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Posted on Tue, Feb 1, 2011 : 9:45 a.m.

Veterinary waiting room manners are important, especially during grave situations

By Lorrie Shaw


Flickr photo courtesy of hannahmetana

Being in the waiting room at a vets' office is an interesting experience to say the least.

Over the years, I've learned to quickly surmise the situation in the waiting room to see where the unruly or frightened pets are, so that they can have a little space. After all, waiting room etiquette is a must from a behavioral and a medical standpoint—there are plenty of sick pets traipsing in and out of the building and some diseases are transmissible.

Typically, there are nervous felines being soothed by their owners who need attention after a cat fight, and dogs on leashes who may or may not be behaving like they would if they were not there. Elated and happy people, clutching their wiggly, new puppies who don't know what they're in for in the coming months, are always fun to run into. In looking around, all indications are that there isn't anything that a vet can't address and fix that day, and everything is fine.

Or is it? In some cases, no.

A small-animal veterinarian cares for pets from the cradle to the grave, so to speak, and from day-to-day, I think it's safe to say that it's a mixed bag as far as what they see. Those in the waiting room often get a glimpse of the not-so-good stuff vets help their clients deal with.

Seeing tear-stained, anguished faces of humans sitting in the chairs is always hard. They represent the heart-wrenching situations: a suddenly-ill pet whose future is quite uncertain, a family bringing their beloved pet in for euthanasia or an unexpected diagnosis that was discovered. In most of these cases, the pet may not be feeling their best, and that, coupled with an owner who is facing some very difficult decisions, makes for a very delicate situation. I've always found that a fair dose of compassion and mindfulness comes in pretty handy, along with a few tissues and plenty of support to extend.

On several occasions, I have been in the midst of an obviously distressed pet parent—and one afternoon about 14 months ago, I found myself in that very situation. On taking one of our dogs to the vet for a simple ear problem, I was blindsided by some very unexpected news.

The office was busy that day, so I kept Gretchen occupied with a few treats in the corner. On getting an exam room, the vet—who was one of two doctors in the practice and unfamiliar with us—entered. We chatted for a few minutes, and she began examining my furry pal of 10 years, starting with her ears, working down to her neck, checking the glands and asking questions along the way. Then, after feeling around her abdomen, she seemed to linger with a quizzical look on her face as she felt around again.

"Has Gretchen had any problems with her urinary tract, her digestion?" the vet asked.

"No, she hasn't," I replied cautiously, as by this point she looked worried and stood up.

"I feel something. . ."

With that, I think that I let out a weak whimper-gasp, and I could immediately feel the tears welling up—my face contorting. I felt all of those cliched emotions just like I'd been hit with a two-by-four to say the least. As the doctor went on talking about some very grave details (five centimeters, splenic, tumor, probably malignant, metastasized), I scooped as much of my girl as would fit in my arms and just held onto her. I just wanted to go back five minutes in time, before all of those words.

The news was totally unexpected. Gretchen never showed any sign of being ill and had been in for a check-up only eight weeks before, leaving with a clean bill of health.

Tests were in order: X-rays, to start, because that is what could be managed at that point, and I was sent out into the waiting room. My worried self had to go out there, without my pooch—confused, tear-stained, choking back my sobs, waiting for the next dose of bad news. Dreading the thought of trying to digest what was happening in a room full of other families, I walked out and to my relief, it was empty.

After all was said and done that day, I remember walking out of the vets office with Gretchen (who now is doing just fine), feeling very different than before we came in. I was even more adamant about conducting myself carefully when considering what the person sitting next to me in the vets' office might be going through.

Lorrie Shaw is a regular contributor to's pet section and wrote "Do we expect too much from our dogs?". Contact her by e-mail and follow her pet sitting and dog walking adventures on Twitter.


Lorrie Shaw

Fri, Feb 11, 2011 : 12:26 a.m.

arbormom and Kay: Thanks so much. I wish that no one had to go to the vet and ever get bad news or make final decisions, but it is indeed part of the territory. I don't know how vets do it. A strong stomach, a great sense of tact and a stoic presence when it's needed. Wow.


Thu, Feb 3, 2011 : 2:44 a.m.

Beautiful article---really stopped me in my tracks and made me think about all my vet visits--certainly brought out the sensitivity I must remember next time I am at the vet's.


Tue, Feb 1, 2011 : 6:59 p.m.

Thank you for this article. As an owner of many pets, I have been to the vet for a whole host of reasons - ranging from nail trimmings, allergic reactions, to having a pet put to sleep. It is very important to consider others in the space that you and your pet occupy - knowing that there is a range of emotions in the waiting room.