's Eyes

We can ruin almost any meme, movie, commercial, or story by looking at it with veterinary eyes

Published: January 07, 2019

It happened again. I derailed an editorial meeting with a rant about the horse in the newsletter banner photo. “If there is a trough down its back and butt, it’s too fat. And that neck is less than delicate.”

This is a weirdly common occupational hazard. My family learned long ago that they can’t expect to take me anywhere without me finding some obscure animal-related point to critique. When my children were small, we went to a medieval reenactment dinner venue. While my kids cheered the knights, my son waving his brand new, tiny wooden battle-axe, I noted that one horse was off in the left hind leg and another was showing signs consistent with stomach ulcers. And yes, while other folks were going in for the photo ops after the show, I pushed through the queue to tell one of the “knights” that they may want to have their veterinarian look at the horses in question.

Those who know me well don’t bring up animal-themed movies or books at the dinner table anymore unless they want to hear Moby Dick-length expositions on animal behavior, anthropomorphism, and the 101 Dalmatians effect.

Speaking of dinner, I can’t even eat without analyzing the cut of meat, marbling, food safety protocols and general management of the species at hand – or at fork.

I’m not the only one.

Where you see an animated film with spotted dogs or a heartwarming tale of a German Shepherd making its way through the wilderness, veterinarians see a generation – hundreds if not thousands – of a breed ruined by popular demand and ignorance as to the breed’s actual traits.

Where you see a lovely cream pony in a lush field, veterinarians see laminitis, pain, and death.

Where you see an adorable photo of an infant crawling on the family dog, veterinarians see mauling and euthanasia.

Where you see a cat festively surrounded by holiday wrappings, veterinarians see emergency surgery to remove the ribbon cutting through the intestines.

Where you see kittens play-battling hands, we see adult cats euthanized for aggressively clawing ankles.

Where you see puppies playing tag with kids, we see dogs mauling toddlers and 'ban the breed' laws.

Where you see a caged dog, we see a beloved pet with a sanctuary from grabby children.

Where you see a cute boop-able nose, we see a dog who can't run around his yard in the summertime without overheating and gasping for air.

We can’t help it. We can ruin almost any meme, movie, commercial, or story by looking at it with veterinary eyes.

Veterinarians aren’t innately gloomy – at least I’m not. But when you’ve spent years bearing witness to the myriad ways animals can find trouble, you develop the same sort of mindset I imagine vice-principals have regarding teenagers and the sort of sixth sense mothers of multiples develop when they see innocent smiles.

This means we’re always looking at your pet through veterinary eyes and those eyes are always suspicious. That’s not a judgment. It just means we see things differently than you might.

When you message us about the “simple” laceration on your friend’s dog, we’ll ask a bunch of questions and then tell you to tell your friend to go to the veterinarian. “Doesn’t it just need Neosporin?” Well, maybe, but my eyes also see proximity to a joint, and signs of cellulitis, and another sore on the leg that makes me wonder what the dog is chewing.

And, of course, this veterinary double-vision happens in the clinic too.

You’re worried about the nodule on your dog’s leg, so it throws you for a loop when your veterinarian starts talking about ear infections. You bring your cat in for goopy eyes; why is your vet going on about obesity and diabetes? Your friend noticed that your parakeet needed his beak trimmed. That’s all you wanted, a beak trim. You didn’t think you were going to be given the third degree about his environment and toys.

Time is short, money is tight, and your kids need to be picked up from school in exactly 17 minutes. The last thing you want is to have your concerns sidelined.

Hang on a second. Remember, your veterinarian is seeing things through special-ordered eyes. These questions or seeming sidetracks don’t mean your concerns are invalid or that they won’t get to them. It simply means that they saw inflammation and scratch marks when they lifted up your dog’s ear as part of the exam. It means that while they were listening to your cat’s chest to make sure the goopy eyes weren’t a symptom of a serious respiratory infection, they noticed a LOT of extra padding that wasn’t at the last visit. When they looked at your parakeet, they saw a beak that hasn’t been getting enough chew time and feathers that had been picked under the wings – they saw a bored, stressed bird.

At some point in my veterinary training, I was given a great piece of advice about examining a patient: “Always look at the thing the client is worried about last. That way you won’t get distracted and miss something important.”

This approach gives your veterinarian the chance to look at your pet through their eyes and then through yours.

Now, if you don’t mind, I’m going to go back to worrying about the little legs of the hedgehog I saw wearing socks on Facebook. I'm worried the cuffs are going to cause pressure sores. 

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