8 min read

Ask a Vet: What Do Veterinarians Do?

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Overview


As a devoted pet parent, you're undoubtedly very familiar with the vet's office. But have you ever wondered what veterinary care is like on the other side of the examination table? Being a vet can be fun and heartwarming — but, as you'll soon learn, this career isn't always sunshine and rainbows.

In honor of World Veterinary Day, we interviewed 2 veterinarians, Dr. Katie Kitchen and Dr. Linda Simon, to better understand the field and the challenges veterinarians face. But first, a formal introduction!

dr katie kitchen scottsdale arizona veterinarian with her australian shepherd mason

Meet Dr. Katie Kitchen

Dr. Katie Kitchen DVM is a practicing veterinarian who co-owns Animal Hospital at Grayhawk in Scottsdale, Arizona with her husband, Michael. She's a working mom of twin boys and a graduate of the University of Minnesota Medical School. In her free time, she likes to compete in agility trials with her sweet Australian Shepherd, Mason.

dr linda simon veterinarian, writer and consultant

Meet Dr. Linda Simon

Dr. Linda Simon MVB MRCVS is a veterinary surgeon based in the UK who earned her degree from University College Dublin in 2013. Dr. Simon is also a member of Wag!'s licensed veterinary team — she answers questions from Pet Parents via Wag! Vet Chat and also lends a helping hand reviewing our health and wellness articles for accuracy. When she's not working, she enjoys baking and spending time with her son.


Behind the scenes of a bustling animal hospital

A practicing vet's workday is fast-paced and starts early. Dr. Kitchen arrives at the office around 8:00 or 8:30 am and gets right to work seeing clients. After her vet techs gather information about each patient, Dr. Kitchen will perform an exam and discuss her findings and recommendations with each client.

Not all appointments are cut-and-dried, though. Visits often exceed the allotted 30-minute window, especially if the animal requires additional testing.

"I am frequently juggling multiple rooms at once. This can be challenging sometimes because I might be going between a new puppy exam (where we are all happy and excited!) and a room where we are uncovering and discussing a devastating diagnosis," Kitchen explains.



Dr. Kitchen sees patients all morning until noon, and then there's a two-hour window before the afternoon appointments begin — but she isn't lounging in the break room during that downtime.

"Between noon and 2:00 pm, I make calls to clients with blood work results, work on my morning medical records, and get through whatever tasks I can (such as medication refill requests). Oh, and I try and fit lunch in there somewhere!"

Appointments resume at 2:00 pm and continue until 5:00 pm, but the work doesn't stop after the patients go home. She says she usually stays after hours handling calls and typing reports until she's either exhausted or her motherly duties call.


Alternatives to clinical practice

When most people picture a veterinarian, they think of someone wearing scrubs in a clinic. But nowadays, many vets work from home in a variety of niches, like writing, telehealth, and content marketing.

Dr. Simon is one such vet who currently works from home (with a little help from her toddler). She says her work "looks a lot different to how it used to, when [she'd] be in the clinic 6 days a week." Her workday revolves around her son's naptimes and typically involves "writing veterinary articles, performing virtual consults, and making videos for a pet food company." That’s a lot of hats to wear!


How the pandemic has changed the veterinary profession

COVID-19 has changed a lot of things, and the veterinary field is no exception. When asked how the pandemic has changed the veterinary profession, Dr. Simon and Dr. Kitchen’s answers revealed that the veterinary profession in 2022 looks a lot different than it did even 5 years ago. Here's what Dr. Kitchen and Dr. Simon had to say about the effect of COVID-19 on the industry. 

"I was largely untouched as I was working from home before the pandemic started," says Simon. "However, I am well aware that there is now a shortage of vets, and many owners are now struggling to register new pets, which is a real worry."

Dr. Kitchen, who works directly with the public and their pets, had a very different experience. She describes an unusual influx of new patients at the start of the pandemic, which created additional challenges in addition to shut-downs and social distancing measures.

"No one in veterinary medicine completely understands why it's been this way, but we suspect it's a combination of more people adopting pets, people spending more time with their pets and noticing more concerns, or just having more time to make appointments," explains Kitchen.

According to Kitchen, all the new patients, coupled with staffing shortages and veterinarians leaving the field, have made recent years much busier than usual. In her words, "Those of us in veterinary medicine are really tired!" We bet so!

Kitchen also sympathizes with pet parents who have had to navigate new obstacles to receive vet care since the start of the pandemic:

"They are anxious, they are worried about their pet, and maybe now are being told they can't be seen for a few days (or in some parts of the country, a few weeks). I absolutely feel for those clients! But it's hard when they take it out on us because I promise you we are trying to work as quickly as possible while still practicing excellent medicine!"

She goes on to say, "I am so appreciative of the clients who were understanding when we did curbside visits or when we've required masks in the clinic."



Funny stories from the clinic

Vets deal with a lot of heartbreak, but they get to share some cute and downright hilarious experiences with their furry clients too. We asked Dr. Kitchen and Dr. Simon about their funniest experiences in the clinic, and their responses did not disappoint.


Confused cat parents

Dr. Simon recounts several times when pet parents mistook a female in heat for a critically ill pet:

"I have had a few incidents of owners coming into the clinic very worried because they think their female cat has been injured and is in extreme pain because they're suddenly very vocal and moving oddly. When I explain that their young, unneutered female is in season, they are very relieved!"


A smelly situation

Dr. Kitchen's story about an anal gland expression gone wrong had us audibly laughing.

"Dogs have these glands on the inside of their anus; they fill with a very potent and foul-smelling liquid that — normally — is expressed during defecation. But sometimes, these glands can get clogged," Dr. Kitchen explains.

At the time of this event, Dr. Kitchen was fresh out of vet school and eager to impress her boss by helping to express a very full gland that the other vets couldn't manage to get. "I had the idea to try and gently poke through the plug with a small instrument. It worked beautifully! But the only problem is I made the rookie mistake of standing in the line of fire," Kitchen says. (Can you see where this story is going?)

"Anal gland secretions sprayed all over my face, hair, and clothes. So much for looking like the hero — instead, everyone just gave me a wide berth the rest of the day because the smell of anal glands isn't easy to clear up. At least I could be the comedic relief for my coworkers!" recounts Kitchen.


Expert advice for pet parents

As for advice they'd give pet parents, Dr. Kitchen and Dr. Simon had a lot to say. Kitchen and Simon both agree that providing mental stimulation is essential to a pet's health and well-being — and that goes for all species!

"The internet is full of great ideas for enrichment activities, whether it's a dog, cat, bird, snake, or something else. Affection from us can be a big part of this, but so is getting their mind engaged with new experiences and puzzles," says Kitchen.

Dr. Kitchen also encourages prospective pet parents to research the species and breed they're interested in before adopting and to be realistic when deciding if an animal would be a good fit for their family.

"If you're more likely to binge an entire season of your favorite TV show on a Saturday than go run a half marathon, you get zero judgment from me (because I'm that way too!). But choose a breed that would be just as happy lounging on the sofa next to you. And if your new pet is more like a hamster or turtle, definitely research what their specific needs are for their environment," she says.

Both vets caution prospective pet parents that having a pet is expensive. "Between their food, any grooming needs, training, veterinary care, etc., the costs can really add up. I would encourage people to research what the costs for that individual pet might look like and plan accordingly," says Kitchen.

Dr. Simon echoes this sentiment, saying, "Not only do we need to pay for vaccines and parasite prevention, but pets can also become ill, get injured, and develop lifelong health issues."

Although having a pet is costly and time-consuming, Dr. Simon wants prospective pet parents to know that having a pet is, in her words, "hugely rewarding" and that "pets offer unconditional love, companionship, and some hilarious moments." We couldn't agree more!


The real cost of vet care

We asked Dr. Kitchen and Dr. Simon if the cost of vet care affected people's willingness to seek treatment for their pets, and they responded with a resounding yes.

"Unfortunately, I have found this is 100% the case," says Simon. "People are really struggling and having to make difficult decisions, like putting off routine vet care. Sadly, some owners are faced with having their pet put to sleep if their emergency treatment or surgery is not affordable."

Dr. Kitchen has witnessed similar situations. "The unfortunate truth is — while we would truly love to treat pets based on best medical recommendations instead of what can be afforded — it is expensive to have the equipment, building, and medication to run a veterinary hospital, not to mention that the people working in the clinic need to be paid."

Both vets offered some advice for pet parents who are concerned about accidents and illnesses and the vet bills that come along with them.

"If [pet parents] can afford insurance, this can be a great option (though I encourage my clients to read the fine print to make sure it covers what they think it does). For owners who aren't sure whether they can afford insurance, I encourage them to try and take the amount insurance would cost and instead put it in a savings account," says Kitchen.

Dr. Simon also reiterates the need for a financial safety net, saying:


"Pet insurance is a wise investment and should be taken out the moment you take your pet home."


Both vets also advise pet parents to take advantage of preventative medications. "Keeping up on vaccines, heartworm, and flea/tick prevention can keep pets healthier and cost much less than the treatment for those conditions," remarks Kitchen.

Simon agrees, saying, "Prevention is cheaper than cure! It only costs about $30 to vaccinate your pet but can cost thousands to treat parvovirus (and it is not always treatable)."

Unsure which pet insurance company is right for your fur-baby? Use our pet insurance comparison tool and let us help you find the right policy for your pal to ensure they're covered if they become sick or injured.

While pet insurance is helpful for unexpected accidents and illnesses, it doesn't cover routine and preventative care, like shots, blood work, and preventative meds. If you're concerned about these preventative care costs, consider investing in a Wag! Wellness plan, which reimburses routine care costs within 24 hours.


Remember to be kind to your vet

As you can see, vets are very busy people. Between offering life-saving support and giving puppies and kittens the best possible start, these professionals love helping pet families. And even amid struggles, pandemics, and grim outlooks, they are always there to lend a helping hand.

We encourage you to be kind to your vet, because you never know what they may have faced in the visit before yours. We would also like to give a big thanks to Dr. Kitchen and Dr. Simon for sharing their time and invaluable insights into the veterinary profession with us.

Need pet advice after business hours? Use Wag! Vet Chat any time to connect with a real veterinary professional. (Who knows? You might even get to ask Dr. Simon a few questions of your own!)



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