“When you have a question about your pet’s health, what should you expect when you call your veterinarian?
During the chaos of our days, many of us find ourselves asking why things can’t just be easier. For example, you come home from work and your dog is acting “funny.” Can’t your veterinarian just help you over the phone? The kids will be home soon, you have to start dinner, and there’s no way you’ll make it up to the clinic before it closes.
The truth is, your veterinarian always wants you to call when something is going on with your pet, but legally and ethically there may only be so much he can do without examining the animal.
What should I do? Sparky has diarrhea.
Here’s the problem, legally a veterinarian must establish a relationship with you and your pet in order to treat the animal, and that requires a physical exam.
New client: So, if your veterinarian has never seen your pet—forget it. There is no prior relationship and therefore “treating” the pet over the phone is against the law.
Existing client: Say you and your pet have a relationship with your veterinarian, but there hasn’t been a physical exam in regard to this new condition. It’s often very difficult to describe things over the phone and be confident that you and your veterinarian understand things in the same way.
However, Heather Lewellen, DVM, says if she had recently seen the patient for something related, then she might feel more comfortable advising over the phone. “For example, if I started the dog on antibiotics for a skin infection and it develops diarrhea, I might be able to talk them through it over the phone, but I would still rather see it.”
That rash hasn’t gone away.
Calling about an existing condition the pet has recently been seen for by the veterinarian, opens the door a bit. As long as the veterinarian-client-patient relationship is well established and the animal has been examined for that problem, it’s up to what the veterinarian is comfortable with. Refilling (or even switching) medication, giving further advice and making recommendations (such as removing a bandage or feeding a bland diet) is fairly common.
Should I take Sparky to the ER?!?
Lewellen says the safe rule is if you think it’s an emergency—it is. Your veterinarian can direct you to the nearest veterinary hospital or will advise you to come into the clinic. However, if you are unsure if your pet’s condition is an emergency, your veterinarian can’t give you advice over the phone. She will recommend you come in and may ask questions regarding gum color, hydration, breathing rates or your pet’s attitude to help confirm if your pet needs immediate medical attention.”