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What It's Like Being The Veterinarian's Dog

Does being owned by a vet mean a dog will have every possible advantage in life? The answer might surprise you.

 |  Feb 11th 2014  |   9 Contributions


I write about my pal Buster all the time. He has inspired posts about rabies vaccinations, off-leash behavior, skunks, and hemorrhagic gastroenteritis. All of my writing about my pal inspired one of my Dogster editors to ask me a question: What is it like to be a dog who is owned by a vet? Do vets' pets have significantly different lives from those owned by folks who aren't vets?

Before I dive into this, I should point out that vets aren't the only professionals at animal hospitals. Veterinary technicians work at them too, and most of what can be said about vets' pets also applies to techs' pets.

Most vets have at least one pet. In fact, petless vets are quite a rarity, and they inspire a bit of skepticism among their peers and clients. Many clients feel that taking a dog to a petless vet is a bit like going to a beauty parlor where all of the stylists have terrible haircuts.

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Photo of Dr. Eric Barchas by Liz Acosta.

Can a petless vet truly be an animal lover? The answer is yes. There are legitimate reasons why vets (or anyone) might not have pets. For instance, their spouse or children might be allergic to dogs and cats, or they may live in an apartment that forbids pets (which is why I did not have a pet for the first several years I was a practicing vet).

But let's get back to those dogs who are owned by vets. How are they different from the ones that aren't? First, they are much more likely to be rescues. True, some vets seek out and purchase purebred dogs. But veterinarians are faced with a nearly endless stream of animals in need. Sometimes one of these animals captures the vet's heart, and he or she takes the dog home. And some vets have hearts that can be captured repeatedly -- many vets end up with full-scale packs of rescued dogs at home.

Dogs owned by vets are more likely than others to be missing a limb or an eye, or to have gone through some sort of major surgery. I know of many instances in which a sweet dog came to an animal hospital with a mauled leg or a hopelessly injured eye or a squeaker lodged in his intestines. The owner, unable to afford surgery, requested euthanasia. The vet (or tech), unable to bear the thought of euthanizing a wonderful dog with a treatable problem, offered to adopt the dog and pay for the procedure (procedures cost money, even for vets) rather than euthanize the dog.

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Here's me and my pal Buster, enjoying some outdoor time.

There are a couple other generalizations that can be made about vets' dogs. Does your dog get nervous when you pull into the vet's parking lot? Does panting and whining ensue? Does he find the vet's office to be a frightening place? Mine does not. In fact, my pal Buster absolutely loves going into any vet's office. He can recognize a veterinary clinic when we're visiting a new town, and he always tries to go in. Most dogs owned by vets love going to the vet.

The reason is simple. Vets can take their dogs to work. When Buster goes to the vet, he gets to play with a bunch of dog lovers and hang out in an exciting environment. He's not there for shots -- he's there to hang out. As long as he doesn't have hemorrhagic gastroenteritis, in his mind going to a veterinary hospital is like going to a party. Most vets' dogs feel the same way.

Vets' dogs are also more likely to be spayed or neutered than those in the general population. Although I know a few vets who breed their pets, most are firm believers in spaying and neutering, and they can perform the procedures themselves. However, this may change in the future because there is mounting evidence that spaying and neutering may not always be in pets' best interest.

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Me and my pal Buster.

How about the care that vets' dogs receive at home? Are they more likely to be trained properly, walked regularly, receive heartworm and flea prevention, and have their teeth brushed? Here is where the generalizations must end. When it comes to these sorts of matters, vets are all over the map. But for some vets, a variation of the old medical adage applies: Doctor, heal thy pet.

Of course, there are plenty of vets who take stellar care of their dogs, just like there are plenty of non-vets who take stellar care of their dogs. But what surprises me are the vets who let things slide.

For instance, I once knew a vet whose dog had been a guide dog in training. The dog was disqualified from the program due to skin problems, and my colleague adopted him. Although this vet generated a not inconsequential portion of his income from the sale of flea control products, he did not use them on his dog. I would regularly find fleas crawling all over that dog. Nothing exacerbates skin problems more than fleas, and the poor dog suffered from chronic hot spots, ear infections, and skin infections.

I know another vet who never bothered to train her dog. The dog, consequently, jumps on every person he sees. Fortunately he is an extremely sweet dog, but I worry that some day he may knock over an elderly person. The dogs owner, by the way, stands by and does nothing while she watches the dog engage in this behavior.

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Vets, being human, forget to give their dog's heartworm preventative on some months. Vets, being busy, often don't have time to walk their dogs.

But what surprises me most about vets' dogs is tooth brushing, or rather the lack thereof. I know of almost no vets who brush their dogs' teeth. Perhaps they figure that they can perform professional dental work themselves when the time comes, but we all know the saying about ounces of prevention and pounds of cure.

Vets know they should brush their dogs' teeth, but they just don't do it. It's a feature of being human. I'm sure there are dentists who don't floss, and I have personally known physicians who smoke. People don't always behave the way they know they should.

At the end of the day, vets are people. Like all people, they vary widely in their behaviors. They are for the most part good dog owners. But being owned by a vet does not guarantee a dog will receive every possible advantage in life.

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