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Dr. Nancy Kay Discusses Being Your Pet’s Medical Advocate


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Dr. Nancy Kay, DVMDr. Nancy Kay is a renowned author and veterinarian who has written two books on being a better medical advocate for your pet and about maximizing the client-veterinarian relationship. She was happy to give us a bit of her time to discuss her books and how to do what is medically best for your pet.

What was the motivation behind “Speaking for Spot?” On your site, you describe your own personal journey. Could you speak a bit about this?

“Two to three years prior to writing the book, I had a medical scare…I had some procedures done and the doctors I was working with thought I might have breast cancer. They recommended surgery and lumpectomy. I did some online research and found the medical doctor who writes chapters in textbooks on breast pathology. I met with him. He reviewed my mammogram and the biopsies that had already been collected and reassured me that I had nothing to worry about.

He even explained why pathologists sometimes get concerned about the types of cells seen, but he said they were benign. I left there reassured, realizing that I had avoided a needless surgery because I had been able to be such an effective medical advocate for myself.

This left me with a passion to teach others how to become savvy medical advocates. I decided to begin with my own backyard and wrote this book for people with pets.”

What does it mean to be an “advocate” for your dog?

“What it means to be an effective medical advocate is gathering all the medical information you need to weigh all the pros and cons of options in order to make the best decision for you and your pet. It also involves taking into consideration your pet-their personality and what they would want, as well as your own peace of mind. Being an effective medical advocate results in the best decision for the pet and the greatest long term peace of mind you.”

You speak about getting second opinions and knowing how to make informed choices. So, are there some vets whose advice may not be trustworthy? What are the reasons you may get bad advice?

“It is not necessarily bad advice, but different veterinarians just emphasize different things…Whether it is you or your pet, if a significant medical procedure or surgery has been recommended, it pays to get a second opinion to see if the recommendation is justified.

There are times when people will receive bad advice and hopefully people will have the knowledge to understand this. If you take your dog with diarrhea three different times to your veterinarian, over a period of time, and things are not improving, it’s time to get a second opinion. Your vet has had three chances to get to the bottom of it…It’s the perfect time to get a second opinion. The same hold true if you have a gut feeling something is not right or your pet is getting worse or not getting any better.”

Was the book well received by veterinarians too?

“Yes, I didn’t get any negative feedback from veterinarians. I actually received a lot of feedback from veterinarians that they felt I had represented the profession well. I did an interview on the NPR show Fresh Air with Terry Gross discussing this.”

What are some of the most common mistakes that people make when going to the vet or when making big choices?

“One of the most common, I think, is simply going along with exactly what’s recommended without being an informed consumer. For example, eight different vaccinations may be recommended but it is up to you, with the help of your veterinarian, to weigh the benefits and risks. It may be recommended to get a vaccination against Lyme disease but if there is no way that your dog is going to be exposed to ticks, then the vaccine offers all of the risks of this procedure without any potential benefit. The biggest mistake is not stepping up to the plate as your pet’s advocate. Your veterinarian is part of your pet’s health team but you are the team captain.”

Why do you think that sometimes veterinarians and owners have issues? Is there a disconnect in communication?

“Not necessarily, especially if they choose a vet wisely. In my book, I talk about relationship-centered care which is a collaborative style of communication between the veterinarian and client. This is in contrast to a paternalistic style of communication in which the vet simply tells their client what to do. The latter style is where people tend to get into trouble, particularly when major decisions are being made, such as putting an animal to sleep. When a client does so because their vet told them that’s what they should do, the end result typically involves a great deal of guilt and resentment.”              

How has veterinary medicine evolved in the age of the Internet and are these changes positive or not?

“The not so good part is that many people consult exclusively with Dr. Google in place of their veterinarian. However, the best situation is if there is a mix of both…Google can be informative if used responsibly. I think it’s great when someone has surfed responsibly and we can have a much more involved discussion because they understand the basics. There is nothing better than a well-informed client.

There still needs to be a physical examination and face time with a veterinarian. When used responsibly, online material is tremendously helpful. I write a lot of articles for the Internet, so I am part of what I hope is responsible Internet use. My books and my blog contain a good deal of information about how to be a responsible surfer when doing medical research.”

How can veterinarians better work with rescue organizations?

“Well, I think the major issue is that these rescue organizations are doing the right thing but operating on a shoestring budget, so providing appropriate medical care for their rescues is always an issue. Veterinary care is expensive-given the overhead to run a clinic, it is difficult for vets to charge less. Additionally, these days, vets graduate from school with, on average, $150,000 of debt and they enter into jobs that may pay $50,000 to $60,000 a year. It is difficult for them to discount or give away their services. This makes it tough on rescue organizations who must rely on veterinary services for the animals in their care. I don’t know how to solve this problem other than private donations for rescue organizations.

On my website, I provide a comprehensive list of organizations who can provide financial assistance for these cases (”

Do you have any closing comments?

“I would like readers to know that I publish a weekly blog, which people can find by visiting my website ( or on Facebook.

My two books are called Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life and Your Dog’s Best Health: A Dozen Reasonable Things to Expect from Your Vet.

Additionally, if your readers email me ([email protected]) and mention that they learned about me through Life with Dogs, I will be happy to offer two books for the price of one. They can buy both books or two of the same one.”