#47 - Phrasing Feedback to a Vet

[00:00:00] Allie: I loved when Micaela was talking about learning how to communicate with your vet from the client perspective, and from behavior professional’s perspective. We don’t all need to go out and get veterinary degrees to help our pets, we just need to know how and what to communicate to our vets. Welcome to Enrichment for the Real World, the podcast devoted to improving the quality of life of pets and their people through enrichment. We are your hosts, Allie Bender…

[00:00:32] Emily: …and I’m Emily Strong…

[00:00:33] Allie: …and we are here to challenge and expand your view of what enrichment is, what enrichment can be and what enrichment can do for you and the animals in your lives. Let’s get started.

Thank you for joining us for today’s episode of Enrichment for the Real World, and I want to thank you for rating, reviewing, and subscribing wherever you listen to podcasts.

Last week we heard from Dr. Micaela Young about when medical problems become behavioral problems. This week we’re going to dive further into phrasing feedback for your vet and talk about implementation with the animals in your life. In this implementation episode, Emily and I talk about including everything, your vet knows more about your individual pet than Google does, and a little floof with a big reaction. Let’s get to it.

I think one of the really hard things about being a pet parent is knowing that something is wrong or different about your pet, but not being able to articulate what it is in a way that makes sense to a professional.

[00:01:34] Emily: Yeah, and it’s not that pet parents are being sketchy, or that medical professionals or behavior professionals are incompetent, it’s because this stuff is really complex. Nobody has a crystal ball. Both medical and behavioral professionals act based on the information they have at their disposal, so when things get lost in translation, it can kind of be like looking for a needle in a haystack.

[00:01:57] Allie: Right. So, I loved when Micaela was talking about learning how to communicate with your vet from the client perspective, and from behavior professional’s perspective. We don’t all need to go out and get veterinary degrees to help our pets, we just need to know how and what to communicate to our vets. So, with that, let’s get into how we can improve our communication with our pet’s veterinary team.

And the first is to be specific. Saying something like, ” Sometimes fluffy has loose stool.” Is not as helpful as saying, “Fluffy has loose stool usually around three times per week.” Describe clear, objective, observable information. It can be even better if you’re able to provide data. We talked about data tracking in episode 15, appropriately named Data Tracking for Enrichment, and you can absolutely use the techniques we talk about in that episode for behavior and apply it to any medical things you want to track.

There will be times though, when you don’t have the knowledge or words to be specific. When that happens, I usually opt for the more is more approach to communication. I just kind of brain dump everything that I’ve noticed whether I think it’s relevant or not, because oftentimes a professional will be able to find clues in that brain dump, and they can then pull that thread to get more helpful, information.

And remember like what Micaela was saying, just because something is common for your pet doesn’t mean it’s normal. So share that information anyway. This could look like saying something like, “Fluffy has loose stool around three times per week. She sometimes doesn’t eat breakfast, but she’s been that way since she was a puppy. Oh, and the licking. She’s always licking everything. Pillows. People. Sometimes she wakes us up in the middle of the night, I’d say at least once a week because she’s licking so much.”

When I have to take a brain dump approach, I make sure to bring notes with me to the appointment, so I don’t forget to mention anything.

[00:03:51] Emily: And speaking of mentioning things, make sure everyone on your pet support team has the same information. A lot of times I’ve been working on a case, and when I compare notes with the vet, or the dog walker, or the veterinary behaviorist, or whomever, we realized that we were operating off of different information.

These situations have never, in my experience, been because the client was trying to hide something from us. It was just because they don’t always know that, for example, a medical symptom may actually be relevant to something we’re working on behaviorally, or vice versa. So, it’s really important to make sure that everyone on the team is drawing from the same pool of information.

[00:04:29] Allie: And finally, a key component of effective communication for E everyone and everything, not just with your vet, is to approach conversations with a sense of curiosity and to ask for clarification if something doesn’t make sense. One of the difficult parts of medical care is that we all have a learning history with it, and some of us don’t have the best learning history working with human medical professionals, and we can sometimes let that seep into how we interact with our pet’s medical professionals.

Let’s be kind to our veterinary teams and give them the benefit of the doubt. If you’re not sure why they chose a particular medication or treatment when Google said that something else would be better, just ask them. They know more about your individual pet than Google does, after all. You can ask about different types of treatments, how long to try something for, what to expect if things go well and if they don’t go well, and what the next steps would be if we need next steps. All of that information is fair game, so absolutely ask if you have questions or concerns.

[00:05:32] Emily: All right, so one of the most memorable scenarios that showcased these points for me was several years ago when a client brought me in to help with her Pomeranian. She’d had this dog since she was a puppy and the dog had no history of biting, but then all of a sudden, the dog bit the woman so hard and so persistently that she had to have multiple surgeries on her hand. And then after that incident, the dog continued to bite the woman anytime she reached down to pick her up, albeit much less severely. Usually, she wasn’t even breaking the skin. But still, she went from no bites at all to biting every time the woman tried to pick her up.

The first thing she did was take the dog to the vet, but the vet couldn’t find anything wrong with her, so just gave her a clean bill of health. So, the woman was considering euthanasia, but she hired me first so that she could feel like she did everything to help her dog before making such a difficult decision.

In the course of our initial session, as I asked her more questions about the biting incidents, I learned that the dog had been curled up on her dog bed next to the woman’s rocking chair when the first bite happened. As I continued to ask questions about that event, we realized that the dog’s foot may have gotten caught under the rocking chair when the woman leaned back to pet her.

All of the dog’s biting incidents involved the woman reaching down to pick her up. I watched the dog walk, and there was really only the slightest limp, which was even harder to see under all of her floof. If I hadn’t had previous medical training, I probably would’ve missed it, honestly.

So, I told the woman to take her dog back to the vet and tell the vet specifically, “My dog is slightly limping on her right hind foot.” With that information, the vet did x-rays and discovered that the dog’s foot was broken in multiple places. I have never, in my 23 years in vet clinics, seen a dog with a broken foot who was weightbearing. So, I do not think that it was the vet’s fault for missing that on the first exam. It was astounding to all of us. We were all shocked, but this little dog was a trooper, and she’d been walking around on a broken foot for a few weeks at that point. When she got the proper surgery and treatment for her injuries, she suddenly stopped trying to bite mom, and they were able to return to their previously trusting relationship.

[00:07:45] Allie: What a poor little flu.

[00:07:47] Emily: I know, right? I, I mean, I was stunned that this dog was just walking around on a broken foot for that long. I mean, who does that? I guess if you weigh four pounds, it’s easier.

[00:07:56] Allie: I guess. For my story for today, I had a client who had a reactive kiddo and we were making progress with the reactivity, but then we had a regression and around that same time a new behavior cropped up where she wasn’t able to sleep through the night. We tried a few things and she mentioned that that new behavior to her vet, but it seemed to go away on its own in a few weeks.

So, we discontinued exploration and continued on with our plan. Then a few months later, the same thing happened, regression with the reactivity after months of making progress, and waking up in the middle of the night again. This time we are able to more accurately identify all of those tiny little behavior changes that cropped up when this happened the first time, and again now because we were starting to see a trend.

Now when she went back to her vet, she was able to do a brain dump of here is everything that has changed. And because she was able to provide more information, the vet knew what direction the testing should go in this time, and her pet was diagnosed with a thyroid condition.

[00:08:59] Emily: Yeah, it’s so weird how those like metabolic issues can kind of sneak up on us. And the only really obvious symptom that we see is that the dog’s just more irritable, or just having a harder time with life. And you’re like, “Oh, it’s cuz you don’t feel well. That’s why suddenly you got really cranky.” And it’s so funny because, of course, like same, right? I have not been my best self while I’ve been sick because I don’t feel good. I’m cranky, so yeah, of course.

[00:09:28] Allie: Right? And yeah, it was just all of those like little, tiny details that made the vet say like, “Hmm, thyroid.” That we wouldn’t have known without that brain.

All right, so this week we talked about tips for phrasing, feedback to your vet. That includes get specific or brain dump when in doubt, make sure everyone on your pet support team is operating with the same information, and when you have questions, ask them. Get curious instead of assuming wrongdoing.

Next week we will be talking with Lily Chin about Behind the Scenes with Doggy Drawings.

Thank you for listening. You can find us at petharmonytraining.com and @petharmonytraining on Facebook and Instagram, and also @petharmonypro on Instagram for those of you who are behavioral professionals. As always links to everything we discussed in this episode are in the show notes and a reminder to please rate, review and subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts a special thank you to Ellen Yoakum for editing this episode, our intro music is from Penguin Music on Pixabay.

Thank you for listening and happy training.

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