Have you ever thought about a scenario and said, “Well I would have approached that differently?” Maybe even thinking that a different approach could have created a better outcome. Even though we shouldn’t judge our colleagues on how they practice medicine we might still judge them a little on how they present their knowledge. The way we discuss a treatment plan or surgery can severely affect how far the owner may go with treatment or even their understanding of the procedure.  You may be practicing great medicine but are you truly giving your patients the best outcome?

Here is a for instance. A 10-year-old intact female dog presents with increased thirst and urination, no appetite, and extremely lethargic. She is dehydrated and her white blood cell count is at 36k. We are all thinking it… pyometra. We all know that a lot of the time these present in poor shape but can be saved with surgery. So how does one veterinarian convince a client to euthanize but another can convince them to go forward with surgery? Lets examine one sentence that can make or break this dog’s chance at treatment.

1.“Fluffy is REALLY sick and could DIE even with surgery.”

The tone of this sentence emphasizes the negative and puts doubt on the solution. Yes, we all know that even with surgery there is a chance that the patient may still pass but without it the endgame is much worse. This client will likely euthanize an animal that could have been saved.

2. “I know Fluffy is really sick and may die but if we do surgery we can potentially save her”

This tone lays out the negative but also gives hope to the solution. The client is given the facts and empathy towards the situation and is also given confidence in the outcome. Likely the client will go forward with surgery to save their dog.

3. “Fluffy is really sick and this could have been prevented. We can try surgery to save her but she might die.”

This tone places blame on the client, who already is dealing with a lot, and essentially bullies them into either euthanizing or going forward with a surgery with no confidence. This puts them in a tough spot because they feel judged and just want to help their pet.

4. “I think Fluffy may be really sick and I’m unsure if she is going to make it through a surgery like this and will probably die even if we try.”

This tone gives the client no confidence in anything you are doing. They may take a long time deciding what to do or even take the dog for a second opinion because they do not trust you. Or they will feel like it’s not worth treating if you are so negative and will euthanize an animal that could have been saved.

The great thing about veterinary medicine is that we are all different in our style and personality but we do have to remember that our attitude towards treatment severely affects our patients and our clients’ choices. Sure there are still some clients that no matter how dire the situation and outcome they will still push forward with treatment, even when we all know the pet is suffering. But for the majority of our clients we need to show confidence, empathy, and trust in how we approach treatment options. Don’t let a few bad surgeries or experiences create an attitude towards future endeavors. Don’t let your inexperience shape the way you approach a treatment. Don’t let your judgments of clients cause you to treat their pet differently. We all want to give our patients the best treatment but remember your attitude when broaching the subject can make or break even the best care.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the DrAndyRoark.com editorial team.

Nicole Palumbo, DVM


Dr. Nicole Palumbo is a 2012 graduate from University of Illinois. She is originally from the south side of Chicago but chose to move to Northwest Pennsylvania for her first job out of veterinary school. She works with small animals, exotics, and also volunteers her time at the local wildlife rescue, typically performing surgeries and exams on the many raptors that are admitted to the facility. Recently she has taken a job with an emergency/general practice closer to Pittsburgh. With time she hopes to focus more time on wildlife medicine and also obtain specialization in feline medicine.