On the average, most vet clinics schedule appointments about every 20 minutes.  In a busy practice, it is not unusual for a vet to see about 30 patients a day.  Throw in time for surgeries, dental work, emergencies, in-hospital patients and so on, and you can see how chaotic a day can be for the average small animal vet.  I know, I did this for many years.

Imagine what is going on in your vet’s mind when he or she walks into the exam room, 15 minutes behind, lab. reports needing to be read, clients waiting to be called and trying to focus on your pet.  The mind can only do so much and retain its efficiency.  It can often be very difficult to stay focused when the mind is in overload, especially if the pet is not in a critical condition.

Vets that are trained in conventional western medicine use their reasoning mind to deal with your pet’s problems.  What we used to refer to as, left brain thinking, we vets deal with pet health problem the same way we would figure out how to solve an algebra problem.  We use linear thinking and cause and effect in order to get to the end result.

The average brain gets about 60,000 bits of information each second and it has to have ways in order to reduce this number in a way that it can maximize its function.  It does this by unconsciously cherry-picking information that it thinks will best serve the mind.  This selective screening process is formed by using its memory.

When you take your cat into the vet and tell him that he is going to the litter box too often, his mind immediately goes into selective mode, trying to get maximum efficiency in answering the problem.  His mind flashes through the memory software and selects the most likely answer to the problem.  The possible answer pops into his mind, he agrees with it (why not, he put it there), and moves to the next step, confirming the diagnosis or selecting a treatment.

Daniel Pink, in his fascinating book, A Whole New Mind, discusses research done at medical schools that showed that most doctors listen to their patient for about 20 seconds before the reasoning mind has made a tentative diagnosis and has already moved on to something else.  At that point, his mind is no longer capable of hearing the patient.  This is not some rude behavior on the part of the clinician, but a proven, physiological process that is controlled by the brain.  Believe me, this goes on in the exam room at the vet clinic as well.

What can we do in order to help our vet keep engaged, stay focused on our pet and devote the time and effort our pet deserves.  First, we don’t judge what is going on, but understand and help out.  We want to keep the vet engaged so that his mind doesn’t move on.  Here are a few things you might want to consider.

  1. Ask lots of questions. This is the best way to keep his mind in the exam room.  Example:  “Mrs. Jones, I suspect that your cat has a urinary tract infection.”  Jones:  “I see.  Are there other possibilities?  If so, is there something that needs to be done to make sure this is the problem?”
  2. Use your phone’s camera if your pet is doing something unusual. I remember working with a dog that had been seen by its regular vet several times and the specialist several times trying to determine why the dog had a persistent erection.  Logic told them that it was a hormonal problem, even though the dog had been neutered.  Many lab tests were done, including very expensive hormone assays.  No one could figure out the problem.  I ask the client if she could take a video of the dog and she did.  I watched the video and immediately determined that the dog was having a seizure and we focused on the correct diagnosis and resolved the problem.  What you describe might not be what your vet is seeing in his mind’s eye.
  3. Keep a journal. I love clients that keep a journal.  It has helped with so many pets over the years.  You don’t have to write down every time your pet sneezes, but you want to include pertinent information.  Keep a record of past illnesses, current problems and any medications that your pet is on or has been on more than once.  You can not only help your vet with helpful information but the journal is a great source for questions to ask to keep your vet engaged.  Example:  If your cat is going to get antibiotics for its urinary infection, you look at your journal and find that your cat had a reaction to Amoxicillin several years ago.  Your vet might not have this in his records or he might have been too busy to notice.  If your pet has had the problem several times, your vet might have forgotten.  You look at your journal and realize this and you ask why this is continuing to be a problem.  Again, you cannot assume that the vet will know this.  I promise you, as busy as he likely is, he has not had the time to review the entire past record.
  4. Empower yourself as your pet’s protector. Many vet clinics have standardized operating protocols that don’t account for individual situations.  The staff up front has been trained to make sure that nothing that needs to be done is overlooked.  I have seen many, many situations where a client took their pet to the vet and while they were waiting in the exam room, a clerical person walked in and informed them that there pet was overdue its vaccinations.  The vet, often in a hurry, gives the ok for the pet to be vaccinated, while forgetting that the pet has an ongoing or recurring disease that might be exacerbated by the vaccinations.  I have seen dogs with cancer, cats with kidney disease and many others given routine vaccines, which did more harm than good.
  5. Think, think and more thinking. You know a lot more about the situation than your vet.  While you are on the way to the clinic with a sick pet or sitting in the exam room, think about anything and everything that might have contributed to the problem.  Have you made any changes?  Did you treat your home with any products?  Has your pet been exposed to any other pets because you took it to the dog park?  Have you changed diets?  Any of these questions might help your vet determine what is wrong with your pet.

Remember, your vet is a busy person and his mind is going to be in efficient mode when looking at your pet.  Do your part to contribute as much as you can and I am sure he will be grateful.