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What is Value?

Everyone loves a happy and healthy pet, and all of us want the best possible deal for our pet care dollars. So, when it comes to caring for our pets, WHAT IS VALUE?

Too many of us have been taught that quality health care means keeping our pet’s vaccinations up to date. This is the fault of the veterinary profession, and I freely admit to buying into this philosophy in my younger years. Lately though, the “all vaccinations, all the time” approach has become a peeve of mine.

I look at it this way: Are you up to date on your tetanus booster? Quite a few of us are not. If all of us marched into our doctor’s office tomorrow and got vaccinated, would we be healthier? I don’t think so.

Now, don’t misunderstand. Prevention is the best medicine and vaccination has saved more lives than all other medical procedures combined. Remember smallpox? Polio? Me neither. These diseases have been vaccinated nearly out of existence in the US, and smallpox has been eradicated worldwide. In animals, canine distemper, and canine and feline parvovirus disease are pretty rare, having been relegated to the status of “diseases resulting from neglect.” But if I could wave my hand and magically get all those vaccinations up to date, would I do it? No. Not for everybody.

“Booster vaccination” is not the same as “quality health care.” While vaccination is critical to the prevention of certain deadly diseases, to continually and mindlessly administer boosters to all patients at all ages and all risk levels is, in a word, nuts. An eight-week-old puppy, a previously vaccinated eight-year-old adult, and a sixteen-year-old granny dog will receive vastly different levels of benefit from a distemper booster. For owners lacking unlimited means, pet care dollars need to be spent where they do the most good. A money-saving visit to the drive-through vaccination clinic (Just hang your dog’s butt out the window, ma’am!) to update his shots may not be such a great deal after all.

Quality health care starts with an examination. That means you and your veterinarian go over your pet’s body in detail. Your veterinarian will ask you questions about your pet’s health and point out areas of concern. You’re given an opportunity to point out things about your pet that concern you (What is this lump?) and ask your own questions (Does this collar make my cat look fat?). Your veterinarian takes time to answer your questions and explain terms you don’t understand.

Quality pet care requires that you know your veterinarian and your veterinarian knows you and your pet. If you see a different veterinarian every time you take your pet for an exam, you’re not getting the quality of care that you deserve – and pay for.

THEN, once the examination is complete, your veterinarian will make recommendations about what will best promote and maintain your pet’s health. Quality health care IS NOT read off a menu, as if every animal were a piece of lean ground pet, and never, ever sounds like this:

“Hello, I’m Doctor Onetime. You say Fluffy isn’t feeling well? Well then, we need to run a CBC, Chem 27, Urinalysis, and a Comprehensive Feline Virus Panel. Oh, I see he’s over six years of age, so we have to run a Total T4. Why? That’s a minimum database for a cat his age. What’s that Mrs. Smith? You say your other cat bit him on the foot? Well then, we’d better take some X-rays… ”

Go ahead. Call me a heretic. I think testing recommendations should be based upon the patient’s condition and requirements, not some idealized menu-driven notion of what’s best. I’m completely in favor of pets receiving perfect-world health care, but we don’t live in that perfect world and neither do our pets. What Fluffy needs most is a thorough examination, which will show that he feels lousy because he has a fever from an infected foot. All the testing in the world will not make him better any faster. Let’s save in-depth diagnostics for the patients who really need it.

Quality pet care is based on thoughtful consideration of the patient’s needs, and the patient’s needs are discovered during a thorough physical examination. Find a veterinarian you can talk to and trust, who will help you decide how best to care for your pet.

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