Cancer is dog lovers' top fear

Cancer is dog lovers' top fear

Veterinarians can help clients cope with bad news.
Jul 30, 2008
By staff

Dog owners in the United States view canine cancer as the greatest health threat to their pets—and, in fact, cancer is the top cause of death in dogs older than 2, claiming the life of one of every four, the Morris Animal Foundation reports.

The next time you deliver this devastating diagnosis to one of your clients, use these tips from Veterinary Economics Editorial Advisory Board member Dr. Jim Kramer, CVPM, to break the news gently:

1. Set the stage
Start the conversation by saying you've discovered something serious. Clients will start to realize the scope of the problem by your tone and demeanor, which will prepare them for the details you'll provide.

2. Recognize the opportunity
When you handle a difficult situation effectively, it can bond clients to your practice more tightly, even if the pet's outlook is less than desirable. The worst thing you can do is fail to acknowledge the client's grief and shock.

3. Control the venue
Give bad news face to face whenever possible, in a quiet room away from practice hustle and bustle. Keep your delivery short, simple, and sincere, and allow the pet owner a moment to absorb the information. Provide any further details or instructions in writing for clients to reference once they're through the initial shock.

4. Make a connection
Don't miss the chance to connect emotionally to your clients. Sit at or below a client's eye level with no barriers between you and him or her. Don't fuss with charts or equipment either. Speak clearly and in a warm vocal tone—think calm, confident, decisive, and caring. If you feel sad, don't be afraid to show it. Clients expect at least an acknowledgment of their own sorrow.

5. Focus on the positive
Mention one of your favorite characteristics of the pet—Sophie's joyful attitude or silky-soft coat—or bring up a favorite memory, such as the time she knocked over the Christmas tree. This changes the focus from the problem to the value and joy of the pet's life.

6. Use touch
Touch can powerfully reassure a client beyond words—arms and shoulders are generally considered safe to touch. But if there's any chance for misunderstanding, ask first. For example, say, "Can I give you a hug?" Chances are you won't ever be turned down.