Communicating About Communication

I’ve just returned from the International Conference on Communications in Veterinary Medicine (  This was a gathering of folks from all around the world eager to share their research, report their observations, and learn more about communication in the world of veterinary medicine.  The majority of information shared at this meeting pertained directly to how veterinarians communicate with their clients.  From my perspective, this is such exciting news! As little as a decade ago, barely a trace of research existed on the topic of client communication in veterinary medicine.  Now there are a reasonable number of studies underway, many of which are geared towards figuring out the best ways to incorporate and teach client communication within veterinary school curricula.  While the Canadian veterinary colleges seem to really be leading the charge in this research, what’s clear is that more and more veterinary school faculty around the world are grasping just how important it is to teach client communication skills to their students.  Hurray!

I was asked to provide a lecture/workshop for this meeting and chose, “The Internet and the Vet: How the Worldwide Web is Changing the Way We Communicate”.  I presented the data about email communication between veterinarians and their clients that you were privy to via this blog a couple of months ago ( We also discussed how to interact with clients who do Internet research pertaining to their pet’s health (These days, who doesn’t do this?). We did some role-playing to try to identify ways to make our clients feel more comfortable when discussing their Internet research.  We all agreed that most clients are a bit bashful when broaching this topic- by doing so they fear that they may be conveying mistrust in their veterinarians.

Take home points emphasized repeatedly at this meeting were the importance of empathic communication (delivered verbally and nonverbally) and relationship centered care- the communication style that emphasizes collaboration between veterinarians and their clients. The payoff for utilizing this style of communication is greater job satisfaction for the veterinarian and greater client satisfaction with the services received.  I feel wonderfully fortunate to be practicing veterinary medicine at a time when a conference about communication in veterinary medicine exists. 

Over the years have you perceived ways that communication between you and your veterinarian are changing? If so, I would love to hear from you.

Now here’s wishing you and your four-legged family members abundant good health.  

Nancy Kay, DVM
Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of  Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association 2009 Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, 2009 Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, 2009 Eukanuba Canine Health Award
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Please visit to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot. There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot is available at, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller. 

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5 Comments on “Communicating About Communication

  1. I feel communication with vets is in dire need of improving. I have been through many vets in the last few years, due to moving, and just not finding the right one, and I have found that very few are willing to discuss my pets care with me. I have seen a common thread of vets wanting to keep animal symptoms – and diagnoses that they come upon a completely mysterious process. As a caretaker of family members, and my pets, I found the more interaction I have with a vet or doctor and research, the better I feel about them and the care that my family member or my pet is getting. When I question vets about the medicines they prescribe, side effects, they dont seem to want to disclose information, for example, recently I was prescribed a drug that made my dog lose his hearing, if only they told me this was a risk with this particular ear medication, I would have chosen not to use that medication, but that was never disclosed to me. I can give a number of examples of medicines that were given, without explaining to me what it does, what side effects it may have, etc.., they are just given, sometimes even without my approval. Another example was a cat was given an injection of a pain medication not approved for cats which caused a huge lump on his spine, that is still present 4 years later. I have found vets take too many liberties on not informing the clients of pros and cons and just treat before talking through something and considering options. Just recently when I mentioned I did research on a medicine to a vet, he responded with the typical “Oh, I dont want to hear about internet research”. In this day and age, I found that a very outdated way to keep a client from asking too many questions. I hope to see improvement in this area of vet medicine!

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  3. Thanks for highlighting and important conference and and important topic, Dr. Kay! I was not aware of this organization and will try and attend upcoming conferences. We try and incorporate some of the techniques you mention in our interactions with veterinary students at Purdue when we are discussing client communication – role playing, active listening, empathic communication (which I have found, much to my chagrin, is quintessentially different from telepathic communication – who knew?!).

    I am going to creech around the website of the ICCVM and pick up some more pearls, but I wanted to thank you for opening up this important topic!

  4. I haven’t had dogs for many years, but have had many cats. Most of whom moved in with us.
    I had wonderful vets at Central Vet in Fremont Calif. They always explained everything, answered my questions……..We had 12 cats at one time………they gave me what they called Fleet rates !!!!!!
    One of our cats lived to be 22, the average age they lived to was 14.
    My husband built them a cat yard, they got to thru our bedroom window via a ramp.
    I still have two cats, one about 4 and one about 12. They are now indoor cats…………
    I think the relationship between you and your vet, and your pet and your vet is very important. Myself, I am partial to female vets………but have had good male vets too.

    Even though I don’t have dogs, except for granddogs, my married kids dogs, I thought the article was excellent

  5. I want my vet to be competent but if they’re not good communicators it doesn’t matter what they know or how good a surgeon they are. They won’t hear about symptoms if they don’t make me feel like they’ll listen, or if they don’t ask the right questions. Lots of conditions are diagnosed at least partly on “history” and the dog certainly won’t admit to puking in the middle of the living room! The vet needs to buddy up to the tattler.