To best protect the health and welfare of pets, veterinarians should ensure clients understand their clinic’s after-hours policies and procedures.
This reminder comes on the heels of the death of a dachshund in Newfoundland. When the dog, Xander, fell sick over a weekend, his owner phoned a veterinary triage line for help. The animal, however, was denied care by the on-call hospital because he had previously been seen by a different clinic, CBC News reports.
The incident highlights the critical need for an established veterinarian-client-patient relationship (VCPR), says Jan Robinson, registrar and CEO of the College of Veterinarians of Ontario (CVO).
“If an owner does not have a relationship with a veterinarian and they run into a challenge with their animal, they may very well be in a place where they can’t find care,” Robinson tells Veterinary Practice News Canada. “This is very distressing, and that’s where it’s really important to help owners understand they need to have a relationship with a veterinarian.”
Once a VCPR is established, she says, a veterinarian should explain how their clinic handles patient after-hours care. This service could come in many forms, including telemedicine triage, a co-ordination with a group of veterinarians within a practice or with neighbouring clinics, or referral to a local 24-hour or emergency clinic. Regardless, the policy should be explained clearly to avoid confusion.
“The first thing one wants to appreciate about any veterinarian is their interest and primary concern is animal health and welfare—that idea is going to come to the forefront for them with any animal presented to them,” Robinson says. “But then you sub-divide that into different species, different areas of competence, and the different facilities from which a veterinarian is practising, and what you [have] is a veterinarian who needs to make decisions about animals that are presented to them.”
Where things get challenging, she adds, are cases similar to the one that occurred in Newfoundland that fall outside of an established VCPR.
“When a clinic doesn’t know the client, hasn’t treated the animal, and they’re not part of an emergency facility, you have a situation where a veterinarian is presented with a huge ethical dilemma,” Robinson explains. “Their genuine desire for animal health and welfare is a focus, but, on the other hand, they don’t know the client and they don’t have a legal obligation to see the pet.”
Additionally, she says, there is a distinction between after-hours care pre-arranged by a practice and dedicated emergency care, which is typically offered by speciality clinics that are prepared to ‘expect the unexpected.’
“In a true emergency, anyone might try to [help], and a veterinarian might choose to intervene with an animal they may never have seen before—but the point there is that’s a choice,” Robinson says.
More than anything, she says, promoting and advocating for VCPRs is vital to ensuring pets receive the best care possible.
“I urge members of the public who haven’t established a relationship with a veterinarian to make that a focus so their animals can receive care in a timely manner,” Robinson says.
For more on CVO’s policies regarding after-hours care, click here. To access the college’s professional practice standard related to VCPR, click here.