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Effective Communication in Veterinary Medicine

Updated: Mar 20, 2022

Ace resting at home after his visit to the Emergency Room

Being passionate about animal welfare has allowed me to sympathise with pet owners when their beloved companion has health complications. Being a pet owner myself, has provided me with experiences that enable me to empathise with pet owners. It has been a scary few days at home; my dog Ace woke up one morning unable to support himself on his back legs. I took him an emergency vet hospital where he was taken from my car to a back room without a single word from the staff about the hospital’s ECC procedure nor was I asked to give any history or details for over 30 minutes.

It was a very anxious 30 minutes. I didn’t know what the hospital staff were doing and hadn’t consented to any treatment yet.

During this experience, I reflected back on my first communications practical, where we practiced meeting with a client and their pet and going through the initial stage of a consultation which is taking the patient’s history. After introducing myself to the client and their beloved companion, I made small talk to give the client an opportunity to feel welcomed and comfortable. I then retrieved information on the pet’s signalment, the client’s chief complaint, when the animal was last normal, the progression of the problem, if the animal takes any medications, and pertinent history according to the Calgary- Cambridge Consultation Model (Comm 1 Prac). When asking the owner for details, I made sure to ask open ended, non-directive questions to encourage the owner to report any and all problems.

These open-ended, non-directive questions encourage the patient to report any and all problems. Open ended questions are important as they allow the client to talk spontaneously rather than restricting and directing the flow of information with multiple pointed questions (Osborne et al 2013). By beginning each line of inquiry with open-ended questions then moving forward with more specific questions to fill in the gaps, the client is encouraged to provide primary data in their own words about the symptoms rather than simply providing diagnostic labels or hearsay from secondary or tertiary information (Lichstien 1990).

In an emergency situation, there won’t be as much time for the veterinarian to learn all about the patient’s history; however, it’s still necessary to communicate with the patient to build a rapport as well as receive some critical information about the situation. The veterinary team that I took my dog Ace to ended up taking excellent care of him and apologised for the lack in initial communication, but this experience reiterated to me that effective communication is one of the most essential skills that veterinarians use every day. Sometimes just a few sentences about what’s going on can provide someone a tremendously deal of comfort.

Effective communication with clients, patients, support staff, and fellow veterinarians is paramount to career success; so much so that communication skills and practical exercises have become an important part of veterinary school curriculum worldwide (Shaw 2006).


Comm 1 Prac Student Blurb. The stimulated Veterinary Consultation Part 1: Preparing for the consultation, initiating the interview, and gathering information.. The University of Melbourne Faculty of Veterinary and Agricultural Sciences. I prac student blurb for the LMS_2019.pdf. Retrieved March 16 2019.

Osborne CA, Ulrich LK, Nwaokorie EE. Reactive versus empathic listening: what is the difference? Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association2013;242:460–462.

Lichstein PR. Clinical Methods: The History, Physical, and Laboratory Examinations. 3rd edition. Chapter 3. Walker HK, Hall WD, Hurst JW, editors, Boston, 1990.

Shaw JR. Four Core Communication Skills of Highly Effective Practitioners. Veterinary Clinics of North America: Small Animal Practice2006;36:385–396.

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