#32 – The Tension Between Breeders & Veterinarians –and what to do about it

by | Feb 12, 2022 | Dog & Puppy Management

A buyer once emailed me about her new puppy who had a bladder infection. She had completed one course of antibiotics, yet the very next day she again tested positive for an infection. Her vet told her that the dog would probably always have these bladder infections and blamed them on a genetic defect: a genetically misshapen vulva that encourages bacterial growth. This is heartbreaking information to give a new puppy buyer, especially one who just paid a fair amount of money to buy a “healthy dog.”

Thankfully, my buyers are kind enough to talk about this stuff with me; it is excellent information for the breeding program and education in general, however, this just didn’t add up.

At the time I had bred over 72 puppies and this was a first for this sort of problem. The antibiotics were odd, if the dog had just been on antibiotics, why would she test positive one day later? Wrong antibiotics? The owner and I started piecing things together. Urinary tract infections (UTIs) can happen, and they are more common in higher temperatures where bacteria can grow easily, while dogs might not be consuming enough water. We decided to do what we could to encourage greater water consumption and discourage bacterial growth:

keeping the water cool: in the shade or with ice cubes, adding a little apple cider vinegar to help discourage bacteria growth, andfreezing hotdogs in a dog bowl filled with water*

  • The hotdogs have salt which increases thirst and encourages drinking, the flavor entices them to eat through the ice, which encourages more water consumption, and the dog has fun, which is an added benefit.
  • *Now this isn’t something you should do every day: too many hotdogs = really high salt intake, which is worse for dogs than humans, so please be careful with this, as in weekly, not daily when given as a treat.

In just a few days the dog was fine, she was going to the bathroom more frequently and the infection had cleared. I am not a vet, but I do like to apply some common sense to problems. This pup was living in Tucson, Arizona during the absolute hottest part of summer. My dogs squat really low to pee and when they are puppies that little hair on their vulva touches the ground and collects bacteria. As they get older, this no longer touches the ground and isn’t a problem, but when they are little they can be prone to bacteria collection. The simplest solution is to cut the hair and this usually fixes the problem as by 16 weeks the dog no longer squat that low.

This sort of situation, where the breeder feels at odds with a vet over a new puppy that went home, isn’t uncommon. It happens more than I wish. It’s natural to feel defensive. For a while, I was super frustrated with veterinarians, I always felt like they were taking advantage of my puppy buyers.

There’s always this feeling in the back of my mind about how one of my puppy buyers will take their new puppy to the vet, they’re worried about something, they always care so much to do right by the puppy, they’re afraid to mess up, to do something wrong, and they’re afraid to be a bad owner. It’s not usually the owner’s fault, puppies are pretty proficient at eating the wrong things, they get overzealous with their adventures, and they often need to go to the vet.

Yet, it just feels like it’s the perfect opportunity for a vet to take advantage. They see a young couple come in with a puppy, they look stressed, they’re worried of failing, and don’t know what to do. They clearly just spent a lot of money on the dog and it would be easy to convince them to do a few extra diagnostic tests, “just in case.” These tests can be hundreds of dollars, but it’s likely the couple will pay because they don’t want to fail, they don’t want something to happen to their puppy.

Vet’s often see the worst in dogs, after all, that’s what they do, they fix problems. It makes sense that their opinion of breeders isn’t always the best because they see the worst in dogs more than they see the best.

I often feel this way when I go to the vet. I may have 12 litters go home without a hitch, my owners are happy, the dogs are thriving, but when does my vet see me? Only when I have a problem. ALL they see is when I’m having a problem or struggling. How could they not get the impression that I can’t get my stuff together right?

You know those people you only notice when they screw up? It’s the same thing. The guy at work who is only noticed when he’s late. He’s been to work on time every day for the past three months, but today he’s late, and we all notice. Or you’re driving great each day, you use your blinker, stop on each red light, but then you hit the break too hard, scare the guy behind you, and now they think you’re a crazy driver.

There is a great quote by Blair Warren that reads:

“People will do anything for those who encourage their dreams, justify their failures, allay their fears, confirm their suspicions, and help them throw rocks at their enemies.”

If the vet wants to easily build rapport with the couple, they can blame you, the breeder, for this problem, no matter its merit. Blaming the breeder for the difficulties the couple is having does exactly what Warren says, it justifies their failures with the puppy, it lessens their fears that it’s their failure as an owner, it confirms a suspicion that the breeder gave them a lemon, and helps them collectively have a common enemy, you, the breeder.

It also reduces the blame the owners may hold for the vet, as the vet now has to “make it work” with the mess that the dog is, because of the breeder.

The truth is most vets don’t think like this, they aren’t vindictive like that. In fact, I have yet to meet a vet that didn’t genuinely care about the animals they’re treating.

There’s a lot at stake for veterinarians. There’s a lot of liability in their business, they have a license to maintain and there can be dire consequences for their medical decisions.

It’s further complicated because of the people and their desperation for answers and a solution. They want their pet fixed and now. Then the vets have to deal with the management who run the clinic, requiring them to meet certain deadlines and follow standard procedures. Oftentimes their hands are tied in ways out of their control.

If they are solo or traveling vets, it’s even more complicated because they’re not only providing all the care to their patients, but they are managing all of the clients, the paperwork, the inventory on medical supplies, and the scheduling.

There is currently a crisis in the veterinarian industry, there aren’t enough vet schools; they’re aren’t enough vets in practice, and more and more people are adding dogs to their families. The vets are stretched thin.

We have to cut them some slack, they’re truly doing the best they can.

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So how do we get quality vet care?

First off, the most important thing you can do for your dog is take responsibility for their vet care. I’m not suggesting you actually perform the vet care or disregard your vet’s advice, but I don’t want you to remove yourself from the process. You should aim to understand the issue at hand, understand what caused this, what the treatment is, what the long-term effects are, and how to prevent it in the future, if possible. This is our responsibility as a breeder.

For example, if your puppies get coccidia, you’ll want to take them to the vet, get the treatment, but this shouldn’t be standard with your breeding program. You shouldn’t have to take every litter to the vet to get treatment for coccidia. It’s important to have the conversation with your vet on how this is transmitted, how did the puppies get it? What can you do to prevent this in the future.

When you take responsibility for your vet care, you stay involved.

Become a team with your vet and look to them as an advisor—the technical expert. YOU are the final decision maker. You are the captain, they are the ship technician. You’re the CEO, the vet is on your board of advisors. When you take responsibility for your dog’s care, you start asking better questions, you get better answers, and you make better decisions for your dog. No one knows your dogs like you do.

Okay, so knowing that you want to be involved in the process of quality vet care, what should you look for in a vet? How do you find a good one?

Be Able to Talk to Your Vet

The most helpful thing you can have in a vet is the ability to talk with them— and have them listen to you. A vet has gone through a LOT of school to get where they are, even vets in their residency have already completed many years of study. For this, they earn respect, but it takes more than education to make a great vet.

A great vet will be approachable, she will make you feel comfortable asking questions (even if you think the question might be dumb), and she certainly won’t give you a condescending look if you have to ask her to translate her Latin to English. She will encourage you to ask questions and when it comes to decision making time a great vet will layout your options, the pros and cons, and provide you the criteria you need to make a decision.

In my ideal world, you come to the vet, you say, “hey this and this is happening…” the vet says, “well, what’s this like? Is this happening…?” And you explain your take on those things with your dog. Then the vet comes back and says, “Okay, well, that narrows things down to this or that, diagnostically we can do this test or this to assess which it is, what are your thoughts?”

This lays out the whole thing, you can ask questions as to how it’s all related, how much the tests cost, how quickly you’ll get results, and how quick the treatment will be or the outlook of the issue. It’s collaborative, but also guided, yet in this situation you understand what’s going on.

On the Hunt for Truth

As I have unfortunately seen in so many vets over the years, many look to absolve their liability instead of solving the problem. In the case of the puppy earlier, we should have been figuring out where she was getting the bacteria: was it fecal? from the ground? was she swimming in lakes constantly? Or we should have been figuring out why she wasn’t able to fight the infection herself? Bad nutrition? Weakened immune system? Wrong antibiotics? Not enough water?  A great vet doesn’t just tell you whats wrong, she helps you figure out what to do NOW— in the current situation while you are knee deep in mud.

Look for a vet who wants to find the root of the problem so you know what you’re dealing with. You should understand your temporary solution, your permanent solution, and how it will change your dog’s—and maybe your—lifestyle. Will he be on pills every day for the rest of his life causing liver problems later? Will he be alive but without any quality of life? A great vet has curiosity for the truth, but does not lose sight of the big picture—the long-term quality of life for your beloved friend.

Some over zealous vets are truly good vets. However, be careful with those who lose sight of the forest for the trees. A great vet will be able to sort which tests will be most beneficial in diagnosis instead of running a ton of tests and running a large tally on your invoice. This equates to the mechanic who changes parts until they finally fix the car, did you really need all those new exhaust parts to fix the fuel issue?

For example, my stud went through a phase where he lost a ton of weight in two weeks—near 20% of his body weight. I took him in to my vet. After a clear stool test and no sign of infection in his blood work, we discussed our options. I asked what the next step diagnostically was, she said essentially the only thing left is a dog colonoscopy. Given what we knew, there was a high probability of a parasite in the digestive tract, something not seen on a standard fecal test. I asked what she would do if we found a parasite like that. She said she would prescribe a certain antibiotic. We decided it was worth trying the $20 antibiotic instead of doing a $200 test to confirm what we already had a strong hunch about. She was looking to solve the problem without digging deeply into my pocket and I have a lot of respect for that. By the way, my stud put on 7 pounds in 14 days and was back to normal after the antibiotics.

Genuine Compassion and Empathy

Dealing with the public and sick animals on a daily basis is not an easy job. Great compensation—which isn’t the case for many vets—is not enough to take away the pain the job can cause. Many vets are hardened by the pain and they lose touch with what they do. Please take the time to find a vet who still has compassion, who empathizes with you and your dog and the pain you are going through. They will be better at solving the problem with a quality of life approach, which is far better than quantity of life.

Some ways to assess compassion in a vet include noticing if she cares to learn the name of your pet, or if she asks questions related to quality of life. Things like, “does your pet seem lethargic and depressed” or “is his energy okay on this medication?” She might also ask how you are holding up with the situation, although this one is a little rarer, it is so wonderful if you can find a vet like this!

Experience: More Is Not Always Better

Part of what helps you get along with your vet in a beneficial way is if your philosophies align. If you are very interested in new alternative treatments, like essential oils or natural remedies then you might not get along with a vet who is more confident using medications, the tried-and-true methods, and less open to discuss these options.

A more experienced vet is wonderful because they have been there, done that, and now they give out the T-shirts, however they may be less open to alternatives. They will be quicker to diagnose accurately, but you may butt heads over treatment. A newer vet may have more compassion and vigor for the job, but may lack in experience. A newer vet may be willing to entertain alternatives or newer sciences, and might be more willing to bend over backwards for you. Consider philosophies, they separate what works for you from what works for other people.

Just Remember…

If you’re in the business of trusting your gut, you will know the best vet for you after you meet her. You will feel trust, relief, and it will be anything but stressful. You will feel at ease. If you don’t find that with your vet, I encourage you to keep looking.

A great vet has the heart of a teacher, the curiosity of scientist, and the compassion of a preacher. She is on your side, like a third parent looking out for your dog. When you find the right vet, thank her, and let her know you appreciate all that she does because the job isn’t easy and the great ones are few and far between.

Show Notes

Referenced Links
Want to Get the Roadmap to a Successful Breeding Program?

Hey! I’m Julie Swan! I’m here to help you build a breeding business that you love, one that produces amazing dogs, places them in wonderful homes, gives you the life you want, also pays the bills!