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What would you do?


Don't get nailed by this tough client question. Learn how to give the answer clients are looking for.

It's the question you dread: "What would you do?" a client asks, her tear-filled eyes begging for comfort. Don't be fooled. Most pet owners don't really want to know what you would do. In fact, here's what they're really asking: "Is it OK for me to do what I feel I need to do?" Let's look at a few of the most common situations and how to respond.

"Does my pet need these tests?"

During a pet's illness, clients may face the decision to pursue further diagnostics. The veterinarian will explain the medical options objectively, including the risks and benefits clients must weigh. After the doctor leaves, these clients may ask, "What would you do?" This isn't the time to launch into your story about how Felix, your 10-year-old American shorthair, underwent countless tests and bravely battled cancer. Instead, discover which way clients are leaning and support their decision.

Although we want to keep what's best for pets as our guiding light, we also must respect that some clients will not be able to afford our recommendations, they may feel the procedures are too invasive, or the tests may violate their personal beliefs.

"Should I euthanize my pet?"

Opting for humane euthanasia is one of the most difficult choices clients make, and they need your help. This is the time to offer a shoulder to lean—or cry—on. Just remember, this is your client's choice. Don't offer your opinion. It doesn't matter what you would do. What truly matters is what these clients must do to live with their decision.

At some point, the client will likely wonder, "Did I choose euthanasia too soon? Were there a few good days left? Or did I wait too long and prolong my pet's suffering needlessly?" Look for clues about whether your clients are ready. And prepare them for the guilt phase of grief, when they will question their choice. Ultimately, they must search their souls to discover the decision they can live with.

In all cases, show compassion

The diagnosis of a life-threatening or terminal disease can devastate families. Your support may ensure they enjoy the remaining time with their pets.

Remind clients that pets don't realize they're terminally ill. More important, explain the pet will respond to the family's reaction. If the family acts upset, the pet will sense this and worry. But if the family can rise above the heartbreak and stay strong for their pet, the animal will take each day as it comes. It helps clients to focus on preserving their pet's quality of life. This advice could ensure happy memories remain after the inevitable occurs.

Katherine Dobbs, RVT, CVPM, is the hospital manager at Fox Valley Referral Center in Appleton, Wis. Please send your questions or comments to firstline@advanstar.com

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