Whether It’s Fibbing or ‘Forgetting,’ Lying to Your Vet Is Not Cool!

Honesty is the best policy. So why do some folks LIE to their veterinarian? Dr. Deb has some tips for pet owners before their next vet visit.

Lying to your veterinarian can endanger your pet's health.

You don’t lie to your doctor, do you? Hope not. So why lie to your veterinarian? Isn’t our job hard enough since we can’t talk to our patients? When owners hide the truth, everyone loses, especially the pets.

The first thing we learn in veterinary school is to take a good history. A “history” is the term for the timeline of events that led up to the visit to the doctor. Why are you taking your pet to the vet today?

Getting a good history can be difficult. If your client lies or withholds information, it’s a nightmare. Or, if owners can’t get their story straight, if they’re  fighting with their husband about what really happened to Fluffy, or if your client sends the clueless babysitter in to the appointment, it can be a waste of time… and money.

This week, an owner beeped me on emergency saying she found some matted fur on the neck of her Golden Retriever, and she thinks she mistakenly cut his skin when trying to cut away the fur. This happens. It happens frequently, actually. I gave the client the option of going to the emergency hospital since my hospital was closed for the holiday, or waiting until we were open.

The client waited for an afternoon appointment three days after the mishap. Wooly Bear was still thoroughly happy as he awaited surgery on his LARGE skin laceration. His appointment was with my associate veterinarian. When he was on the surgery table, getting prepped for suturing, I walked by and said, “Wow, she really cut him with those scissors, didn’t she?” “What do you mean?” said my associate. “Mister said he didn’t know what happened to the dog.”

Ok, now who’s pulling the wool over whose eyes, please? Did the wife “forget” to tell the husband that she tried to decapitate the dog by accident, or did the husband “forget” to tell his veterinarian what really happened? We’ll never know.

It’s possible that Mr. and Mrs. Scissorhands really didn’t communicate with each other and Mr. Scissors just showed up with the dog “with a sore under the neck.” But this isn’t the best way to get prepared for your vet visit. Here are some suggestions I have for all owners before their vet visit.

1. Lying Isn’t Cool

Why would a pet owner lie to their vet? Usually, the client is feeling guilty or is embarrassed about something. Here are a few common scenarios:

  • You hurt your own pet by accident.
    Example: Mr and Mrs. Scissorhands
  • You THINK a child or family member might have hurt the pet, but you’re not sure.
    Example: The child dropped the chinchilla but told Mom she just found him like that. Mom has her doubts.
  • You know what happened, but it’s just too embarrassing to admit.
    Example: The dog and your high school son are both stoned, and the chewed-up, empty plastic bag of weed is on the bedroom floor.

Let’s go back to the accidental cutting away of fur. This is usually a pretty clean, straightforward wound that requires wound care and, possibly, antibiotics. But what if, as in this case, the wound is several days old and the client doesn’t tell the vet how it happened? The vet might think the dog could have been cut by a barbed wire fence. Maybe the dog also sustained some internal injury at the same time. The vet might want to take radiographs or do a more extensive work-up on the wound. Maybe do a culture, or prescribe more expensive antibiotics. Not knowing the real story may mean doing unnecessary tests.

Tell me no little white lies

How about the comatose chinchilla? Exotics are so difficult to diagnose anyway that a history is very important. If Mom has a strong suspicion that her 8-year-old looked guilty and there was a tear in her eye,  it’s best to come clean at the vet.

A lifeless chinchilla could mean 20 different things without a history. Knowing that an otherwise happy rodent was dropped or stepped on points us immediately in the direction of head or spinal trauma! We can immediately try to stabilize a “high rise syndrome” chinchilla rather than worrying about all other kinds of illnesses. (Pets can sustain severe injuries without any marks on the body. Many of our hit-by-car dogs and cats come in without a scratch.)

And about the last scenario, the dopey dog and the stoner kid? It’s pretty easy to tell if a pet has ingested something toxic, but difficult to know what the substance might be. We don’t have easy “tox” screens to run like you see on Law and Order or CSI. Even calling animal poison control is of little value if you don’t know the substance and the amount. If Mom is too embarrassed to tell you she found chewed up bits of plastic bag and the rest of her son’s stash in his room while “Happy” is stumbling around with his eyelids hanging down to his elbows, she’s doing you and “Happy Dog” a disservice.

If you are not as honest as you can be, you wind up spending more money on possibly unnecessary tests, and you put your pet at risk by hindering a quick diagnosis.

2. Get Your Story Straight Before Going to the Vet

Send the animal’s primary caretaker to the visit whenever possible. If you send your teenager who just got her driver’s license because you’re tired of her doing nothing after school,  remember to tell her why she’s taking Spud to the vet! When all else fails, send her with a note. (If this is a Saturday morning appointment, make sure you set her alarm for her so she actually gets to the appointment.)

3. No Bickering

If multiple family members or couples insist on coming to the veterinary visit as if it’s a family reunion, don’t bicker in the vet’s office. Husbands, wives, partners should work out their problems with their couples’ therapist, not with their vet.

Don’t argue about how long Grey Bear has had diarrhea, or when the lump on Katy first appeared. Don’t accuse your husband of forgetting to give Molly “the medicine,” or your wife of leaving the chocolate cake where Bozo could get it. A vet visit isn’t supposed to be an exercise in finger pointing!

The majority of clients try their absolute best to give me as good a history as possible. Combine an owner’s thoughtful knowledge of their pet with the veterinarian’s diagnostic prowess and we’ve got a medical plan. Now that we’ve figured it out what’s wrong, let’s fix it.

Dr. Debora Lichtenberg, VMD

View posts by Dr. Debora Lichtenberg, VMD
Dr. Debora Lichtenberg, VMD, is a small animal and exotics veterinarian who has split her time between a veterinary practice in Pelham, Massachusetts, and her studio in New York City. Dr. Lichtenberg is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine with 30 years of experience. Her special interests are soft tissue surgery and oncology.

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