Friday, March 4, 2011

Hold on, I've got to call my psychic first....

One very busy evening, a seemingly normal family came in to the ER for help with their geriatric lab mix, Teddy.  He was about 13 years old, had lost weight over the last several months, unable to stand, and had been vomiting for several days.  I could palpate a suspicious mass in his abdomen.  He hadn't eaten normally in weeks. He had a long history of osteoarthritis, and his joints were stiff and painful despite daily pain medications. I talked to the family, and they noted a change in his demeanor over the last few days as he had become more and more weak and ill. 

After discussing my physical exam findings, options, and tests to determine the underlying cause(s), the options for treatment, and thinking about her quality of life and age, they elected to consider euthanasia.   I was surprised when they told me that they would have to get in touch with their animal communicator/pet psychic before proceeding to make sure that Teddy was okay with the decision.

I was stunned for a few seconds.  I'd just spent > 30 minutes talking to them about the concrete, visible exam findings, medical conditions common to cause these findings, treatment options, and recommendations based on my 8 years of higher education as well as my years of hands-on experience and clinical judgement skills....but yet, they preferred to consult with an unlicensed, uneducated, unverifiable self-proclaimed "pet psychic" who would render her opnion over the phone and without being able to see or touch the pet.  I should have skipped veterinary school (and the associated debt!) and gone straight for the big $$!!  (Clearly, I'm kidding.  I could never do something that I consider so wholly unethical.)

I took a deep breath, and as kindly as I could muster, reiterated what we had already talked about.  Teddy's health was failing, he wasn't eating, he was dehydrated and weak, and our only options at this point were either perform basic testing and start treatment to help him feel better, or allow relief of suffering.  Doing neither of these things was not a favorable option, in my opinion, despite what the pet-psychic may think.

Fortunately for Teddy, his family could not get ahold of their "psychic" and weren't able to ignore his current situation.  He passed peacefully, with his loving family surrounding him.


  1. Would you feel the same way if the client asked for time to pray, talk to their pastor, call their mom or significant other, or even their regular vet? When a person has to make a life and death decision it frequently isn't just about facts--I would think decisions on whether to proceed with treatments would often have more to do with emotion and belief (and finances) then medical opinion. I called my mom when faced with a plumbing disaster, not because she is a plumbing expert, but because I needed support when faced with a basement full of sewage.

    Personally I think pet psychics are out for the money, but whatever helps people feel better about their decisions.

  2. The problem is when it's the middle of the night, the pet is suffering, and they won't make a decision until they get ahold of said "psychic." Or, the "psychic" tells them to do the wrong thing for the pet. A regular person can be reasonable, and there's a big difference between a friend, family member, regular vet, than a pet psychic. The friend, family member or regular veterinarian have the pet and the pet owner in mind and want the best for both them.

    A pet psychic, on the other hand, is a crazy person who thinks 1) they can see the future and 2) they can communicate with animals through their mind. And they take your money. That's insane.

    Trust me, I'm not a callous person I have lost pets of my own over the years, and I truly do know how hard it is to be the one in that situation. I truly empathize with each of my clients who has a sick pet, and I feel sad when we aren't able to fix them. I grieve with my clients and hopefully provide them with comfort to the best of my abilities. "Pet psychics" are out their to pray on the sadness, grief, and emotionally difficult situation. They are NOT looking out for anyone or anything but themselves and their own wallet. I definitely have a problem with that.

  3. I was thinking about my comment and I think it came across ruder then I thought, and I apoligize. If it is any excuse, I think I worry about my vet thinking I'm a crazy person for all the stupid questions I ask, so I want to defend all crazy people. Though if I did ask to call a psychic I would deserve being thought crazy. My worries about my dogs are mere nerosis in comparison.
    Anyway, I've enjoyed reading your observations on what must be a tense and stressful job.

  4. No problem. I do know what it's like to be in the pet-owner's shoes -- that's what I was before I became a vet :) I'm sure your vet appreciates that you care about your pets, and wants to help you. I'm protective of my clients, and don't want to see anyone get swindled by a con-artist.

  5. The animal communicators and psychics in my region make $75-100/half hour phone consultation (more for a farm call), with minimal overhead. Not a bad gig, but unethical doesn't even begin to characterize these vultures.

  6. I hear you. It's literally infuriating.

  7. Our local "Pet Psychic" was horribly injured by a horse in a barn a few years ago... although tragic, I can't help but think she must have misunderstood what the horse was telling her.