We have all been in the exam room with about-to-explode clients. The pet is uncomfortable, itching and scratching. The clients want answers. More than that, they want their baby fixed! They're here, possibly as a second opinion, because "that other veterinarian couldn't make it stop." Or perhaps they've come back to see you for the fourth time this winter already and are losing faith in the doctor's treatments.
Aside from the expense of multiple visits, the matter of uncomfortable Fido still sits in front of you, gnawing helplessly at his raw red skin, like the flashing light on a ticking time bomb. Your client's short fuse is about to ignite.
Uncross the wires
What can you do to defuse the situation? There's no magic wand the doctor can wave over these pets. Many of us find ourselves filling the same prescription for the same band-aid solution, sending clients out the door feeling frustrated because it's the same thing they did last time that didn't cure Fido.
"Allergic skin disease in pets is a complex condition that can be difficult to manage and is almost impossible to cure," says Dr. Eliza Roland, a veterinarian with VCA Seaside Animal Hospital in Calabash, N.C. "Pets can suffer from many different allergies, and identifying what a pet is allergic to involves different diagnostic tests and management strategies that can be costly and time-consuming. This can be a frustrating disease for owners, pets and veterinarians because there's no easy fix. But there are many medications, supplements and therapies that can be helpful."
Unfortunately, owners still want a quick fix, says Angie Reaves, head technician at VCA Seaside Animal Hospital. "It's our job to explain this is going to be an ongoing battle."
Map your plan
"The goals for acute and chronic management are different," Dr. Roland says. "Acute care goals are focused on making the pet feel better. These include treating infections of the skin and ears if present, decreasing itching and discomfort and improving skin health. Chronic care goals include identifying the allergic triggers and improving the immune system's response to these triggers."
Allergies are a common condition for pets. Whether it's fleas, inhalant or food sources, they can cause a myriad of troubles, such as itchy, crusty, inflamed skin or ear infections.
"We need clients to understand that our treatments are band aids to keep allergy symptoms under control when their pets have flare ups," Reaves says. "They need to know there are things they need to do on an ongoing basis to keep their pets healthy and happy and much more comfortable."
Our first step in this process is listening. We need to really listen to how itchy their pet is and how much sleep they're not getting and let them know that we hear them. Use a soft, understanding statement.
By listening and mirroring back what the client has expressed we begin to create a bond of trust with clients. They need to know you're going to present their frustrations to the doctor.
Once you've listened and the doctor has determined allergies are the culprit, it's time for some educational communication moments. Reaves likes to use her own dog as an example when she reviews the doctor's recommendations at discharge.
If a flea allergy is the culprit, explaining flea prevention offers the fastest kill is important, since one flea can set a flea-allergic pet into an itch-fest that will drive everyone crazy.
Finally, sending pet owners home with a written report is key to compliance. It's easy to misunderstand spoken instructions. If this is the first time the pet is receiving this care, pet owners need written instructions to refer to at home.
"Sending home written discharge instructions is important. This gives clients something to refer back to and helps decrease confusion," Dr. Roland says. "We talk about a lot of things during an allergy discussion, and this can be very confusing for owners. Having something written down empowers and educates clients."
These steps prepare your team members to take the fire out of clients' frustration and make it a team effort to pursue a plan of care for Fido.
Julie Mullins is a Firstline Editorial Advisory Board member and lead trainer at Doggone Healthy in Calabash, N.C.