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Pet Product News Editorial Blog:

November 16, 2011

Give Yer Head a Shake

By Elizabeth Creith

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Cheap vet
I once thought about being a veterinarian. I passed on that profession, but when I went into the pet trade, I found out that included in the job is “cheap substitute for a vet.”

When the office fee for a vet visit to worm the puppy is north of $50, never mind the medication, it seems obvious to shell out $15 instead for something over-the-counter. The problem is, anything you can get in the pet store is probably ineffective. Oh, yeah, it'll knock the worms back for a while, but the ones that survive will multiply again and—guess what?—be resistant to the next round. We explain this and sometimes it makes a difference.

That one I can understand. But there are other requests that make you give your head a shake.

“My cat has been throwing up for three days. Have you got a food that will stop him from doing that?” (Even if I did, what makes you think he would keep it down long enough to do any good?)

Or how about, “I need a sedative for my dog. Not a chemical, just something herbal.” (A sedative is a sedative—herbal sedatives need to be treated with respect, too.)

Or this phone call: “My budgie broke one of his feathers, and he's bleeding a lot. What should I do?” (Let me get this straight; your pet, which has about a tablespoonful of blood, is bleeding and you're calling a pet store? Get that bird to the vet! NOW! And pinch the end of the feather hard while you're at it!) We could tell them to pull the feather, but most people can't bring themselves to do it.

In our town, it makes perfect sense to call a pet store for some questions. We don't have an avian specialist or a veterinarian who knows a lot about reptiles. When the snake's eyes cloud over and he stops eating, who ya gonna call?

Even a really good veterinarian may not know something important. Many years ago, when I had my first ball python, he stopped eating. It went on for months. I took him to an exotics vet I trusted and spent quite a bit of money on B12 shots to stimulate Houdini's appetite. Neither the veterinarian nor I knew that ball pythons normally fast for eight months of the year. A pet store with knowledgeable staff would have been a great help.

On the other hand, there are limits. This is my favourite give-yer-head-a-shake moment. A woman called because her hamster had a lump on its back.

“It could be a cyst,” David said, “or an abscess, if he's been injured, or a tumour. It's hard to tell without seeing the animal. And it may need to be removed—you should take him to a vet.”

Four hours later she called back. This time I answered the phone.

“I really need to get this looked after,” she said, “but I'm not paying $70 for an office visit for an $8 hamster. If I brought him down, could you operate on him?”

I was gobsmacked. We didn't have anaesthetic or any surgical equipment, and we could get into a lot of trouble for doing what she'd just asked. But, hey, that was fine with her, because she wouldn't be paying the vet—the pet store would do it free!

I opened my mouth to say, “Are you completely off your rocker?”

Then the retail manners took over.

“No, ma'am,” I said. And I hung up, and gave my head a shake.

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