Have you ever questioned something your vet told you?
Have you ever wondered if your vet was the right person to educate you on a particular topic?
Have you ever considered talking to another vet–either at the same practice or at another–about your pet’s diagnosis?
If so, you’re not alone. In fact, seeking a second opinion from another veterinarian is a perfectly normal course to take. Many pet owners fear seeking another opinion, though, because of the perceived awkwardness. So, let’s dig into when you might want to get a second opinion, ways to (professionally! kindly!) seek additional input, and how to balance differing opinions. This doesn’t have to be uncomfortable. Promise!
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Is it normal to get a second opinion from a vet?
No one wants to put themselves in an uncomfortable position. It feels too icky. That’s why many people avoid asking for a second opinion; and this isn’t just with veterinary care, but our own medical care, too!
But, the good news is it’s perfectly normal to get a second opinion from a vet. In fact, many vets might even recommend it, especially if your pet’s diagnosis might require specialty treatment or care. No single vet is an expert in all things, so not only is it normal for you to seek additional input, your vet might recommend you do the same!
Will my doctor be offended if I get a second opinion?
I’m assuming that you’ve handled it calmly, carefully, professionally, reasonably, kindly, and so on. If that’s you–and I sure hope it is–then your vet should not feel put out, irritated, slighted, surprised, or disappointed if you seek additional input. In fact, many vets will help you source the right person to ask for additional input. (More on who to find for a second–or third–opinion in a bit.) Veterinarians care about your pet. Genuinely. And if they need to refer you somewhere else or help you find another equally-credentialed vet to consider your case, they will without any hard feelings.
So, don’t worry about ill feelings from your vet. Instead, remind yourself that you and your pet’s doctor are a team, and teams often need to pull in extra help. It’s normal. It’s expected. Your vet will roll with it!
When to get a second opinion from a veterinarian
While every situation is different, there are a handful of times you might consider getting a second opinion from another veterinarian or a specialist:
- a prescribed course of action doesn’t seem to be working
- the diagnosis is big or difficult and you need to educate yourself more
- you’re questioning the diagnosis, treatment, or plan–and your vet hasn’t been able to help you understand the prescribed course
- a diagnosis could benefit from a highly-specialized practitioner (oncology, neurology, cardiology, etc.)
- a trusted friend or family member has experience with and recommends a veterinarian they think will be a good fit for whatever you and your pet are facing
Regardless of your specific reason, you should seek additional input if you feel uncomfortable or if you lack confidence in a diagnosis or treatment plan. But, again, speak with your veterinarian first. Express your concerns. Ask as many questions as you need to and discuss until you feel satisfied. At that point, if you’re still uncertain, a second opinion is warranted.
What if a vet made a mistake?
Just like you, your veterinarian is human.
We all make mistakes. Sometimes, a mistake–whether admitted or suspected–can lead you to seek another opinion. If you think your vet messed up and you want another vet to confirm that, things get a bit sticky. The veterinary community is small. Tread carefully.
As always, start with your veterinarian. Explain to your vet what is making you feel like something went wrong. Avoid, if you can, “You made a mistake!” It feels combative and will probably put everyone on defense. Share that you want to talk to another veterinarian and request your pet’s records be sent on to the other vet. Disclose to the other veterinarian your suspicions so that you don’t blindside anyone or make them feel “played.”
Be gracious and kind, even if you’re angry and upset, because you need to center your pet’s wellbeing in these discussions. If you can’t keep a cool head, request to move the discussion to email.
How to tell your vet you want a second opinion from another vet
Asking another vet to weigh in starts with talking to your vet.
If you feel uncomfortable, I suggest scripting what you want to say ahead of time. Some examples:
“I respect you and trust you with Fluffy. This diagnosis is confusing/drastic/expensive. How can we confirm this is correct? Is there another practitioner or specialist you know who could shed additional light on our case?”
“This course of action feels like it’s not working because [lay out the details why you think so]. I’d like to talk to another veterinarian who treated cases like ours because I’m wondering if there’s another option.”
“Thank you for taking the time to answer all my questions. I’m still feeling unsure. My sister’s dog faced something similar a few years ago and Dr. Whoever took a different route. I’d like to chat with her first before we chart a course of action.”
Or, if you’re wanting to speak with a specialist, you could say, “My cat’s skin condition hasn’t cleared up, and I’m wondering if you could refer us to a dermatologist.”
In each case, talk to your vet first. It’s the courteous thing to do and gives him or her the opportunity to stay on your pet’s team. Oftentimes, collaborations with other vets open up all sorts of new avenues for treatment. Plus, it’s the nice thing to do.
What does it cost to get a second opinion?
Second opinions can cost a lot.
You might be paying for a full intake exam if it’s the first time you’ve seen a particular practitioner. If you provide all the labs, X-rays, notes, and records, you might save on some tests, but the new vet can request repeat blood work or additional testing that you will have to pay for.
While seeking a second opinion can rack up the charges, in the long run it might be worthwhile if the additional information sheds light on a newer, better, or more cost-effective treatment. Of course, that’s never guaranteed, so the cost of the second opinion is always a risk you’re taking on.
Can you switch to a different vet after a second opinion?
Let’s say you meet with another vet to get a second opinion, and you absolutely fall in love with the other practice. Can you switch?
Or, what happens if you meet with a second vet and decide to continue your search with a third vet? (Yes, it happens.)
No matter the outcome, you have the total freedom to switch to another practice. Of course you do. However, let’s consider the courtesy and kindness we’ve been discussing from this angle. What should you do?
You need to transfer records, so the first thing to do would be to call your previous vet and explain that you’re going to be transitioning your pet’s care to another practice. Most offices will ask a couple follow-up / customer service questions, though some won’t, and then they’ll send your records over to the new practice.
How to keep track of all this information
Your pet’s tests, records, visit notes, treatment plans, medications, and so on need to be transferred from one vet to another. While they’ll provide their own specific notes, it’s helpful to know everything that’s going on so you can ask appropriate questions. This can be as simple as typing everything up into the notes app on your phone or taking a notepad with you each time you go to the vet.
If you’re a paper person like me, there are a ton of printable pet health organizers on Etsy like this Pet Care Printable Bundle or this Pet Care Planner. I’m picky. I like to print things a certain size to fit my notes, but if you’re looking for a done-for-you option, there are some on Amazon like this one for cats and this one for dogs.
Whatever method you choose, the most important thing is to capture all the data so you can share it with the second veterinarian and capture all your questions to keep your appointments flowing smoothly. It will save you time and money in the long run to keep your own detailed notes.
Have you ever asked for a second opinion? How did you navigate it?
I’d love to hear your experience asking for a second (or third) opinion. Were you able to chart a new course of action? Or were you able to confirm your vet’s initial diagnosis? How did the experience affect how you work with your pet’s veterinary team? Please share your story in the comments below!