Are you totally truthful, or do you just say what your veterinarian wants to hear?
I’m not accusing anyone of lying, but I want to point out a quirk of human nature — which is to anticipate the “correct” answer.
We like to get things right, and sometimes our brains are too smart for their own good. We’re asked a question, and our minds leap ahead several steps to anticipate the correct answer. The trouble is, in some situations, there are no right or wrong answers, but there can be misleading ones.
To illustrate this, let’s imagine your partner is repairing the electricity in the house. He asks, “Did you turn off the electricity supply?” If you forgot to turn off the main breaker, you wouldn’t say, “Yes, I did,” even though this is the answer he wants to hear. You know giving an inaccurate answer puts his life in danger.
Now let’s consider the impact of giving your vet a misleading answer…
You’ve probably noticed animals can’t speak, which means your veterinarian relies on taking a “history” to localize the problem.
Let’s say a cat comes in with an upset tummy. I might ask, “When did you last worm your cat?” Chances are, your thought process goes along the following lines:
“Oh, it was more than a year ago. I can’t say that. I’ll say it was a few weeks ago. That doesn’t seem so bad.”
The trouble is, from a clinical perspective, there’s a big difference between weeks and years, which could mean the cat undergoes unnecessary tests when all she needs is a worming pill. Accurately knowing when that cat was last wormed makes a big difference.
Not Judging You
From my point of view, I’m not asking questions to judge or point a finger. As part of the diagnostic process, I take a logical path of deduction using questions and answers to draw up a problem list.
Let’s take a real-life example of a dog I saw in the clinic last week. At the pre-op check, I asked my client when the dog last had a lungworm preventative. This is important because lungworm infection can impair the ability to clot blood — highly undesirable for a dog undergoing surgery.
The client’s answer? “Last month.”
This puzzled me — there was no record of him buying the necessary prescription medication. When I explained that an untreated dog was at greater risk of excessive bleeding during surgery, his face changed.
“No,” he said, with sudden eagerness to confess, “he hasn’t been treated for ages.”
Why the sudden change? In the first instance, he was anxious not to appear like a bad person. To his mind, bending the truth was of no consequence. What he hadn’t realized was telling a little white lie put his pet’s life in danger.
Another potentially dangerous situation where people sometimes don’t appreciate the importance of their answer is starving a pet before anesthesia.
When being put under anesthesia, pets should have nothing in their stomachs. Why? They can’t swallow but they can vomit, which means there’s a risk of inhaling vomited food down into their lungs — with potentially life-threatening consequences.
I’ve known people who, when asked, “Has Bonzo been starved overnight?” simply say, “Yes.” Then, when asked, “Has Bonzo had his medication today?” their answer is, “Yes.” And a question about how they got the pill down reveals this: “He had a few biscuits.”
Of course, these folks acted with the best of intentions, but not giving the vet all the facts places pets in danger. Again, don’t be afraid to mention things you might think are trivial, especially if you didn’t take your veterinarian’s advice.
Treating Your Pet, Not Judging You
Your vet isn’t judging you — she’s just interested in getting your pet well again.
To do this, she much prefers to hear the truth, whatever that is, than be accidentally misled through a misplaced sense of bashfulness or embarrassment. We want the best for the pet, just as you do.
Think twice and be honest with your vet — it can save everyone, especially your pet, a lot of grief.
This pet health content was written by a veterinarian, Dr. Pippa Elliott, BVMS, MRCVS. It was last reviewed Oct. 16, 2015.