Almost daily, I hear pet owners justify their behavior towards their beloved pet by saying, “She’s like my child,” or “He’s my baby!” Does this mean the person thinks their four-legged animal is equivalent to a human child?
I can’t answer that–partly because every situation and relationship is a little different. What I do find intriguing is how similar my job is to that of a pediatrician–with some important differences.
Top 5 List of How Veterinary Medicine is Like Pediatric Medicine
- Our patients can’t talk. Both pediatricians and veterinarians must rely on their history-taking and diagnostic skills to achieve a diagnosis. The parents need to be able to give us the information we’re looking for, and they can’t always answer our questions. (Although a pediatrician probably doesn’t hear, “I don’t know, he goes in the backyard” when asked if a child has been having loose stools!)
- Our patients don’t understand what we’re saying. This is hard to accept, but it’s a reality that our patients may be scared out of their mind, and we can’t explain what’s happening to them, or why we have to get a blood sample, or what to expect with a particular test or treatment.
- Our patients require a caregiver. Unlike an adult human patient, who you can give instructions to, our patients rely on someone else to follow the doctor’s instructions. Some parents follow the doctor’s instructions to a T
- Parents–of any kind–just want reassurance that their baby will be ok. I was reminded blatantly of this when I took my three-month old daughter to the pediatrician with RSV. The nurse practitioner was talking fast about a bunch of stuff that I didn’t fully understand, and all I really wanted to hear was, “She’ll be ok.” I try to remember this when faced with a similarly-anxious pet parent: talk slow and be reassuring (when possible).
- As the doctor, be prepared for an interrogation of sorts regarding the why’s, what-if’s, and how-t0’s. Because of all the reasons I just listed above, the parent feels a huge responsibility and wants to be sure he/she understands the situation well enough to do right by their little one.
…and how it’s not:
- Due to completely different rules regarding insurance, pet parents are required to pay in full, at the time that services are rendered, which can vary from hundreds to thousands of dollars. That is a hard pill to swallow for the average American family that already has their own health care to pay for.
- Ultimately, pets are NOT humans, so no matter how strong the human-animal bond is, there will be some unavoidable differences between a relationship with a pet and owner versus a child and parent. We know the life expectancy when we bring an animal into our lives–we may want it to live as long as we do, but we know that it won’t. We also can’t take the pet with us everywhere we go (usually), like we would a child.
- We can’t even begin to compete with the federal assistance programs (social welfare) that are in place to help children in troubled homes. Although many non-profit organizations exist to support the welfare of animals, they are not federally mandated or funded, nor should they be. Animals will always be lower on the totem pole in our society, so it’s an inescapable truth that pets (in a general sense) will never receive the full spectrum of care and support that humans do. But it is thanks to those non-profits that some pets can receive help and support.
- Veterinarians see patients through the pets’ entire lifespans, not just the pediatric stage, so we see a wide spectrum of age-related illnesses. Pediatric doctors obviously just see people during their early life stage.
Of course, there are many more reasons and ways that veterinary medicine differs from pediatric medicine. Can you list some?