Q My rescue Border Collie is nearly 11 years old. I have had him for nine years and he was abused in his last home, so he doesn’t allow people to touch him. This has made things difficult at the vet’s. So far, he has been very healthy, but he gets so stressed at the vet’s that he hasn’t had his vaccinations for two years, but needs to go this year.
About four years ago, I noticed a soft lump on his side and as it started to get bigger, the vet managed to sedate him but said it was only a fat pocket. I’ve kept an eye on it and it hasn’t caused him any problems, but it has grown quite a lot lately and I am concerned.
The problem is, my vet practice is not very helpful now. I understand they don’t want to be in any danger, but I am sure they must have had training in how to deal with difficult dogs. I am now concerned that if my dog is ill or in pain, what help can I get for him? Also, if he should need to be put to sleep, what on earth will happen?
I have asked for someone to call me to discuss things, but nobody has rung me. I want to know if I can give him some sedatives before he goes to the vet to calm him. Since the senior partner retired, they have joined some larger veterinary group and I feel it’s all about money now.
Wolfgang Dohne advises…
Thank you very much for your question – I have waited for an opportunity to reply to a question like this. There are three aspects to your question and I will address them individually, but the important thing first – change your vet!
I would be lying if I pretended that aggressive dogs can’t be a problem. However, you have been very upfront and very co-operative with your vet. You have contacted them in advance and you have informed them about the difficulties you have – I, as a practising veterinary surgeon, cannot ask for more.
There are some dogs that are difficult to handle and there are some dogs that get very distressed when visiting the clinic. What we tend to do is discuss the problems in advance with the owner and then come up with a treatment plan. As part of this plan, you should accept that the vet is the professional and that his or her instructions have to be followed for the benefit of all parties involved – patient, client and veterinary personnel.
It might include the use of some sedatives, which we can usually give to the client in advance. It might also be necessary that a muzzle is applied before and during the examination. Some dogs are much better examined and treated outside rather than in the consulting room.
If patients are getting very stressed, there will be more of a visual rather than a comprehensive hands-on examination. More detailed tests might, however, require a full sedation.
Admittedly, hospitalisation and intensive care of these patients can be a challenge and might indeed be impossible, as some dogs might be too great a risk for the clinical staff.
Regarding the lump you mentioned – if your vet performed a biopsy at the time, which confirmed the mass to be a lipoma (fatty lump), it is very unlikely that it would have changed into something more serious. If it appears inflamed, harder or painful, it should definitely be checked again.
The progressive co-operation of veterinary services over the last few years is a complex subject and it would go beyond the remit of this column to discuss it in detail. However, the pure fact that your vet practice has been taken over by a larger group doesn’t have to result in a drop of clinical care. Most groups are committed to regular continuing education and a high standard of clinical care, and all groups provide structured complaint procedures. If you are no longer happy with your local practice, don’t be afraid to look elsewhere.