DIY Veterinary Medicine: Where do We Draw the Line?

Dr. Patty Khuly

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We veterinarians often have a love-hate relationship with at-home healthcare. On the one hand we strive for compliance from our clients, while on the other we’re mortified when they take matters into their own hands. We’ve known too many pets who suffered the wrath of makeshift splints, botched wart removals, backwoods tail docking methods, and strange parasite-killing concoctions. Whether it’s Dr. Google, Dr. Mother-in-law, or Dr. Bestie-from-yoga, we’re appalled that anyone would take medical advice from a non-professional and turn it into a DIY experiment –– on their pets!

Which is why, excellent intentions notwithstanding, we always urge that pet owners seek professional veterinary counsel before embarking on an irreversible course of DIY care. Makes sense, right? Not only is it heartbreaking to see pet owners lose pets to conditions that could have been treated with excellent results, it’s gut-wrenching to tell a client they’re responsible for it.

But, as always, there are two sides to every story. There are plenty of times when a DIY approach is warranted –– even preferable –– to more formal interventions. For example, this often holds true in the case of especially- stressed pets who suffer unduly when carted over to our hospitals on their person’s every nervous whim or trivial concern. Nail trimming, tooth brushing, pilling, temperature-taking, ear cleaning, and bathing are basic skills everyone should know.

But it’s not just about the simple things we demand that our clients learn, it’s now about sophisticated home care too.

Indeed, the stressed-patient example may help make the case for teaching pet owners how to manage their own diabetics (glucose curves and all), showing them how to administer subcutaneous fluids, demonstrating how they should nebulize their pets, and explaining exactly how we recommend they soak or hot pack wounds (among other advanced home care techniques).

Given today’s technology –– email, text, videography, and such –– there’s really no excuse for requiring that every patient be managed wholly in hospital as in years past. Moreover, today’s pet owner is far more willing to comply with our recommendations to the letter.

Further, seeing as veterinary medicine is so expensive (increasingly so), it also stands to reason that pet owners might want to take on some of the workload. And, while you might argue that home care recommendations take buckets directly out of our revenue stream, I’d argue that today’s owners are much more savvy about what they can or can’t do and tend to resent “unnecessary” follow-ups as much as they do high prices. In these cases, teaching home care represents an opportunity to show your respect for their abilities. Which can endear them to you more than you might imagine. (Goodwill is priceless.)

So where should we draw the line, you ask?

While the answer will be different for every single one of us, I’d argue that DIY vet medicine deserves respect if it’s administered as a prescription (of sorts) from a veterinary professional. The most crucial element in DIY is that the veterinarian stay in the loop when it comes to every single healthcare crisis. That’s where I draw my line.

Ultimately, what we all want is to be valued as the foremost authority when it comes to our patients’ healthcare - because we want excellent outcomes, not because we want padded incomes. After all, our best clients are smart enough to know their limits and we should grant them the opportunity to prove themselves, especially when it improves patient care overall.

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