Angry beyond words? Try this when you or your veterinary team has been attacked online


Turn negative reviews into positive opportunities for your veterinary clinic.

Jeff Werber, DVM, owner of Century Veterinary Group in Los Angeles, says it's OK to write back when critics take to the Internet. His advice? Take the high road, do it publicly, see if there's anything valuable to learn, and attempt to educate. Here are some online reviews—both real and hypothetical—and appropriate responses.

1. Show your sincerity

Review: Do not go to Dr. Sally Smith at ABC Animal Hospital! She'd rather kill pets than help them. If I could give negative stars I would. I took my 19-year-old cat to this emergency clinic because I found her lying on the floor motionless and gasping for air. I explained that she's under the constant care of our local vet for chronic renal failure and pancreatitis and is on meds for high blood pressure and to stimulate appetite. The vet went on and on about wanting to do full diagnostics on my cat, including x-rays, bloodwork, tests for kidney values, etc. I'm out of work right now and I've already spent close to $2,000 in the last two months on my cats. I just wanted the vet to stabilize her until I could get her to my vet in the morning. She clearly didn't like that option and said I would have to sign a waiver saying I refused their recommended diagnostics. She launched into a monologue about me needing to consider euthanizing my cat. Believe me, I've had plenty of "quality of life" discussions with my current vet, so I thought she was completely out of line to bring that up, especially since my cat wasn't in a life-threatening situation. I guess the most inexperienced doctors get to work holiday shifts.

Response: First, I am so sorry that we obviously didn't connect. As an emergency doctor, I don't have the luxury of really "knowing" my patients or their owners—a bond that is very important, and one you clearly have with your regular veterinarian. When we see critical cases come through our door, like your cat that evening unable to breathe, emergency doctors don't have the luxury of time. Unlike a general care practitioner who sees their patients more regularly and not in such critical condition, an emergency veterinarian faced with a life-and-death crisis does need to run many tests immediately, because the results often dictate the direction of care. The "stabilization," as you requested, may differ depending on the results of the tests. We know emergency care is often costly, but money is not our goal—saving lives is!

As veterinarians, we take an oath to relieve animal suffering. True, "suffering" is a very subjective concept, and one that is often difficult to judge when there's deep emotional involvement with a dearly loved pet. My objective was not to push you in any direction or to make you in any way feel guilty for choosing to pursue more treatment; I was merely letting you know that it would have been totally OK for you to consider saying goodbye given your cat's age and failing condition. I'm sure that your regular veterinarian has told you that most cats never reach 19 years of age and those that do often succumb to kidney failure—a slow, uncomfortable passing. Though difficult to face, your lovely cat was in a "life-threatening" condition that night.

As a "parent" to four cats myself, two of which are seniors, I do know what you are going through, and I apologize profusely for not delivering the message as I intended to do. We have a number of internal medicine specialists on our staff and would be happy to set up a call with you, your general practice clinician and one of our specialists to see what more may be done to keep your cat comfortable.

2. Look for ways to improve

Review: Every time I've tried to go here (as it's very conveniently located!) I feel like I'm burdening the staff. I was told today that I couldn't buy cat food from them because I wasn't a client. Excuse me?? Do you or do you not sell cat food? How is it a problem that I want to pay your exorbitant markup without you having to do any actual work? No thanks. I'll drive the three miles to the veterinary staff that's actually nice.

Reponse: I'm sorry your experience with our office didn't meet your expectations. Having read of your visit, I admit that I too am a bit disappointed in how my front office staff treated you, but a brief explanation is in order. The receptionist you dealt with is fairly new and was trained that a "doctor-patient" relationship is legally required in order for us to prescribe, sell or refill prescription medications. She thought that since we did not have a medical relationship with your pet, she was not allowed to sell you the prescription food you needed. The truth is, we would have been OK with her calling your veterinarian for confirmation to make sure the food you requested was the correct one (there are so many similar-sounding diets that it's often confusing).

At this point I can only apologize, but since you did mention we are a bit closer to your home, I would be happy to offer you a courtesy exam for your pet to give us a chance to establish that "relationship" so that if you need our services in the future, we will be ready to help you. In addition, when you run out of your cat's food again, we will be happy to sell you your next bag at our discounted "rescue organization" rate. And thanks for your comments—they are actually very helpful in training our staff.

3. Educate

Review: We have taken our dog to Century Veterinary Group since 2009. Although we have never been particularly enamored with them (the office staff is always in disarray, the charges are high, the wait times are long), the office is close to our house. So we kept going there. Recently, however, our dog has had ongoing skin issues and as a result we have brought him to CVG twice since Labor Day weekend. Each time, Dr. Gale prescribed steroids and antibiotics, and each time they did not work as well as they should have. After these two visits (and nearly $600 in charges) and our dog's constant scratching and itching, I called the office on Saturday morning to see if there was anything else that could be done. The office staff—as usual—was overwhelmed and claimed to be too busy to deal with me. They said that someone would call me back on that day. Days later I have yet to receive a return call. Tired of waiting and on the recommendation of friends, we took our dog to another vet, who IMMEDIATELY saw that he has a staph infection. Dr. Gale on two occasions completely missed this. Given all of this incompetence, we will not be returning to Century Veterinary Group.

Response: We wish to correct any confusion this reviewer, Steven N., has about his dog's treatment at our hospital. Steven's dog was treated by Dr. Gale for pyoderma, commonly know as a bacterial 'staph' infection of the skin. The diagnosis was not missed. In fact, the cycles of antibiotics and corticosteroids she prescribed are precisely the defense of choice in these types of infections. Pyoderma can be persistent and often takes time to resolve if the underlying cause is not addressed, and we must trust that clients are compliant. Typically, these infections are secondary to an allergic reaction from any number of sources, including food, fleas, environmental allergens or airborne irritants. The allergy can be temporary or, more commonly, recurrent. Yet the treatment of the secondary pyoderma (staph infection) must always come first to bring the animal relief. Again, it often takes time and repeated attempts. We are happy the infection was ultimately resolved. Steven's dog was treated properly by Dr. Gale and it appears by the successor veterinarian as well. We are, however, disappointed that a call placed to our hospital went without a return call. We are embarrassed by that oversight and we have apologized sincerely to this client.

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