Updated: May 27
Vets and groomers both play a critical role in dog health and wellbeing. Of course, we come at it from different angles – not only in what we provide for the dogs themselves, but in our relationships with their owners.
Years ago, I bet if you asked any owner who they thought was most knowledgeable about their pet’s health, they would say their vet and might look at you as thought it was a weird question. When it came to knowing what diet or medication their pet needed, the vet’s word was gospel.
But those days are gone. As a vet, I often encounter situations in which owners have sought the opinion and advice of every man (or woman) and their dog, before coming to me. Taken at face value, of course it can be frustrating, especially when the advice they’ve received or read is bad or misinformed (albeit usually well intended).
But it’s important to look at what might be driving this tendency to turn to non-vets for what would typically be considered veterinary information. So perhaps, in part, it might be down to owners not wanting to pay for veterinary advice, but I like to think of it more positively – as a sign that pet owners want to be much more involved in the decision-making process these days. To my mind, that can surely only be a good thing - provided they’ve been well informed.
Whose job is it anyway?
So, whose responsibility is it to ensure pet owners are well informed about the various options available to them when making decisions about their pet’s health? In the case of animals that are unwell, I’d argue it should be the vet first and foremost, alongside other professionals such as physiotherapists, behaviourists, hydrotherapists and nutritionists as relevant.
But what about preventative healthcare matters such as diet and weight management, parasite control, neutering and vaccination? Again, this technically should still fall under the vet's remit. But whilst we have the knowledge, we rarely have the time to discuss these things with owners at length.
Usually these topics are covered at the annual vaccination appointment. However, research shows that owners and vets alike feel these appointments often feel too rushed for the number and complexity of topics to be discussed. More and more people are also choosing not to vaccinate their pets on an annual basis, reducing this opportunity further. And then there is the element of mistrust, the feeling that the recommendations vets make are for their own financial gain and not necessarily in the pet or owner’s best interest (we will save that can of worms for another day!).
So where DO owners get their information from?
A study published in 2008 showed the internet to be next most popular information source, after veterinary professionals and before family, friends and other media sources. 70% of owners admitted to using the internet to find out information about pet health, and two thirds of all vets reported that owners frequently bring this information with them at their appointment. But 2008 is (scarily) a long time ago now! And since younger owners are more likely to turn to the internet for their pet health information, I wouldn't be surprised if the figures are even higher now.
The internet is awash with veterinary information, but not all of it is written by people with the relevant expertise. As such the quality and reliability of the information varies greatly. We know from human medicine that misleading and inaccurate websites can in fact be more common than credible sites, and that many consumers do not source-check or understand what they read.
So where do dog groomers come into it?
Pet owners trust you. They welcome your opinion and advice, not just on their dog’s haircuts – but on all aspects of their pet’s health and wellbeing.
Unlike their relationship with their vet, their interaction with you is a positive one - one they maybe even look forward to. It gives them something positive - a better looking, better smelling, all round happier dog. By comparison, any interaction with their vet is a reluctant one. It will likely involve a lot of worry (for them and their pet), a sulky or sore pooch, and potentially a hefty bill.
What all this means is you have huge potential to influence pet health – for better and for worse. That article you like and share on Facebook? It has greater influence because it came from you. And with influence comes responsibility. Responsibility to ensure the knowledge you share is accurate and correct – following the mantra “above all else, do no harm”.
But how do you know what information you should share with them? Which sources can you trust? How can you be sure your knowledge is up-to-date? Distinguishing veterinary fact from fiction can be difficult, and it takes time you simply don’t have.
I am committed to helping Pet Professionals share reliable, evidence-based veterinary information with pet owners. I run a Facebook Group specifically for dog groomers walkers, boarders, trainers and other pet business owners wanting to learn more about pet health. For more information about the services I offer, visit my website.
It is my hope that in doing this, I will help you to feel confident that the information you share is accurate and reliable. I'll help you to support your clients and to stand out from the competition. Because of you - owners will have reliable veterinary information at their fingertips, and be empowered to make the best decisions for their pets.
So that's the preventative healthcare and internet bit covered, but what about the in-salon stuff?
Groomers get hands on with their customers' dogs on a regular basis, and so are often the first to spot health issues requiring attention. Of course, the usual and appropriate response is to advise the owners to visit their vet. But what happens in between?
Let's look at an example:
It's 4pm on a Saturday, your last appointment for the day. You're grooming a dog and find a lump. You tell the owner and they instantly panic. "It's cancer isn't it?" They're clearly upset and worried. You know you cannot say any more, except to advise they visit their vet. But their vet is closed now until Monday.
Your customer will certainly go home and turn to Dr Google. Before long they will find themselves down a rabbit hole of information about all types of canine cancers, treatments and life expectancies, talked themselves in and out of surgery and chemotherapy umpteen times, and joined (at least) 7 different forums discussing every possible outcome under the sun. They finished the weekend reluctant to even visit the vet, for fear they'd tell them euthanasia was the best thing to do.
Ok, so that might be a slightly tongue in cheek exaggeration but you get where I am going. Now imagine instead, you'd been able to provide them a factsheet containing with key bits of information about lumps and bumps in dogs. Perhaps some facts and figures about how many are, in fact benign, and a basic explanation of what to expect at their appointment on Monday. Not only would you save them a lot of time and angst but you'd leave them feeling informed and empowered - armed and ready to have an effective discussion with their vet about what the next step might be. And you'd help make sure the dog got the treatment it needed.
This is just one example of when I think having reliable veterinary information at your finger tips, would add fantastic value to the service you provide for your clients. I'll write about more soon.
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If you'd like to find out more about the Veterinary Information Services I offer, get in touch.