The Husbandry and Feeding of Veterinarians (for new owners)

Congratulations on your new relationship! Partnering with a veterinarian is not without its challenges, but with some care and effort you can make things work. Here are a few pointers to help you maximize the bond with your veterinarian.

1. Veterinarians are omnivores – unless they are vegetarians. You’ll have to figure out which type you have. Start out by offering a nice mid-rare steak. If your veterinarian looks ineffably sad and turns away, you have a vegetarian. Eat the steak yourself and turn on fans to vent the smell of cooked flesh, then offer your veterinarian a nice pasta or salad. Timbits

2. Veterinarians can eat anywhere. Don’t be shy about offering food while they are working. They have the extraordinary capacity to eat a tuna salad sandwich while lancing a big cheesy abscess on a cat’s butt, or nosh on Timbits having just stepped out of a bloody surgery.  

3. It’s hard to starve a veterinarian, but you can definitely induce dietary deficiencies by allowing them to try to prepare their own food. Left to their own devices, veterinarians eat take out and microwaveable food supplemented with cookies and chocolates brought in by appreciative clients. It’s important that you take your veterinarian out to eat at least once a week in a restaurant that has real chairs and no meals containing toys. You should be cooking for your veterinarian on at least 4 of the remaining 6 days. It should be able to forage for its own sustenance on the final two days, especially if you cook enough on “your” four days to result in leftovers. As noted before, most veterinarians can be trained to use the microwave, so reheatable food will give you a couple of nights off.

4. When your veterinarian gets home from work approach it carefully. This is when veterinarians are most likely to bite. Gauge its mood carefully.

  • If its eyes are red and puffy be sure to approach slowly, holding out a glass of wine. Do not speak until it gives an indication of its current state of mind. If invited or if you deem it safe (sobs are a good indicator), approach and embrace it.
  • If your veterinarian seems to be “full of snark”, wine may work but stronger spirits may be required. Give it a little time by itself to settle down before approaching. It is important to ignore the content of whatever it says during this time, and pay attention only to the tone. None of what it says should be taken personally. If you wait, the snark will resolve into something more manageable. If this seems to be taking a long time, approach your veterinarian from the side, without making eye contact, and offer high-value treats.
  • If your veterinarian seems excited, approach without hesitation. This is when they are most receptive to petting and belly rubs. Be prepared, however, for a long, rapid-fire explanation of something that is a) gross, b) incomprehensibly medical, or c) beyond your capability to fix. Smile and nod, or say “Gosh, honey! Amazing!” no matter what it says.

5. Veterinarians as a species have a difficult time getting to sleep and staying asleep due to ruminative thinking patterns (in bed; many veterinarians can sleep well slumped in chairs or on a pile of blankets in a dog kennel). This seems to be the dark aspect of their perfectionism and compassion. Some veterinarians can be trained to minimize this trait. Meditation has been shown to help, and veterinarians are just bright enough to lean this skill (though they do tend to over-intellectualize the process, as they do with most things). If your veterinarian is amenable, meditate with it. Otherwise, make sure that you provide it ample opportunity to process its day before bedtime. If it is having trouble sleeping, it might need the help of someone skilled in the stresses that affect medical professionals.

6. Now that you have your own veterinarian, expect it to bring home some companions. It is rare for the veterinarian to limit itself to one or two pets. Expect any companion animals that it salvages from its work to be missing body parts, have an expensive disease, smell strange, or leak (urine, anal sac juice, or eye goobers). None will be normal, and this is normal for your veterinarian.

7. There are some phrases that should never, ever come out of your mouth. The term “real doctor” is the primary offender. This term should only be used dripping with sarcasm or with large air quotes, usually when referring to something that someone else said. If used otherwise, bites can result. Also be cautious when saying the phrase “playing with puppies and kittens”, as this is a known aggression trigger in some veterinarians, especially when used with the modifier “all day”. The reason for this aggression is currently unknown but studies are underway.

8. Despite its pedigree, your veterinarian may not be able to tolerate human body fluids that do not come from its own offspring. It may be able to clean up warm dog poop with a thin plastic bag on its hand or detect the presence of yeast in ears by taking a good satisfying sniff, but it will probably gag at the thought of adult human saliva or feces. Some veterinarians faint when they are asked to donate blood. This is a known species defect and should not be a reason to reject (or ridicule) your veterinarian. Golf balls

9. Veterinarians are like field trial Labrador retrievers in many ways. This means that veterinarians are friendly, enthusiastic, food-motivated, and may be prone to swallowing golf balls. They are also very hard workers, motivated to please, and prone to fixation. While these may be seen as good traits, it means that veterinarians are predisposed to distress from overworking. Sixty hour weeks are not uncommon if the focus of fixation is maintained. It is your job as “vet’s best friend” to distract it from its fixation on the job. Offer more enticing activities, like biking, hiking, or chasing a ball. More sedentary veterinarians may enjoy a night at the movies or theater, dinner out (see point 3), shopping, or just spending time with you. Distract your veterinarian as much as possible and try to limit its working week to a maximum of 50 hours.

10. Prepare for public events with your new veterinarian to be uncomfortable until you become used to its peculiar habits. It may talk about gross things at meals, even in restaurants, and even when others can overhear. If it is with its own kind, expect this phenomenon to increase exponentially. It is not unheard of for a thrombus of veterinarians (a group of 3 or more gathered together in an aisle or hallway) to loudly discuss at least three of the following in a 2 minute period: feces, pus, erections, blood, brain tissue, necrotic tumors, penile discharge, gaping wounds, and vomit. Learn to tolerate the looks of discomfort on the faces of non-medical persons in the area; the joy on the face of your veterinarian as it out-grosses its companions will be worth it.

Having a veterinarian takes a lot of work, but the payoffs can be huge. They are often misunderstood, so study your veterinarian closely so that you can recognize its “normals” and be quick to act if things start to go awry. Good luck, and have fun!

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54 thoughts on “The Husbandry and Feeding of Veterinarians (for new owners)

      • Luckily, I snagged my husband in high school, so he was there through it all! Actually got married between 2nd and 3rd year of vet school. He actually proposed on Christmas morning 1st year and was a wonderful guy that helped plan the wedding – including decorations and everything! I would die without him – seriously, every time I try cooking, I end up with food poisoning!

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  1. Additional notes for care of Large Animal Veterinarians
    For those who have managed to take on the care of the large animal veterinarian there are some additional issues you should be aware of.

    Physical injuries
    The large animal veterinarian has very little regard for personal safety or health, and will often end up in situations where they are damaged by large rampaging animals or equipment that has mysteriously moved or broken while they were not watching. They often present with ill defined musculoskeletal pain and injuries, and occasionally with more serious damage such as dislocated or broken joints or bones; however, they are remarkably stoic about this pain and not seek help until completely incapacitated. You should assume that if your large animal veterinarian is showing any signs of pain on movement that there may be serious damage and careful inspection is required. It may be necessary to sedate the veterinarian first, and for this copious quantities of alcohol may be sufficient. Be aware also that the veterinarian has a propensity to self medicate, so keep careful control of NSAIDs and pain killers.
    You should also realise that these repeated injuries will result in long term damage, so that the large animal veterinarian becomes incapable of any physical activity around the house, particularly anything involving pushing equipment (such as lawn mowers or vacuum cleaners), and will become unable to do anything that requires moving the arms above shoulder level.

    Night calls
    You need to realise that large animal veterinarians will often hear things in the middle of the night and rush out to deal with that. It does not help to try and restrict this night time vigilance; preventing their activities bring distress and much noise as they try to access the outside, so it is preferable to just make it easy for them to leave quickly and quietly. They may be outside for some hours. On their return inside they are often dirty and smelly, so it is wise to have a pile of towels at the door and train the veterinarian to clean up when they come back in. In cold weather it is a good idea to have warm clean attire for the veterinarian to put on, because they tend to leap into bed to use you to warm themselves up.

    Car journeys
    The large animal veterinarian considers a vehicle the means of getting from A to B as quickly as possible, and preferably without having to look at scenery or think about directions or actually touch the steering wheel. If you need to go on a drive with a veterinarian, make sure you get the keys first. You should take toys to keep the veterinarian occupied on long journeys because they have a short attention span when being driven. You should always check the vehicle after the veterinarian has been in it in case they have left various treasures that they have picked up, or old dirty clothing, in concealed spaces; these can start be emit very noxious smells if left for a day or two.

    Shoes
    Large animal veterinarians often have a fetish for footwear, especially boots. They will often tend towards the more expensive boots, and try and drag them into the house, even if they are old or dirty. You should make a place outside the door that the veterinarian can keep their boots so that they don’t bring them into the house.

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    • Awww, chickens are adorable. And they cluck and peck and scratch in such a precious way. What’s not to love?? Wait… what was your point again? 😀

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  2. Reblogged this on Seeing Practice and commented:
    These tips are a how-to of surviving the highs and lows of sharing your life with a vet.

    Read closely and heed the advice – it will serve you well if you’re one of the wonderful people who support us in our crazy, smelly, stressful careers.

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  3. Right on post but I felt compelled to add:
    1) There are a few rare variants of the species who are very cat-like. These are more difficult to manage primarily because their need for affection is unpredictable therefore their caretakers must learn to accept what / when offered and beware the sudden fangs and claws that appear without warning. These variants require more time alone and are prone to deep introspection even during times of social activity and they cannot be coerced to behave because, like any self-respecting cat, the opinion of those around them (with few exceptions) is worthless to them.
    2) Not seeking aid for injury is not limited to large animal vets. “It’s only a flesh wound” or “Who needs a doctor? I can fix that cheaper and faster without wasting my time.” are common quotes in most clinics. Most have a high tolerance for pain, especially during the heat of battle, and often fail to recognize an injury occurred until it is pointed out by others.
    3) A large pile of various pills in front of your veterinarian is not a cause for immediate alarm. More likely, it is the witches brew for all the decrepit “children” that live with you and, yes, your veterinarian knows what goes to who from the apparently disordered mess; it’s all under control as long as you don’t offer too much distraction during the process.
    4) It is difficult for veterinarians to shut off their thought processes so don’t be offended or alarmed if a sudden idea or epiphany erupts in the middle of unrelated conversation or activity. Sometimes the distraction of the conversation or activity was the needed trigger for things to click into place. This is not indicative of not caring for the companion.
    5) On a more serious note, veterinarians are often more prone to depression than the rest of the world in part because of the perfectionist, caring, compassionate, OCD, self-critical tendencies so common in the species. If your veterinarian becomes increasingly moody or irritable, seems to be sleeping more than usual, has a decreased interest in work / fun / life, etc, then it is time to get your veterinarian help before the trend becomes irreversible. Veterinarians are often their own worst enemies and will rarely seek help for themselves.

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  4. Care must be taken with instructions on “fur babies” medications. Just because your veterinarian knows the pharmacology, dose and frequency does not mean that they will communicate this to their mate. Ask for instruction and training on this will avoid conflict, especially at bed time!

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  5. I have both veterinary and human medical degrees. I can tell you that veterinarians and physicians are the same breed. I tell people that by going to medical school I only increased my practice by one species. Early in my veterinary career I was a zoo vet: so I have treated a whole lot of species, not just small animals and “exotic” pets (anything not a dog, cat or caged bird.)

    In particular, the tendency of D.V.M.s and M.D.s to talk shop in public, as well doing “sidewalk diagnoses” out in public as a person or animal with a limp or particular lesion walks by.

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    • You are so right! Sitting in the car at a stop light watching people traverse the crosswalk: “That dog’s torn his cruciate. And that one has elbow dysplasia.” Some variation pretty much every time we’re in the car.

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    • So we should assume “what an a$$hole” has a totally different meaning from a Proctologist? ….might be a good thing, just a thought.

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  6. I’m an orthopaedic surgeon: when my daughters were young and we’d be out in public I might say “That lady needs her hip replaced.” or “That old guy’s spinal stenosis is hurting a lot.” One of them would whack me in the shoulder and sat “Daddy, STOP THAT!”

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  7. I am the child of a vet …. we had many many cats . My mother could eat a tuna sandwich whilst lancing a cyst and would laugh when her glove broke on an anal exam but could not change her own off springs nappy and we had spaghetti at least 4 nights in the week , I cannot remember eating anything else . Once my mother bought steak for my stepfather to cook and when she returned home from work my step father had put it through the mincer and made spaghetti bolognaise :/

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  8. Re: #2
    Well, I don’t know. When our vet walked in with his Boston Cream doughnut to find out that Jasmine needed to have her anal sacks checked he seemed to have lost interest in the doughnut. :p

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  9. Also you should be able to not mind that your verterinarian when visiting friends or family, directly dives into the cage of the resident pet, to comment on its obesity and that it has a tumor and should be treated. They will Always first check out the surroundings for any deviation out of the ordinary in any animal. (or human if they get the chance) This will mean not all of your friends will stay befriended, although this might be an advantage in selecting your real friends.

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  10. Vet as a species…it all makes sense now.

    I got mine as an undergrad. Even then, I could see all of the traits listed above, but I didn’t understand them. Then we were married and on to grad school where the behaviors became more pronounced. Finally, Vet School. It was not unlike releasing an animal back into the wild. She could finally run and play with others of her kind. Being what my vet calls ” a week gut”, I found dinner party study sessions to be nothing more than nightmares with dishes, but I get it now. It’s still gross on a daily basis, but I get it.

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  11. Pingback: The Husbandry and Feeding of Veterinarians (for new owners) | Vet-Techery

  12. Pingback: The Husbandry and Feeding of Veterinarians (for new owners) Claws Carefully Sheathed | The Fish Vet's Blog

  13. So funny cause this makes me think about my son Robert Golden when he first started dating Kendal H Smith his soon to be wife. He said ” mom Kendal eats like the man in this relationship , as she likes meat and potatoes !!! He is a yogart type water !! Kendal is currently at Va Tech school of Vetenarian Science !!! I can relate having been E R Nurse cause u work a trauma n get 5 min to eat talking about said trauma !!!

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  14. Pingback: Ethology of the veterinarian, part II | Claws Carefully Sheathed

  15. Pingback: Ethology of the veterinarian, part III | Claws Carefully Sheathed

  16. Pingback: Taking care of your new Veterinarian – ramblingsofanimbecile.net

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