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Visiting the vets with a guide dog

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Rubina Mooney, a guide dog owner, describes the challenges of visiting the vet with her guide dog

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What can help your approach

  • Everyone has different levels of vision, and even two people with the same level of vision can function very differently. Have a conversation with each person to see what support they would like. A recent In Practice article provides further information: http://inpractice.bmj.com/content/36/9/435

  • If an owner is required to administer a treatment at home, ensure that they are shown how to do so, even if they have done it before. This could be with the nurse, or during another appointment if short of time.

  • Any queries about the Guide Dogs charity’s role and remit in supporting the care of a dog in your practice should be directed to your local Guide Dogs’ dog care and welfare advisor.

I’m Ruby. I’m partially sighted and I use a guide dog to get around. I’ve been a guide dog owner for seven years, and Cracker is my second dog.

When attending the vet with Cracker, I’m not just taking a pet, I’m taking a part of me to get a check-up; to me it’s as important as going to the GP

When attending the vet with Cracker, I’m not just taking a pet, I’m taking a part of me to get a check-up; to me it’s as important as going to the GP. Depending on the reason for visiting the vet, it can be quite stressful for the owner. If my dog isn’t well, he can’t work, which in turn means I can’t get out anymore – not ideal when trying to lead a busy work and social life.

When arriving at the vets, it makes a big difference when the staff speak to me; I’m reassured that they know I have arrived, and it’s great when they meet me at the door and guide me to a seat. It’s really helpful when they give me a description of what’s around the area too, and what other animals are there, so I know how to handle Cracker. If I need to wait for a while, it’s helpful if the staff check in with me, so that I know they’ve not forgotten about me.

Depending on the appointment, Cracker is still in his harness and working, so when staff guide me into the room, it’s important they don’t pat or distract him – there’s lots of distractions in the practice so he’s working hard to concentrate.

In the appointment room, it helps to let me know how many people are there. I’ve sometimes discovered there have been students in the room listening in on the consultation, but I was not told. Letting me know what you’re doing can be reassuring.

I have other pets too, and ensuring the appointments are at the same time is a big help to arrange travel. Also let me know if I have to collect medication or pay for anything.

I’ve had to give medication to both my dogs. It can be stressful if the owner doesn’t have a partner to help administer medication correctly and hold the dog. You might need to practically show how to administer the medication for the owner if they are unsure. Although it might take a bit more time initially, I’ll feel more confident that Cracker’s getting the treatment he needs at home. Perhaps a nurse could take some time to help me understand how to give the medication?

Things I’ve done in the past include putting something tactile on the bottle or syringe so I can feel it. Also having the vet read out the dosage and any side effects of medication is helpful as the owner may not be able to read the bottle – owners can record it on their phone.

When your guide dog is going in for an operation, no matter how big or small, emotions are heightened significantly as they are your aid to getting out and about. Ensure the dog is comfortable and well enough to walk a short distance before being allowed home.

The owner may phone up a lot and hand in food or accessories to ensure the dog is comfortable. It helps to be empathetic, and letting them do this can help the owner cope with their stress and worry.

After appointments, my vet practice helps by phoning a taxi for me, letting me know when it arrives and guiding me out. With good customer service like this, it can make going to the vet an easier and calmer experience.

I’m grateful for the support we have from vets – the BVA recommends their members give twice yearly examinations, free of charge, to working guide dogs. Vets can reclaim the costs of most vaccines and some wormers from the manufacturers; several companies provide discounted treatments or prescription diets; and some diagnostic labs offer free or reduced services. It all helps the charity Guide Dogs keep their costs down.

Guide dog owners have a strong emotional bond with their dogs. Each guide dog owner will have different needs, so just ask the person how best to support them, whether it’s in the practice, or supporting the treatment of their guide dog at home.

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