Whether you find the title of this post either exceptionally crass or exceptionally clever, I cannot take credit either way, as it comes from a Facebook meme I recently saw posted by a veterinary friend and colleague of mine. It was a recent client visit that had me feeling like I was banging my head against a wall that reminded me of the meme that inspired me to write this post.
A beloved client that has been seeing me for over 12 years brought her new Golden Retriever puppy for her second set of puppy immunizations. I had tended to her two previous Golden Retrievers who were sisters from the same litter that we collectively nursed through the myriad health issues that commonly afflict dogs in their twilight years. In one particular incident, I performed emergency surgery on one of them to stop internal hemorrhage that had resulted from a ruptured spleen. We enjoyed a great working relationship built on mutual respect and trust, which makes what I am about to discuss in this post all the more unpleasantly surprising.
As I was about to administer the second immunization of the puppy visit, my client asked me what it was. I told her that is was leptospirosis. With that answer, she promptly asked me to stop, as she intended to decline that vaccine. When I asked her why, she stated that her breeder warned her not to have the vaccine administered.
At that moment, I felt my blood pressure rising and I have admit, was thoroughly annoyed. The fact that a breeder feels qualified to give veterinary advice – that goes against my veterinary medical judgment, as well as the judgment of the American Veterinary Medical Association and the American Animal Hospital Association that all recommend Leptospirosis as a core canine vaccine – is troubling enough, but for my beloved client of over 12 years to trust a breeder’s judgment over mine is a punch in the gut.
As annoyed as I felt, I kept my cool and calmly asked my client why her breeder had an issue with Leptospirosis vaccine. To this, my client stated that her breeder did not specify and simply told her that it was very dangerous. My follow up sentiment was that “dangerous” is a very nebulous term and I asked if she was referring to any specific syndromes, FDA, or adverse reaction data. She said no.
I then asked my client if her breeder had any veterinary medical training, which my client answered no, but she is a very knowledgeable and respected breeder. I asked my client if her breeder told her that Leptospirosis is bacterial disease that is transmitted via the urine of rodents, including squirrels and rats, has an uncanny ability to survive in an environment of moist soil and fresh standing water, and carries a 50% mortality rate. She said no.
I assured my client that the immunization is not only statistically overwhelmingly safe, but that it also saves lives as it protects from a deadly disease that is on the rise. My assurance was dismissed, and she remained steadfast in her intent to decline the vaccine, but promised that she will continue to look into it.
Although we often do not think of it this way, veterinary clients are paying customers. In addition to being paying customers, they have sentiments and concerns about their furry family members medically justified or not that deserve our attention and to be addressed with respect. As such, I parted from the visit agreeing to disagree and welcomed her to return for a complementary immunization should she change her mind.
Although I handled the encounter professionally, days later I still have difficulty shaking off the frustration that my veterinary medical judgment has been undermined by a breeder and my client that in this case values her breeder’s opinion over mine.
Dr. Roger Welton is the President of Maybeck Animal Hospital in West Melbourne, FL, Chief Editor of the Veterinary Advice and Information Website, Web-DVM, and founder/CEO of Dr. Roger’s Holistic Veterinary Care.