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How many pets is too many?


In an animal-loving culture, it can be difficult to know when to say when. While the right number of pets varies from person to person in veterinary practice, how do you know when you've had enough?

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You probably remember that special moment when you met that furry love of your life. And as a veterinary team member, you understand the long-term commitment each adoption brings. Figure 1 shows the number of pets team members share their homes with. But have you ever met anyone who just had ... well, too many?

“We do see it, and we’ve had to confront it,” says Marianne Mallonee, CVPM, a Firstline Editorial Advisory Board member and hospital adminstrator of Wheat Ridge Animal Hospital and Veterinary Specialists in Wheat Ridge, Colo. “I don’t know if you can define how many is too many, and it may be different for different people and even some practices.”

To help judge whether you have room for just one more, consider these questions:

1. Are your pets getting the personal attention and love you feel they deserve?

2. Are all of your pets getting the care they deserve? Do the dogs get the proper exercise? Do the cats get playtime? Are the bird cages or fish tanks cleaned in a timely manner?

3. Do any pets have behavioral issues? Is this related to too many pets in your home?

4. Can you afford the medical care they deserve? Can you provide the same care to them you want your clients to provide?

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How-to tip: Define your practice policy

If you’re the practice manager, you may be responsible for helping set policies on pet discounts for team members. Consider these questions to set your policy:

1. How many pets will the practice cover under employee discounts?

2. Is there a limit to the amount of money the practice will offer in discounts?

3. Is there a limit to the number of pets a team member can adopt from the practice?

4. Do we want to offer insurance policies in lieu of discounts?

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How-to tip: Stay positive in tough situations

A tough but harsh reality: You can’t save them all. But that’s hard to remember in an emergency situation where a cute puppy is hit by a car, the owner opts against treatment, and the pet has to be euthanized. While some practices take on the financial responsibility for the occasional case and then adopt the pet out, it’s not an option practices can afford to do every day—or even every month. It’s natural to feel sad in these cases, and Firstline board member Marianne Mallonee, CVPM, suggests offering support to team members who feel personally affected with a compassionate, realistic conversation. She reminds team members to consider these important points:

1. Focus on how many pets you save every day. Don’t forget to celebrate your success stories to keep your morale high.

2. Remember that you can’t save them all. If your practice saved every pet, it would go out of business—a tragedy for the animals that need your care.

3. Be aware of signs of compassion fatigue. You face tough situations involving animals every day, so also consider exploring interests outside of the world of animals after work to give yourself a break.

4. Continue to be a pet advocate. For example, turning your attention to factors you can control—such as becoming an advocate for spaying and neutering and encouraging people to adopt shelter pets—may offer an outlet for your passion to reduce the unwanted adoptable pets in the world.

5. Talk about how you feel. It’s important to acknowledge your feelings. You’ll likely discover your managers and doctors feel sad about these cases too after they were forced to make the tough call to euthanize.

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