SOMETIMES being a vet in a consulting room feels like being a priest in a confessional.

People tell you things they really wouldn’t normally tell a stranger.

Maybe it is because they know they are protected by client confidentiality.

This is a vital principle of the veterinary profession that can be broken only where animal welfare would be compromised. In short, our obligation to the well-being of animals exceeds our duty of confidentiality to their owners. And rightly so.

It is necessary that we are able to take action where, for example, an animal is being abused without fear of professional repercussion.

But make no mistake. In order to break client confidentiality, our concern for animal welfare has to be real and substantial.

Unfortunately, people don’t just tell you things. Much to my very great chagrin and acute discomfort, they also involve you in their particular brand of domestic strife. This is dangerous ground. And it makes me squirm. I feel a little queasy just thinking about it.

Sometimes, you get a clue before folk enter the consulting room. The body language of an arguing couple sitting in the waiting room can be a giveaway that fills you with dread.

Every scenario is different but they all have one thing in common. Each member of the partnership wants you on their side. And I hate taking sides. Sitting on the fence is much, much more comfortable.

Take the other day, for example. A delightful couple appear with their young Labrador. One is concerned the pup has a cough and, with a spay operation imminent, is worried. The other considers this to be a completely paranoid state of affairs.

The dog has choked twice in a week and there is nothing wrong. I can see the problem is mild but I know I have to make a decision. I look from face to face. I swallow. I hear myself saying the dog needs treatment.

I hear the explosion as one half of the couple turns to the other. ‘I told you so! If I listened to you she could have got pneumonia!’ I mumble something about it not being that bad and usher them out, praying that relationship counselling will not be required.

Then there are the fat dogs where one half of a marriage is the feeder and the other the walker. We live in a blame society and blame each other they do. It hurts my ears to listen.

But then take Troy. Troy is a most genial German Shepherd, whose mum kept bringing him in for no great reason while his dad moaned about her perpetual over-protective fussing. He was right, of course.

There never was anything wrong with him. Until, that is, she insisted they bring him in because, as she put it, he was feeling a ‘little peaky’.

The steam was coming out his ears until we announced that Troy had suffered a ruptured splenic tumour. He was critical.

Surgery saved the dog but his poor dad will never, ever, ever hear the end of it.

Sometimes it is still best to be over cautious.