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On My Mind: Going to the Vet

Better safe than sorry

Going to the vet—the topic came up on the Karen Pryor Academy (KPA) Alumni list recently. When do you know the dog or cat is sick enough to be taken to the vet?

Checkup at the vets office

Photo courtesy of Debbie and Kenneth Martin.

Someone's puppy was throwing up quite a lot, and there was some kind of foreign material in the vomit. The puppy was playful and seemed normal in every way, but still. Then the owner remembered that the puppy had eaten part of a rubber slipper. The consensus from the list was to take the puppy to the vet.

Indeed, the puppy had a piece of slipper inside its digestive tract. Before the owner went to the expense and pain of surgery, the vet suggested keeping the puppy overnight. In the morning, the object had passed through the puppy and everything was fine. Still, it was a good idea to go.

Kids and animals

It is embarrassing to rush to the vet only to be told nothing is wrong, with the implied opinion that you are a silly person who worries too much. The temptation to wait and see if the dog is better in the morning is huge. I've made a few emergency runs with dogs and cats in my life. Sometimes it was unnecessary; sometimes it was a good thing I did.

Pediatrician visits create the same dilemma. When I lived in Hawaii, for a while I had three little ones under the age of five. Our cabin on the beach was almost an hour and a half from the doctor's office in Honolulu. To pack all three in the car and subject them to three hours of driving and the long wait when we got there, just because one of them had a fever or an earache or funny-looking blisters on his legs, was always a hard decision. But I always went.

About half the time I was told, "What did you bring him in for? He's fine, it's just a…" (whatever it was). The other half of the time it was. "Oh gosh, good thing you brought him in," followed by immediate antibiotics and general uproar. (For example the funny-looking blisters were a galloping staph infection, not uncommon in the tropics but, whew, serious.)

The annoying thing is that I never did figure out how to predict what would happen when I got to the doctor's office; we always just had to go. So I still have the same policy (for kids and pets)—when in doubt, go. It may bruise your pride and pinch your pocketbook a little, but it might save your pet.


We have a great new book for this problem, written by veterinarian Ken Martin and his wife, behaviorist Debbie Martin. The book is called Puppy Start Right. There's a nice photo guide on how to clicker train in the back of the book. In the front is all the practical and medical guidance you could ask for, designed to keep your puppy safe and well. We also have an online course for trainers looking to re-imagine how they teach puppy classes called Puppy Start Right for Instructors.

Rule one: Don't leave your flip flops where the puppy can eat them!

Karen Pryor

About the author
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Karen Pryor is the founder and CEO of Karen Pryor Clicker Training and Karen Pryor Academy. She is the author of many books, including Don't Shoot the Dog and Reaching the Animal Mind. Learn more about Karen Pryor or read Karen's Letters online.

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