There have been some interesting reactions to my post about turmeric. Last week, I confessed worries that some enthusiasts were feeding it to animals to try and solve health problems without taking veterinary advice first.

Reactions have all been friendly – to repeat, I’m not knocking the idea that turmeric might be helpful in some cases, though I do have problems with those who claim it can do all bar raise the dead. But a few people who contacted me, mainly to say how it had helped their dog/horse/whatever, had one thing in common.

Reading between the lines, it became obvious that they either didn’t listen to their vets or couldn’t understand them. When you get a communication breakdown, the individual who suffers most is often the one in the middle: your much-loved animal.

We’ve come a long way since the days of All Creatures Great And Small, when author and vet James Herriot created the fearsome Siegfried Farnon, a vet who struck fear into the hearts of clients and colleagues. In the BBC TV series, he was played by Robert Hardy, who is as charming as he is erudite – though he once told me he was bemused by people walking up to him in the street and asking what he thought could be wrong with their dogs.

Robert Hardy played the overbearing vet Siegfried Farnon.
Robert Hardy played the overbearing vet Siegfried Farnon.

Today, vets-in-training are given advice on how to communicate with their clients, though admittedly some are better than others. It’s also not easy to take in what a vet has said when you’ve just had some bad news. I’m lucky, the vets at my practice always tell owners to ring them when they’ve had a chance to digest information and chat through anything which isn’t clear.

I suspect most vets are happy to do this and if they aren’t, they should be. The problem is that many owners are frightened of appearing stupid. They aren’t, but that mindset is. Vets train for five years, so they’re supposed to know more than the rest of us.

Instead, people talk about their horses’ problems with their friends at the yard, or online. Maybe some of the advice and opinions they hear are well-informed, but some aren’t. You’ll find useful stuff on veterinary websites, but it has to be general advice and perhaps not all of it will apply to your horse.

So if you get home and your mind’s a blank, ask your vet again. Before you pick up the phone, write down exactly what you want to find out. If he or she isn’t keeping things simple enough, say you don’t understand. When people know a lot about a particular subject, they often assume they can skip over the bits that would make it clearer to the rest of us.

A friend confused her brainbox uni student son by telling him to cook a dish at number six, so he looked in the oven and reported that there were only three shelves. To her, it was obvious she was talking about Gas Mark 6, but not to him. In a similar way, we might need our vet to explain something in more depth.

Never apologise for asking or for asking if a complementary treatment or therapy could help. Vets can be open-minded, too.

If you don’t understand, or are worried about something, get it sorted. Just don’t tell your vet that he or she is talking rubbish and your friend says that turmeric/garlic/a mix of herbs gathered by the light of the new moon will have more effect.