Managing ill pets while still a vet student

Scenario #1

Last night my mother called. The cat has been losing weight and was diagnosed with renal failure. She wants to know what to do. 

Scenario #2

My landlord wants advice on his aggressive dog.

Scenario #3

My parrot has been sick and I haven’t been able to find time to take him to the vet. I feel like such a bad pet owner. 


Members of the veterinary profession, including students, are often turned to by family or friends whenever a pet needs assistance. Because of our love for them, we want to do all we can. However, we must also remember what role we should play.   We don’t want to inadvertently cause confusion, conflict, or mistrust. What is most important is to express care, concern, and when asked, to help the family understand those aspects of the pet’s disease or therapy that still seems unclear and that we are comfortable explaining. We can help alleviate fear and uncertainty.

Things to Remember

  • Make sure the role you’ll play is clear to all parties. Communicate in a way that allows others to know how much you care.

o The way I believe I can help best is to help you understand the treatments being prescribed and how they’ll help. I also want to provide emotional support and help to communicate some of the questions you have to your regular veterinarian. You’re so important to me. While I’m studying to be a vet, I’m not one yet. But I’m still your family member, and that means I love you very much.

  • Remember that as students we have not yet completed our training nor accumulated the clinical experience necessary to fully counsel pet owners on complex topics. Know your limitations and become comfortable sharing with others that you are just beginning to learn medicine.
  • Recognize that some family members may not wish to “burden” you because they fear their problems might interfere with your studies. When you suspect this may be happening, encourage open discussion and express your love and concern.
  • Faculty are people too. Discuss with your instructors about what advice you might give and how best to manage your own pet’s needs. Face to face discussions are often most productive.

People I Can Talk to

  • Student counseling services: (612) 624-3323
  • Athena Diesch-Chham, 612-625-4168,
  • Dr. Erin Malone, 612-625-4762,
  • Anyone in the Office of Academic and Student Affairs
  • GOALe mentor(s)
  • Any faculty you feel you can approach
  • Classmates, friends, and family
  • Your spiritual advisor


“Family, friends, even acquaintances will start looking to you as their own “expert” in medicine. For me, it was easy to get sucked in and involved. I soon learned what most of them needed was someone to listen to their experiences, and, when appropriate, refer specific questions and concerns to true “experts”.

JABSOM Student, Class of 2004


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Well-being Handbook Copyright © 2019 by Erin Malone is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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