Tripawds Book Review:
Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
by Dr. Nancy Kay, DVM, Specialist, American College of Veterinary Medicine
Dr. Kay, a board certified internal medicine specialist in California, was nice enough to pass along a copy of her new book “Speaking for Spot.” Always eager to read up on the latest in canine health care tips, we jumped right in and were so pleased to find out that this book delivers exactly what it promises.
Speaking for Spot is a handbook about how to ask the right questions, in order to get the right answers, and treatment, from your vet.
While Dr. Kay addresses the latest advances in canine health care, she also takes a unique approach to canine health care, by choosing to focus on pawrent and physician communication styles that can help, or hinder care.
This is the kind of book that’s especially helpful for those of us who turn into wimps in the doctor’s office, and are hesitant to knock them off their pedestals. She explains:
“I’m referring to what is known as the “white coat intimidation factor; a phenomenon that gives the doctor an air of authority and superiority. When she is on such a “pedestal,” two-way communication flounders. Medical advocacy requires active client participation, and a client who is intimidated does not feel comfortable voicing an opinion.”
Dr. Kay discusses the two basic kinds of communications styles that veterinarians exhibit towards patients.
First, there is the “paternalistic approach” in which the vet keeps an emotional distance with no discussion of personal matters, and little is learned about the role the dog plays in the family. Such a vet voices what she perceives is the best for the patient before her, without considering the patient and client’s unique situation. . . she might say, “Give him these pills three times a day, and call me next week if he isn’t any better,” without first determining if three-times-a-day administration is possible.”
Then, there is the “relationship-centered care model….where the client’s opinion and feelings are held in high regard and enough time is allowed during the office visit to hear them. The vet takes the time and effort to recognize the special or unique role the dog plays in his human’s life. . . . instead of prescribing an antibiotic that needs to be given three times a day, the veterinarian might first ask the client if she can manage such frequent administration.”
As Jerry’s pawrents, we experienced firsthand these two communication styles, from two different vets, which ultimately affected the outcome of Jerry’s cancer diagnosis. Jerry’s first vet was the old-school paternalistic type. He had all the latest and greatest medical equipment, but no bedside manner whatsoever. He told us what to be do instead of asking our concerns, he was too rough with Jerry and this guy was, well . . . a jerk. We tolerated his behavior because, as technology geeks, we thought that his medical know-how made up for it. We also didn’t know any better, as Jerry was our first dog. We thought all vets were pretty much the same way. But after weeks of his refusal to admit he didn’t know why Jerry was limping, or that he never suggested we seek a second opinion elsewhere, we finally took Jerry to another vet who came highly recommended from his daycare center.
The second vet obviously came from the relationship-centered communication school of thought. At our first appointment, she came into the exam room (sans white coat), and sat down on the floor to get to know Jerry. She was gentle, calm and Jerry didn’t really even know he was being examined, he just thought he made a new friend. After some x-rays and consultation with other doctors, she simply told us “I don’t know what’s wrong with him . . . you should take him to U.C. Davis.” We were stunned that we found a doctor would could say “I don’t know.” If it wasn’t for her willingness to admit this, Jerry’s cancer might’ve progressed even faster.
We are so pleased that Dr. Kay brought up this important topic. Because while there’s a number of good pet health care books on the shelves today, Dr. Kay’s approach to learning how to more effectively communicate with your vet makes it stand out from all the others.
Throughout the book, Dr. Kay presents different questions to ask about your dog’s prescribed medications, special diagnostic tests, vaccines, surgery and more. She brings up a lot of good points we never considered, such as why those assembly-line vaccine clinics can be harmful. And, we love how she approaches the subject of how people tend to humanize their dogs, which can prevent the dog from getting appropriate care, or even healing properly.
Dr. Kay also includes an entire chapter dedicated to cancer education and care (one in three dogs will be diagnosed with cancer during their lifetimes!). As an Internal Medicine specialist, she provides comprehensive information about what cancer is, how it behaves, and discusses strategies that can help you make the most appropriate and effective treatment decisions.
Another unique aspect about Dr. Kay’s approach is that she points out the importance of considering our dog’s personalities when it comes to choosing care. There are happy dogs and melancholy dogs, crazy dogs and shy dogs, bold dogs and fraidy-cat dogs, and this can affect how they do with the medical choices we make for them.
For example, many dogs fall apart at the slightest hint that they’re going to the vet. A dog with this trait may not be the best candidate for chemotherapy treatments, which require frequent, prolonged vet visits. Because the goal for our dog’s health and well-being should always be about quality of life, we need to consider these aspects of their personalities carefully in these situations.
The book also includes two comprehensive, textbook-style appendices, one covering Symptoms your dog might exhibit if she isn’t well, and the other addressing the most common dog diseases. Both appendices include great questions to ask your vet, tips about what to expect, what your vet will expect from you, and more.
The book is a good, easy read, and the illustrations by artist Beth Preston are just adorable! The only negative thing we could think of is the layout of the book. There’s so much information packed into such a small book, it could’ve been even better if it was designed as more of a workbook with big checklists and such.
On Dr. Kay’s website, you can find downloadable health forms and templates you can print and use today.
Overall, Dr. Kay’s book is an indispensable tool to have in your pet-care library. Her patients at her clinic, the VCA Animal Care Center in Rohnert Park, California, are so lucky to have her! You can listen to some of her enlightening interviews by clicking here.
We would like to give away one copy of “Speaking for Spot,” to a randomly drawn winner who can answer the following question:
Which of the following is not a recommended AAHA (American Animal Hospital Association) “core vaccine” for puppies?
A winner will be chosen at random from all correct answers submitted. Please send yours by using our contact form. Good luck!