All Creatures Great And Small

As Christmas approaches spare a thought for your long suffering veterinarian. Of all the times over the years that I have been called to emergencies perhaps 10% were genuine. A dog that has been coughing for three weeks probably does not need to be seen at 11 o’clock at night. If you have a bitch on heat and your male dog is whining and has a whitish discharge from the end of his penis, he is probably behaving like a normal dog. Unfortunately it is hard to determine over the phone if you are dealing with a genuine emergency or not. The one time you successfully put off a client will probably be the one time you have a dead animal the next day.

For genuine emergencies we will of course drop the Christmas turkey and attend to it. Genuine emergencies usually come on suddenly e.g. snake bite, hit by car or a twisted stomach because someone took their large dog for a run right after a big meal. Non-genuine emergencies tend to have been grumbling along for some time, such as our dog with a cough. That is not to say that something that has been dragging on for a while could not now have become a genuine emergency, but it would have been better to have had it seen to before it reached that stage.

And don’t even think about grumbling over the bill after you have dragged your veterinarian out of bed or away from Christmas dinner. Veterinary medicine has an incredibly high attrition rate (and suicide rate) attributable, at least in part, to working long hours (try finding a mechanic that is open at 7 pm, or even a GP) along with the relentless stress of making life and death decisions, all for relatively little remuneration. A 1996 North American survey found that the average income of an experienced veterinarian aged between 40 and 49 was $53,500, compared with $110,000 for dentists, $124,100 for physicians and $101,700 for lawyers (http://www.svma.sk.ca/lit/roi.pdf). Consider your average GP whose overheads comprise an office and a stethoscope and compare that with a veterinarian who has to pay off the $20,000 X-ray machine, the $5,000 anaesthetic machine and a few thousand dollars worth of cages. Consider also that human medical procedures are heavily subsidised by the government. While repair of the anterior cruciate ligament in a dog may set you back $2000, the equivalent surgery in a human can cost up to $50,000. As the government subsidises these sorts of procedures and many people have private health care the actual out of pocket expense for the surgery on a human is about $2000 (http://www.ehow.com/about_5398546_average-cost-acl-surgery.html). So please stop complaining about vet bills and use some common sense when deciding if Fido needs to be seen before or after the turkey.

Dr. F. Bunny

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