Most of my working life as a vet is spent answering questions. Most often, pet owners ask me questions in the consulting room. “Why has my dog stopped eating?” “What is the lump on my cat’s head?” “What is wrong with my pet rabbit?”

At our vet clinic, people often ask me questions on the telephone. “Why has my dog has started howling at night?” “Why is my cat messing in the house?” Often it is not possible to answer such questions without examining the animal. Dogs may howl because of pain from arthritis and cats may mess in the house because of a urinary tract infection. But one way or another, the questions are eventually answered.

Over the past decade, I have started to be asked questions by new routes: e-mail and Facebook Our vet clinic has an active web site as well as a Facebook page, so anybody can contact us from anywhere in the world, at any time. Some questions are very difficult to answer. A man from Tennessee wanted my opinion on the cause of death of his dog. I had to politely explain that a local vet would be in a much better position to help him. Other questions from far away are easier to deal with. A veterinary nurse from Finland asked if she could visit our clinic to obtain working experience for the summer. We were delighted to be able to help her.

cat on computerThe questions that we prefer to receive by e-mail are from our own clients about their own pets. The working day of a vet is very busy, and it can be difficult to find time to talk to people on the telephone in the middle of the day. Answering queries by e-mail can be much easier. Every morning, I sit down at my computer with a cup of coffee for fifteen minutes, checking my e-mail and answering queries. It can be a very efficient means of communication.

Two recent queries are typical of the type of questions that I receive. The first was from a local rabbit owner who is considering having his rabbit castrated. He had obtained wide-ranging information about the pros and cons of neutering on the internet, and he had specific questions that he wanted to be answered. Which surgical technique did we use? What anaesthetic did we use? How did we provide pain relief? These technical questions can be difficult to explain by phone, but it is easy to note down all the relevant details in a few lines by e-mail. After I had answered his questions, he booked an appointment for the operation to be carried out.

The second question was from a pet owner called Ruth who is a regular visitor to our vet clinic with her eighteen-month-old Golden Labrador, Rosie. Ruth was worried that Rosie might the cold during the upcoming months of autumn and winter, because she sleeps in an outdoor kennel. When I emailed back asking for more detail about the kennel, Ruth sent me photos, which revealed an insulated kennel, with an under-bed heated pad, and an overhead infra-red light. I was able to reassure Ruth that Rosie would be very cosy in her private quarters. Of course, we could have exchanged the same information during a telephone conversation, but the extra details provided by Ruth’s photographs made it much easier for me to gain a full understanding of Rosie’s sleeping arrangements.

Computers are changing our world, and e-mail is becoming increasingly popular. I expect that my fifteen minutes at my computer each morning may need to be increased to half an hour. Perhaps soon it will take enough time to justify a Danish pastry as well as a cup of coffee.