While many of us have a passion for animals, few turn that passion into a profession. Dr. Patti Prato, an esteemed veterinarian in Montana, makes a difference for pets and their people on a daily basis. While owning a veterinary practice is extremely time-consuming, Dr. Prato volunteers her expertise and limited spare time to help rescued pets. With 25 years of veterinary experience, Dr. Prato is able to offer valuable insights into the veterinary world.
Q: Dr. Prato, would you please introduce yourself and share a bit of your background?
A: My name is Patti Prato and I am a veterinarian in Missoula, Montana. I decided to go to Veterinary School when I turned 30 – a “late in life” decision that was a result of getting my first dog as an adult. I have been a veterinarian for 25 years.
Q: Being a veterinarian must be both rewarding and heartbreaking. How would you describe what you do?
A: Being a veterinarian is a complicated job. We are surgeons, internists, radiologists, pharmacists, ophthalmologists, behaviorists, anesthesiologists, dentists, pediatricians, and counselors. We often need to make decisions based on what we can observe and what the client tells us. I constantly find that I need to balance between client’s personal philosophy and finances and the needs of the pet.
Q: When I was younger, I dreamed of being a veterinarian. I had glamorized the job in my mind and thought it was what I was meant to do. Unfortunately, when I learned that vets have to deal with blood and needles, I was out. What are some common misconceptions about veterinarians?
A: The most common misconception is that we aren’t “real” doctors, rather that we move up from kennel-help to doctor. Many people have no idea how much knowledge we need to do our jobs well. There is no human medical discipline that requires the same breadth of skill that is required of a veterinarian. We do far more than vaccinate puppies and kittens.
Q: Being an experienced veterinarian, I’m sure you’ve come across some very interesting cases. Do you have a ‘most interesting’ case?
A: I think the most interesting (and difficult) cases are those that involve the endocrine system. Hormonal imbalances in dogs present a puzzle than needs to be methodically solved.
Q: Speaking of interesting cases, dogs tend to swallow a lot of things they shouldn’t. What’s the craziest thing you’ve found in a dog’s stomach?
A: I have taken a lot of odd things out of dog’s stomachs. The question is always, how did it get down the esophagus to the stomach when I can hardly swallow a pill? Probably the most amazing thing was removing a full sized bath towel that was swallowed whole. I can’t even imagine how that went down.
Q: Between exams, tests, and procedures, the cost of a veterinary visit can quickly add up. I can’t imagine anything more heartbreaking than seeing someone unable to provide their pet with the care they need due to financial reasons. Is this something you experience in your practice?
A: Balancing the needs of the patient and the costs of the procedures is one of the biggest challenges of the job. Sometimes it is an actual financial issue, sometimes it is a matter of priority and perceived value of the procedure and the pet. There is a big misconception that if we can’t provide free services, we must not love pets.
Q: I’ve been terrified of the financial burden if something would happen to my dogs, so I recently invested in pet insurance to give me peace of mind. I think that pet insurance is great for everyone, but is there a certain breed or type of dog you would recommend it for more than others?
A: Without question, the large and giant breed dogs are the ones that need the pet insurance. They are far more likely to develop orthopedic injuries and have a far higher incidence of cancer. If I were to pick a breed that needs it the most, it would be the Golden Retriever.
Q: Patti, thanks so much for taking the time to chat with me. Is there anything else you’d like to say?
A: If all pets had insurance, I could do my job without trying to guess which one test (that the owner could afford) might yield the information that could guide me to making a decision as to how to help the pet.
Kelsie McKenzie is the owner and fur-covered girl behind the scenes of It's Dog or Nothing, a resource for ‘all things Pyrenees.’ She currently lives near Seattle with her Air Force husband and two Great Pyrenees, Mauja and Atka. Kelsie is also a content creator, social media manager, and an avid animal lover.
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