5 Surprising Things Clients Ask About Their Pet’s Health

Posted by Sarah Wooten, DVM

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The internet has been around for decades, and pet health information is literally everywhere. But as any veterinary professional can tell you, clients still need help when it comes to vetting health information about their dogs.

Here are five surprising questions clients still ask about their dog’s health—and how best to handle these questions when they invariably come your way.

5 Surprising Dog Health Questions

Why does my dog need a yearly checkup? He’s healthy

This question represents a knowledge gap between what we as veterinary professionals know and what our clients believe. Minding and respecting this gap can lead to new ways of helping our clients. be under the impression that routine veterinary visits make no difference. This is especially true for budget-conscious clients, who may be hesitant to spend money on preventive health care if their dog has no need for veterinary services. When their pet is due for a vaccine, some clients may prefer to visit a low-cost vaccination clinic rather than taking their pet to the vet. 

This question represents a knowledge gap between what we as veterinary professionals knowand what our clients believe. Minding and respecting this gap can lead to new ways of helping our clients.

Most of the time, when you are performing a physical exam, the client doesn’t know what you are doing. That is natural—they didn’t undergo the years of schooling and training that you did. It is up to you to walk your client all the way through the physical exam process. Celebrate the positive as you go—“Fluffy is a great weight, good job!”—and bring awareness to things that need attention—”Here are Fluffy’s lymph nodes. Notice how this one is bigger than the others? We need to check that out.” Your client will appreciate your effort to explain what you’re looking for and seeing, and it will bring value to the physical exam.

It also helps to share success stories of how annual exams helped prevent bigger problems or saved pets’ lives. You can give examples without revealing specific details, to respect your clients’ confidentiality. You can also leverage social media or monthly newsletters to shine the spotlight on issues that your team was able to identify and resolve early with an annual exam. For instance, identifying unhealthy weight gain in a patient before it potentially caused other health problems, like heart disease or joint problems. To reiterate the importance of being proactive about their pet’s health as opposed to reactive, you can also remind clients that pets are really good at hiding signs of illness or injury.

You can do what for my dog? I thought that was just for humans.

From innovative treatments to emerging therapies, most clients aren’t fully aware of what we can do for their pets. They may not realize that the same technology and treatment options that exist for humans also exist for animals, especially if they’re a first-time pet owner or if it’s been a while since they’ve had a pet. Concepts like canine rehabilitation, microbiome therapy, and palliative care might not be on their radar, and it’s up to us to share that knowledge. So whether your client’s dog is diagnosed with a terminal illness or is suffering from arthritis pain, make sure to walk them through the available options.

Some clients may assume these treatments and therapies are financially out of reach. It is our job to graciously let clients know that although they can be expensive, these services are not of the same magnitude as human health and may be more affordable than they thought.

Why should I spay or neuter my dog?

Aside from helping reduce pet overpopulation, many clients often don’t realize that spaying and neutering can help protect against some potential health problems in dogs, such as uterine infections and breast cancer in females and benign prostatic hyperplasia and testicular cancer in males. These surgeries may also mitigate undesired mating behaviors. Of course, there are potential risks to consider as well, so the decision about if and when to spay or neuter should be made on an individual basis.

Some of us (this veterinarian included) have even been asked if we can neuter a female dog instead of spay her, since a spay is more expensive than a neuter. It’s up to us to explain that while they are both sterilization procedures, a neuter involves removing the testes from a male pet and a spay involves removing the ovaries, fallopian tubes, and uterus from a female pet. And given this difference in anatomy, spays are more complicated than neuters because females have internal reproductive organs as opposed to external ones.

Spays are hard, but clients don’t realize how complex the procedure is—and why would they? They aren’t in the surgery room, sweating alongside us. Once again, it comes back to proper education. While these surgeries are routine, they are still surgical procedures that involve anesthesia, an intravenous catheter, supportive fluids, and proper care to ensure everything goes well. Taking that extra five minutes to explain the procedure to a client will help create “aha” moments and understanding. It may even bond you and your client together…you never know.

I’m a vegan. Can I feed my dog a vegan diet?

Conversations about nutrition can be tense and tricky to navigate, but they can’t be avoided. Pet parents have questions, beliefs, and desires, and they need us to provide unbiased, evidence-based advice, no matter where we fall on the dog food continuum. If we don’t have the conversation, they are going to look elsewhere for information, and those sources may be unreliable or untrustworthy.

The truth is dogs can survive on a plant-based diet. Their guts have evolved alongside humans for thousands of years. Plant-based diets are very popular with humans, and clients are going to need guidance when it comes to their dogs. You could talk to clients about feeding a diet that uses eggs, dairy, or fish in place of traditional meat protein. If your client is still insistent about feeding vegan, then let them know that it is possible, but stress the absolute need to consult with a veterinarian nutritionist to formulate a complete and balanced vegan diet.

Do I really need to give my dog parasite control medication?

The parasite control conversation can really make you feel like a broken record. Clients may question parasite control recommendations if they don’t know how important it is. We’ve all heard certain common refrains: “my dog is indoors,” “I live in a cold area.” If you want to cut to the chase, there’s an easy way around this conversation. Try tying the use of parasite control to something the client cares about. Find out what they like to do with their dog and connect parasite control to helping them feel even safer and happier when engaging in these activities.

You should also remind clients that some pet parasites are zoonotic. By informing clients about parasitic diseases in pets, it helps create greater incentive to administer broad-spectrum parasite protection, such as Interceptor® Plus (milbemycin oxime/praziquantel).

If you tune yourself in to what your clients need and want, put yourself in their shoes, and build up your soft skills, you can transmute these communication challenges into opportunities that help more pets and people—and make your day a little bit easier at the same time.

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Intercepto® Plus Indications

Interceptor® Plus is indicated for the prevention of heartworm disease caused by Dirofilaria immitis and for the treatment and control of adult roundworm (Toxocara canisToxascaris leonina), adult hookworm (Ancylostoma caninum), adult whipworm (Trichuris vulpis), and adult tapeworm (Taenia pisiformisEchinococcus multilocularisEchinococcus granulosus and Dipylidium caninum) infections in dogs and puppies six weeks of age and older and two pounds of body weight or greater.

Interceptor® Plus Important Safety Information

Treatment with fewer than 6 monthly doses after the last exposure to mosquitoes may not provide complete heartworm prevention. Prior to administration of Interceptor® Plus, dogs should be tested for existing heartworm infections. The safety of Interceptor Plus has not been evaluated in dogs used for breeding or in lactating females. The following adverse reactions have been reported in dogs after administration of milbemycin oxime or praziquantel: vomiting, diarrhea, depression/lethargy, ataxia, anorexia, convulsions, weakness, and salivation. For full prescribing information see Interceptor Plus package insert.

Disclaimer: The author received compensation from Elanco US Inc., the maker of Interceptor Plus, for her services in writing this article.  

Interceptor® is a trademark of Elanco or its affiliates.