James R. Speiser, DVM, DABVP, CCRT
February 3, 2016
“Dr. Smith, thank you for taking my phone call. Fido has vomited three times today and I want to know if I can give him Pepto Bismol?”
“Well Mrs. Jones, let me ask you some questions about Fido. Is this vomiting or regurgitation? Has there been any vomiting prior to today? What was in the vomit? Has he been eating? Has he been drinking an adequate volume? Is he dehydrated? Has he gotten in the trash? Has there been any diarrhea? Has he been straining to defecate? Does he have a fever? Are his mucous membranes pale or injected? Has he been peeing more or less than usual? Is he painful in the abdomen? If so, where is the pain? Are his pupils dilated? Is he jaundiced? Is his heart beating too fast or too slow? Are his pulses normal?”
Each of these questions, and more, would be important to answer Mrs. Jones question. Furthermore, it’s often very difficult to describe things over the phone and be confident that what you are conveying is the same way a veterinarian would see it. A call with a question about handling constipation, when viewed during an exam by a veterinarian may actually be identified as a urinary obstruction.
Veterinarians tend to be very compassionate people that want to help pets and pet owners, but they are bound by some very stringent rules that restrict when and what they can, and cannot advise. Advice over the telephone carries some particular legal guidelines that pet owners need to understand to help determine when advice is legally possible, and when an exam is going to be required to abide by the law called the Veterinary Practice Act.
If you are a new client that a veterinarian has never seen, or an existing client with a new pet that the veterinarian has never seen, the practice act mandates that the veterinarian examine the pet and establish a relationship with that pet and client in order to appropriately advise, medicate or prescribe medication for the patient.
If you are an existing client with the veterinarian, and if the veterinarian has examined the pet recently, then there is more legal wiggle room for the veterinarian to give advice, particularly if the problem being discussed is an ongoing or unresolved previous condition. In this situation, the veterinarian may be willing to switch medications, offer a refill for a previously prescribed medication, or make another recommendation (such as removing a bandage or feeding a bland diet). However, if the pet has not been seen for over one year, the practice act again requires the veterinarian to examine the pet prior to prescribing medication.
When your pet is suddenly ill and you are worried about it, the best advice is always given after your vet performs an exam. An exam gives the veterinarian judgment regarding the symptoms as well as the opportunity to get more information, if needed, such as x-rays or blood work to better diagnose and effectively treat your furry friend.