Defuse allergy conversations with disgruntled pet owners
Allergic pets can be ticking time bombs. And seeing their precious pets suffer can light the fuse on clients' tempers. Here's how to halt the explosion.
Dec 01, 2013
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 wiresWhat 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
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."
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.