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The Irreverent Vet Speaks out on “What if You Think Your Vet Made a Mistake”?

All businesses get complaints. Complaints to veterinarians are no exception.

After being in the veterinary profession for years, I’ve seen clients complain about a number of things. Their wait was too long, the receptionist was “rude”, the shot hurt their dog more than last time, their bill was too high, their 20 year old cat had treatment and died anyway. This is just to name a few. Other complaints may be that their hospitalized dog smells like urine or….the doctor didn’t spend enough time talking to them. You name it and I’ve heard it.

There are a variety of types of complaints – customer service problems, facility problems, and medical care complaints.
PLEASE NOTE – THIS ARTICLE WAS EDITED IN RESPONSE TO readers concerns about the bias of the article. Please go to: Readers Respond with Anger to “The Irreverent Vet Speaks out on If Vets Make Mistakes** **to read the comments and my response.

In response to readers comments – I’ll tell you this – Veterinarians do make mistakes. No one is perfect.

Here are a couple scenarios of complaints that may not necessary be the vets fault (and I’ll follow this up with some real mistakes that vets have made):

1. A dog was out in the yard and suffered some laceration on his leg. It was sutured and a small bandage was applied to cover the wound. The owner was instructed to return for a bandage change in 2 days. The owner didn’t return for 10 days. The bandage had gotten wet and the incision was very infected. The owner blamed the vet and refused to pay for treatment of the wound infection. Was the veterinarian in the wrong?

2. A dog had routine vaccines at 1 pm. Around 3 pm – he vomited once then the owner noticed some facial swelling. By 7 pm – he had hives all over his body and his face and skin around his eyes were very swollen. The owner called the emergency clinic – the dog went in and was treated with a Benadryl® injection. The dog did fine. The owner had to pay for the ER visit and injection. The owners were MAD. Refused to pay and showed up the next day at the clinic. Was the veterinarian wrong? Who should pay for the ER fee?

3. A 3-year-old dog had a routine spay. She was spayed at 10 am, the owner picked up the dog at 5 pm. The veterinarian recommended minimal activity for 10 days, leashed when outside at all times. The dog got home, ate, drank and started playing outside in the yard with the neighbor’s dog. Around 11 pm – the owner noticed that the incision looked “puffy”. They called the local emergency clinic that said it could be just some swelling or something more serious. They offered to see the dog – the emergency fee was $80.00. The owner declined to go in. At 5 am – the owner got up for work and noticed that the dogs surgical incision was wide open. Abdominal contents were hanging out. They call their vet – they are not yet open. The owner calls the emergency clinic who recommends that the dog come in immediately. The dog goes in and is diagnosed as having a “dehiscence” – an inappropriate opening of a surgical incision. The dog is taken to surgery at the emergency clinic and does fine. The incision was re-sutured. The owner picks up the dog the next day – and their bill is $800.00. The owner is mad. The owner blames the veterinarian.

This is a complicated case. Who is to blame? Is it the veterinarian’s fault? Is it the owner’s fault for not taking proper care of the dog as instructed? Who should pay?

To be honest – this is complicated. It is hard to know who is at fault. It could be the dog was too active. It could be that the sutures failed. Complications occur in human medicine all the time. The physician does not wave costs because a complication occurred.

In my experience, most serious complaints occur due to money. That is what it comes down to. If everything was free and the outcome was still good and there was no clear “fault” – there would be no complaints. But because there is money involved – there is fault.

Here are some mistakes I’ve seen:

  1. A dog has a bump that the other point out during a routine examination. The vet says not to worry about it. Two years later it turns out to be cancer.
  2. A dog is diagnosed with epilepsy and is started on seizure medication. The wrong medication was filled in the pharmacy. The mediation was supposed to be Phenobarbital and instead an entirely different drug that has no effect on seizures called Phenoxybenamine was given. The dog continues to have seizures and the owner continues to give the medication (thinking it was helping). Phenoxybenamine does nothing to help the seizures. The dog eventually comes back in and the mistake is identified.
  3. A dog with a history of seizures comes in to the clinic for thunderstorm anxiety. The dog is prescribed a sedative called Acepromazine. It works very well for anxiety. But it can decrease the seizure threshold and should not be used in seizure dogs. On a stormy night the Acepromazine is given and the dog goes on to seizure. He presents to the emergency clinic and the mistake is identified.
  4. A 7-month-old adorable dog comes in to a clinic I worked at for abdominal pain 3 weeks after she was spayed. An x-ray shows one VERY large kidney. A mistake was made during surgery that tied off the ureter (the tube that carries urine) which caused a very enlarged painful kidney. The kidney had to be removed.
  5. A cat with glaucoma goes to the vet to have the painful eye reomvoed. When the client goes to pick up the cat – she screams as she sees the wrong eye was removed.

What do you do if you think your veterinarian really screwed up? One is not perfect and mistakes can happen.

What Can You Do?

If you have a serious complaint with a veterinarian – talk to him or her first. Figure out what you want and hope to achieve.

Is your concern a complaint about service or the bill or a serious medical mistake?

Think carefully about what you want to say. Consider both sides of the situation. Are you being reasonable? Did you follow instructions your veterinarian or veterinary clinic staff gave you at time of discharge? Make a list of concerns, questions and consider what outcome you want from the interaction. You may want them to pay the bill. You may just want to know they care and an apology. You may want to ensure their protocol changes so the same mistake cannot happen again.

For example with the cat with the wrong eye removed, the client wanted the vet to acknowledge the mistake, apologize (she wanted to know the vet cared), she wanted the vet to pay for all further care and most importantly, she wanted confirmation that protocols would be changed in that surgery practice to prevent this from ever happening again.

Think about what you want and will find acceptable. Communicate this.

If you are not satisfied – your next step could be to contact the Board of Veterinary Medicine in your state to file a formal complaint. You can find their numbers on the internet. You will most likely need to document in writing the complaint with any “proof” or written information (bills, notes, etc.). They will investigate and determine if the complaint is legitimate and course of action.

The Better Business Bureau is a good organization that can take customer complaints or concerns and determine if there is legitimacy to the claim. This is not good for medical complaints but can be good for customer service complaints. For more information, go to

Another option is to contact a lawyer. Find out your options for filing suit if you believe you have a legitimate claim.

Before you do this any of this, make sure you talk to the veterinarian first. They may help you resolve the issue before you go through the frustration and expense of a lawsuit or other additional actions.

My Final Thoughts – What Should You Do if Your Veterinarian Screwed Up?

Talk to them. Before you do – think about what you want for an outcome.

What are your thoughts? Comment below.


The Politically Incorrect Vet is a columnist that regularly contributes to The goal is to add a balanced and alternative view of some controversial pet issues. As happens with all of us, veterinarians can’t say what they really think without offending some clients. This commentary allows vets to say what they think and give you, the pet owner, the opportunity to consider another view. All opinions are those of the Politically Incorrect Vet and not the views of and are not endorsed by