Imagine life as a country vet: rolling through green hills from one farmhouse to another, greeting neighbors and administering to their dogs and cats — a snapshot right out of All Creatures Great and Small.
Well, take it from me: My limited experience as a mobile vet found that all things are not bright and beautiful, not easy and convenient, and not simpler and safe.
But, oh, the stories I could tell.
A Matter of Convenience
People think that having a vet come to the home is easier than lugging the pets in for an appointment at a vet hospital. People can stay at home and work, or take 1–2 hours out of a busy schedule to be at home and get the vet visit done.
Mobile vets have a tough time staying on schedule. So many factors can prevent them from showing up on time or, on particularly crazy days, at all.
Most mobile vets don’t employ a receptionist, so you may have to leave messages and play phone tag before actually reaching the vet and scheduling an appointment.
Day of the Appointment
Many things can get mobile vets off their schedule. There can be a problem getting to your home — some main culprits include:
I remember looking for “the third yellow house on the right” that turned out to be sort of a greenish house on the left. Fun directions from my past include “Once the road turns into dirt, begin to watch for …” and “You can’t trust Google maps because we’re not on it. You’re on your own if you get lost.”
Never mind not finding addresses — I often couldn’t find my patients. How do you get angry with an elderly housebound person who tells me I might find their cat under the bed, but “you know, dear, Alfie could be anywhere in this big old farmhouse of mine. I haven’t been upstairs in years”?
I have also been thrown way off schedule because of problems with the previous house call. If it takes me 20 minutes under a bed to find Alfie hiding amid thousands of ancient mismatched shoes and dust balls, you know I’m going to be late to my next call.
No Car Travel
People love that they don’t have to transport certain pets to the vet. No doubt about it — this may be the biggest advantage for many folks.
Your previous battles with Mr. Wu Tang, your bloodied forearm on the right and an empty cat carrier on the left, do not have to be repeated. The serenading beagle in the back seat next to barfing Fuzzy who deposits his car sickness into the cracks of your leather upholstery are memories you could do without.
Administering veterinary care in a home rather than a hospital setting can be more challenging, however, particularly when working alone.
Restraint at Home
People expect their pets to behave better at home or welcome the vet like any other friendly visitor. This is not always true.
Razzle, the demon Rhodesian, raises every back hair as you walk through the door. Hippy, the hissing Himalayan, may still want Dr. House Call on top of Mt. Everest rather than examining her feline parts, even as she peacefully reclines in her own cat bed.
People may need to play an active part with mild restraint during a house call, but some are not prepared to aid the vet. They expect the house call vet to come with a halo of protection around her, 6 hands of her own and a built-in technician under her coat to aid with restraint.
Mobile vets must have a special know-how at restraint, particularly if working alone. Many vets can stay safe and still do a thorough exam with a difficult pet, but some animals pose an insurmountable challenge and a big threat, even in the familiar confines of their own home. Unfortunately, some pets actually guard their environment or their human more vehemently at home and may be more protective there than in a neutral vet hospital.
Animals’ Behavior Is Unpredictable
What is possible to accomplish at one visit may not be so at the next. I may have taken blood last year without a problem from Bubbles the bouvier, but the rain and thunder outside or an anxiety disorder that is worsening in my patient may prevent a full exam and a blood draw from taking place the following year.
People must understand that a thorough exam may not always be possible during a house call. The vet may have to return with technical reinforcements, use some drugs or suggest a hospital setting.
And then there’s this type of mobile veterinary care:
Limitations in Services
One of my more frustrating situations is visiting a very sick pet on a house call and knowing the animal belongs in a veterinary hospital, receiving a more thorough workup, diagnostics and supportive care. It is often more difficult to convince a person with an animal already at home to bring the pet into a facility for care.
“They’re happier at home,” is the common response. That may be true if the person is looking for hospice care only or impending euthanasia, but not emergency care, if that’s what the pet needs.
End-of-Life Care and Euthanasia
Hospice care and home euthanasias are very important in modern veterinary medicine. Some veterinarians specialize in this service. Other traditional veterinary practices often make house calls for end-of-life care and euthanasia.
This emotional and painful time can be eased if you make your expectations clear to your veterinarian. Your traditional vet may provide hospice care or home euthanasia services. If not, it’s important to develop a relationship with a mobile vet who will be helping you through this difficult time. Whatever you decide, it’s important that you and your pet feel comfortable with the visiting veterinary staff.
Keep in mind that your needs and your pet’s needs may change as you both grow older. Mobility issues on your part, the needs of a geriatric pet and all the challenges life brings us may make veterinary house calls a welcome service. Just go in with your eyes open and be prepared for some challenges, even at home.
This pet health content was written by a veterinarian, Dr. Debora Lichtenberg, VMD. It was last reviewed Sept. 13, 2017.
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