The difference between your GP and vet Print E-mail
News - Rubrieke
Friday, 17 August 2018 11:08
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Dr Liesel van der Merwe is a small animal medicine specialist. Send her your questions: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Dr Liesel van der Merwe

What is the difference between your GP and your vet? Both have finished a gruelling six year degree. Both have had clinical training in all the various disciplines. Both need to keep up to date with advances in medicine.

Both need to be able to manage their patients’ general health, establish preventative health care programmes and know when whatever is wrong with their patient is serious and then send the patient to the best specialist.

No one person can be an expert in everything. I am a small animal medicine specialist. I enjoy soft tissue surgery as well. Show me a horse or pig and I will run a mile. Ask me to pin a fractured bone and I honestly can say I would not be able to. The general vets in smaller towns are able to perform a wider range of procedures on a wider range of animals, but also will need to refer patients for more specialised cases.

Both professions should receive the same degree of respect. It is my perception that this is not what happens in practice. In the last few weeks I have had dealings with two clients, which have left me amazed at the total lack of respect they had for me as a professional and for the hardworking staff at our clinic. I have been pondering this for a while now and have some ideas, but would like to engage with readers who have other inputs (via This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it ).

I think as a patient or the parent/partner of a patient one feels vulnerable and is less likely to complain if one ends up waiting over an hour for an appointment. When visiting a vet, maybe the feeling of vulnerability is less even though we love our pets dearly. You, as the owner, are a client, rather than a patient. As a client you feel that you have the right to make demands on your vet which, as a patient, you may not make on your doctor.

Vets, even more so than your GP, may struggle to be on time with appointments as patients often need emergency stabilisation and anaesthetic procedures, which are done in-house and aren’t referred to a hospital.

Cost plays a role in every vet consult, but doesn’t even get a mention in GP visits by those lucky enough to have a medical aid. This adds a new dimension of stress to any vet visit. Decision making is then not only based on quality of life but affordability. Owners feel bad that they cannot always afford the “top of the range” treatment for their pet. In some cases this will play out as resentment against the vet.

I believe pets are integral to the health and happiness of all people. But, when taking on a pet it is imperative that an owner takes responsibility for loving and feeding the animal and providing shelter.

Ideally vaccinations and sterilisation should be factored in. There are community clinics in many areas, as veterinary graduates have to complete a community service year after graduating.

If your animal has been in a motor accident and has a fractured bone, it is going to cost money to fix. Orthopaedic surgery is expensive. It is no good blaming vets because they cannot offer you a “better deal” or saying that they’re just after money and do not care for animals.

Our fees are made up according to mark-ups and cost of time, premises, staff and medication. Most vets are not very rich and most do some pro bono work, but cannot do this all the time, as we have salaries and bills to pay.

Because we know costs are always an issue we often start practising defensively and mention costs too early in a consultation, making clients think that we are only worried about the money. 

Vets often bad-mouth each other, which I have never heard my GP do. This doesn’t help to grow respect. Vets are not always people people, so they don’t always clearly communicate with the client.

Doctors also do not always have a good bedside manner, but nursing staff and receptionists will often do the bulk of their communicating. Vets do not employ enough veterinary nurses to do this, because it would increase cost.

I have sent clients away to other vets. When I am explaining something and find myself trying to convince them to trust me, rather than just explaining the procedure, then I know it is not a good match. There has to be a degree of trust.

Make an effort to chat to different vets and to visit different practices. See which is the best fit; sometimes personalities just clash. Your local vet, just like your GP, should be a comfortable place where you trust the advice and feel free to ask questions.

Do you have a good relationship with your vet or do you feel that any vet will do? If you feel disillusioned with vets, let me know why. But, please don’t give me any names and details.


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